Samuel Barnett and James Corden discuss turning the hit play into a film and saving their performances forever on DVD
Samuel Barnett and James Corden recently sat down with us to discuss their work on The History Boys. Having now played the roles of Posner (Barnett) and Timms (Corden) on both the stage and the screen, these two have a special insight into bringing a work from the stage to the screen. The History Boys tells the story of an unruly class of bright, funny history students in pursuit of an undergraduate place at Oxford or Cambridge.
During our discussion Anderson and Corden talked very openly about what a special experience it was to have been a part of The History Boys, and how that experience can now be translated over to DVD.
Can you tell the readers, who may not know, about your character in The History Boys?
James Corden: I play Timms in the film. He's pretty much the class clown. He's always the first for a joke. He's probably the least hard working out of all the boys, but he's as bright as the other boys and that's why he's been picked to try out for Oxford and Cambridge. He's probably the least motivated, I imagine. He'd much rather have a joke and good time then do the work.
What was it about the The History Boys that made you want to do the play and the movie?
James Corden: Firstly, what attracted me to the play was that it was written by Alan Bennett who's kind of widely regarded as Britain's greatest living playwright. It's also directed by Nic Hytner who's kind of regarded as Britain's best theater director. It was kind of a no brainer to do the play. When it became clear that we were going to do the film... really it was the chance to do it on film, but mostly what attracted me to do it was that I could carry on working with the seven lads who'd become my best friends. We had such a great relationship together, all eight of us, the chance to go to work with them every day on a film set was too good to turn down for any of us, really.
Likewise, doing the play on Broadway, we just all loved working together. We worked so well together that we just didn't want it to stop.
What was it like working Nicholas Hytner?
James Corden: He's fantastic. I feel very lucky in my short career so far to have worked with some great directors. People like Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows. Nic was as good a director as I have ever worked with. He's so brilliant at what he does is the best way to describe it. Working with him is just a joy. In the theater and on film. The best thing was when it came to making the film, I was kind of worried about adapting the performance to put it on camera. I just trusted him completely. We all did. That he would always keep it in check.
At this point in the interview Samuel Barnett joined the conversation.
What was the biggest difference from doing The History Boys as a play and then doing it as a movie? How did that effect your performances?
Samuel Barnett: The biggest difference was really the scale of the whole thing. Giving it out to 12,000 people a night was vastly different than just doing it with one another and a camera. I don't know which I found more satisfying but it was certainly really interesting trying to bring it all down. You had to make everything much more truthful for the camera. With the stage it's a given that it's going to be theatrical.
James Corden: Yeah, I'd go along with that. In one sense it was a great benefit doing it on stage for a year before we ever did it in front of a camera, because we all knew our characters so well. You knew exactly how they would react to things and new scenes that came up were often easier to shoot, because you knew your character so well and yet it was new stuff that you'd never done on stage. That's why having Nic around was so great because he never let the performances get out of hand. It never feels like a play on film, I don't think, when you watch it.
Did you guys ever wonder how this play's vast audience would feel about it becoming a movie?
James Corden: I certainly never thought that. I mean, the play, everywhere we've done it around the world, has had a big impact. It certainly has fans. It's kind of mad, there are people who have seen the play over two hundred times and we've only done it five hundred times! I think most people were looking forward to having a memento of this great night at the theater. Theater is so wonderful and brilliant but it lasts very much in the moment. It's there and then it's gone. Now, for us, as much as for the audience, it's set down on a disc that you can put on and watch any time. Those performances won't age and they'll sit there.
Samuel Barnett: I think James has said it all. The only thing that surprised me was my perspective. I expected most people to go, "Oh, I preferred the play." I've been amazed at how many people actually preferred the film, and got more from the film just because of that thing of the camera being so close to people's faces. You really get to see behind the character's eyes. I think a lot of people preferred the film in a way.
James Corden: That's another thing, also. When we were doing the play on Broadway it was $200 to come and watch the play. Now, to buy the DVD or to see it in the cinema, it's not gonna cost anywhere near a $100. What it does is that it opens up this story to a whole group of people who may have, perhaps, wanted to see it in the theater but because of pricing or not living in New York... couldn't necessarily see it for the six months that we were there. It allows everybody to be involved in what is a brilliant story.
What do you hope audiences take away from watching The History Boys?
James Corden: I'm hoping that they all fall in love with me.
Samuel Barnett: And they all do.
James Corden: That's my aim. Basically, (laughs) that the whole male and female population of America falls in love with me. That's what I would most like to happen. Certainly the readers of MovieWeb all want to involve themselves sexually with me. Sam, how about you?
Samuel Barnett: (laughing) I have to answer that one seriously now?
No you can certainly go along the same lines as your buddy.
James Corden: What I really want are the MovieWeb readers to want me. That's what I'd like.
What do you guys have coming up next?
James Corden: Well, I've just written a TV series for the BBC which I am in. It's out here in May and hopefully will show on BBC America later in the year. It's a sitcom called Gavin & Stacy. Wednesday I am about to go start shooting a film called Lesbian Vampire Killers. Hopefully, that will be out in about a year.
Samuel Barnett: I'm doing a miniseries for HBO which starts filming on Sunday. It's called John Adams and it's about your second American president and his life.
The History Boys is currently available from Fox Home Entertainment.
Dont't forget to also check out: The History Boys