As tributes continue to pour in for Gene Wilder, who died on Sunday at age 83, James Corden recalled meeting the late Willy Wonka star when Wilder came to watch Corden perform a play in New York.
“When you hear that Gene Wilder’s in the audience, you just are terrified. Everyone on the stage was like ‘oh my god, I can’t believe he’s gonna watch this play,'” Corden said during Monday’s Late Late Show. “He came backstage afterwards. If anyone else came backstage they’d stay for five, six, 10 minutes tops, but he sat in my room for half an hour. We sat on this couch, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. The thing I remember, I was thinking about it today, was all he really wanted to talk about was how my wife and son were adjusting in New York, and were we happy, and was it fun? It was amazing.”
A few years after, Corden’s very first bit on The Late Late Show involved a Willy Wonka parody (equating his newfound hosting gig to finding a golden ticket). Corden said he tried to get Wilder to appear on the sketch. Though he was turned down, Corden still remembered Wilder’s polite refusal.
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“In the history of people saying no to things, it couldn’t have been nicer,” Corden said. “The email he sent me, it just said ‘Dearest James, I don’t do or go where you are hoping, but I’ll be looking for you. My love, Gene.’ Even the way he said no was so poetic. Even his emails sounded somehow like Willy Wonka. He was just a magical person, and he made everybody around him feel this incredible feeling of joy. That’s what I felt when I watched him, that’s what I felt when I met him.”
Watch the clip below.