James Corden is back in the UK and characteristically busy. Last year, the 45-year-old left his job as Los Angeles-based chat show host of The Late Late Show on CBS. A Christmas special is planned for Gavin & Stacey, the acclaimed BBC sitcom he created with co-star Ruth Jones. There’s talk of reviving One Man, Two Guvnors, the National Theatre’s critically lauded hit ­comedy that transferred to Broadway, winning Corden a Tony award in 2012.

And next week, Corden will appear at London’s Old Vic in a short run of Joe Penhall’s new play, The Constituent, helmed by the theater’s artistic director, Matthew Warchus. Corden’s first stage role since One Man, Two Guvnors, it’s seen as ­something of a departure (a gamble) for Corden – a serious work about the escalating risks of public service in politics.

All this, but in the UK at least, a question seems to dangle eternally above Corden’s head, like a public relations sword of Damocles.

Put bluntly, why don’t you like him? Why do sizable swathes of the British public appear to have it in for him?

Over the years, any discussion of Corden has sparked variations of the old put-down: actor, comedian, writer, presenter, singer, producer – is there nothing James Corden can’t spoil?

In truth, Corden is an international success story: arguably one of Britain’s most intriguing global entertainment exports. It’s rare enough for a Brit to make it in the US – Corden achieved it in two ­separate disciplines.

He landed The Late Late Show after a CBS executive saw him in One Man, Two Guvnors, an 18th-century Italian comedy translated to seedy 1960s Brighton that was praised as one of the National’s funniest productions. Corden’s American gig had been a David Letterman-style talk and comedy television institution since 1995, airing on weeknights in front of a studio audience.

Only the fourth host to be hired (after Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn, and Craig Ferguson), Corden defied naysayers, largely winning over US audiences with puppyish ­playfulness and brio. He says that he left the chat show after eight years because he wanted to raise his family in the UK. (Corden and his wife, Julia Carey, and their three children, have a home in Belsize Park, north London.)

Is there nothing James Corden can’t spoil?

Warchus tells me that he cast Corden in The Constituent because he “knew he could play straight as well as comic material. Also that he was looking for an opportunity to exercise those muscles.”

Corden is in a cast of three, with Anna Maxwell Martin and Zachary Hart. “No coasting,” says Warchus. “You have to really work hard, but you also have to be generous, humble, brave. And he’s all of those things.”

In theater, Corden is better known for high-energy comedy, but Warchus isn’t fazed: “We were 40 seconds into rehearsal and I realized how good he was going to be. People will come to the theater with a version of James Corden in their minds. And a completely different character will come onstage and their preconceptions about him will disappear.”

Michelle Obama is glorious singing along to Stevie Wonder, Missy Elliott, and Beyoncé during a segment of “Carpool Karaoke.”

Elsewhere in his multifaceted career, Corden has won a slew of awards, including Baftas and Emmys. He has a successful production company, Fulwell 73. He was awarded the OBE for services to drama in 2015. Even “Carpool Karaoke,” the long-running skit where he sings with celebrities in a car (which he featured in The Late Late Show) evolved into a phenomenon, with guests including Michelle Obama, Madonna and Paul McCartney.

Still, it’s interesting how stickily “Marmite” Corden remains. His career is a bizarre mélange of stellar achievements, glowing plaudits and torrential backlash. In a way that goes beyond the worst moments of his output, such as the universally panned 2009 film Lesbian Vampire Killers or the 2019 film version of Cats (for which he received the Razzie award for worst supporting actor). Even Andrew Lloyd Webber criticized Corden’s performance in Cats, revealing “he begged for it to be cut”.

Corden’s public image travails date back to the 2008 Bafta awards ceremony. Accepting the audience award for Gavin & Stacey (he’d already won best comedy performance), Corden complained about the show not being nomi­nated for best comedy. Public goodwill shredded like damp tissue paper. He’d committed two British cardinal sins: ingratitude and arrogance.

Since then, there has been a tsunami of accusations: rudeness; coldness; ignoring studio audiences; ignoring his wife and baby on a flight. At another awards ceremony, he gracelessly argued with Patrick Stewart onstage. (They later made up.) For Corden, social media is a bloodbath. Popbitch, the gossip Web site, runs so many negative stories about him, he practically has a wing of the site to himself.

In October 2022, Corden was banned from the New York restaurant Balthazar, after a row about his wife’s omelette containing egg whites, to which she is allergic. The proprietor, Keith McNally, said he was “abusive” to staff. The ban was lifted after Corden apologized to McNally, but it was too late: the “rude to waiting staff” Klaxon had been sounded. Another cardinal British sin.

For those who dislike Corden, this seemed to cement the claim of him punching down while sucking up. Certainly, he’s amassed a veritable cabal of celebrity mates, including David Beckham, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Prince Harry. Away from this, his style may be viewed as fundamentally more American (loud, brash, ingratiating) than British. Is this part of it: Corden cast as one of the fabled tall poppies, not quite “British” enough (subtle, self-effacing) for the British?

Something has to explain why, for him, even the follies of youth have been deemed unforgivable – why even his apologies and mea culpas are brushed aside.

Corden defied naysayers, largely winning over US audiences with puppyish playfulness and brio.

Speaking to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs in 2012, Corden regretted his “spoilt brattish behavior” at the 2008 Baftas, saying how unprepared he was for “intoxicating” fame, and recalling a lunch in which Gavin & Stacey co-star Rob Brydon tried to give him advice. Brydon has also recalled feeling concerned for Corden: “So he was on this rollercoaster. This boy from High Wycombe and … he just lost his way for a bit … I felt for him.”

Reading about Corden brings you to the point of feeling sorry for him. You start thirsting (actively hunting) for some positive takes. The fact is that there are plenty of reasons to like Corden.

For one thing, he’s self-made, no nepo-baby, and decidedly non-posh. (Formerly an RAF musician, his dad sold Christian books and Bibles; his mom was a social worker.) Corden’s millions have been earned from scratch.

Hardworking, accomplished, Corden seems particularly highly rated in theater, where there are no second takes. One Man, Two Guvnors director Sir Nicholas Hytner has been particularly dismissive of past criticism of Corden.

“So he went to a few parties, got hammered a few times, shot his mouth off, and made a terrible movie. Serial killers get an easier ride than he did for Lesbian Vampire Killers,” Hytner told The New Yorker.

Alan Bennett also saw something in Corden when he was cast as Timms in The History Boys at the National Theatre in 2004 (later made into a 2006 film), urging him to make something of his ­natural wit.

Corden started as a theater kid, training at Jackie Palmer Stage School in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire – also attended by Eddie Redmayne.

Far from The Constituent being a departure, it could be that he’s coming “home”. Or, less sentimentally, he’s entered a form of reputational rehab – proving his worth treading the boards, a thespian galaxy away from the social media punishment beatings.

Do people truly loathe him as much as they say they do? Certainly, there are wildly mixed signals: the last Gavin & Stacey Christmas special had the highest viewership in the UK for more than a decade.

Many would view this as the cost of fame (suck it up, wealthy buttercup). Others may question if such relentless industrial levels of aggro and snark could ever be justified. And why Corden’s apologies for what he got wrong have been ignored.

Is it in danger of becoming the national pile-on without end? Where the British public and James Corden are concerned, interestingly, it could get to the point where it’s not him, it’s us.

The Constituent is on at the Old Vic, in London, from June 13 to August 10

Barbara Ellen is a U.K.-based columnist for The Observer. She has also written for The Times of London, The Mail on Sunday, Elle, Marie Claire, Grazia, and GQ