LOS ANGELES – The magical, colorful and adventurous universe of “Aladdin” returns to movie theaters in a new version of the Disney classic with a cast headed by Mena Massoud, who spoke to EFE about the value of diversity in movies for exciting all kinds of audiences.
“The biggest thing, when I watched Aladdin really young, was that it was a kind of reflection of me on screen. There weren’t many films in animation or otherwise that I can relate to, with characters that look like me, that remind me of myself, that remind me of my culture,” he said.
“I think that was the biggest impact,” he added about the 1992 production that became one of the masterpieces of animation thanks to such charismatic characters as the Genie as well as an unforgettable soundtrack.
Born in Egypt but brought up in Canada, Massoud found the opportunity of a lifetime with “Aladdin,” a remake of the original by director Guy Ritchie (“Snatch” in 2000 and “Sherlock Holmes” in 2009) that premieres next Friday in movie theaters with a cast the likes of Naomi Scott and Will Smith. With Disney absorbed in remakes of its most iconic films with new technologies and real actors, a venture that has been a big success with “The Jungle Book” (2016) and “Beauty and The Beast” (2017), but that slipped up with the recent “Dumbo” (2019), this approach to “Aladdin” preserves, according to Massoud, the “iconic” essence of the original.
“Falling in love, trying to find out who you are as a young man... All that was very relevant to me,” he said during an interview with EFE.
Practically unknown to the general public up to now, Massoud said that since his youth he always wanted “to entertain and make people laugh” by acting in school plays and singing in the school choir.
“I was acting as a hobby through my whole life but coming from Egypt and my parents being immigrants they didn’t want me to struggle as an artist,” he said.
But after a short time at the University of Toronto, Massoud embraced his true passion – he moved to Los Angeles where he has worked eight years as a professional actor.
And now, considering how difficult it is for someone of Egyptian descent to succeed here in an acting career, he finds it “incredibly important” that a person from the Middle East should star in this big Disney project.
“I started in the industry in 2011 and my first role was in a show called ‘Nikita’ and I played ‘Al Qaeda number 2.’ Really that was the symbol of the kind of roles that were out there for people that looked like me,” he said.
“I would get auditions that had really amazing characters but they never cast people that look like me for those characters. Hopefully, if people go to see this film and support it and it does well...it can show studios in Hollywood that even when you cast someone who looks like me or Naomi, that a film can do well and prosper,” he said
At the same time, Massoud noted the complexity of a role like Aladdin, which demanded a lot of physical exercise but also training to a Hollywood standard of singing and dancing.