Mena Massoud will film debut as Aladdin in May 2019 (Pictures: Disney/Splash News)
Egyptian born Canadian actor Mena Massoud (Arabic: مينا مسعود; born September 17, 1991) is playing the role of Aladdin in Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin, 25 years after the animated version of the movie was a major hit, in 1992. Although born in Cairo, Egypt, Mena was raised in Ontario, Canada and now calls Toronto his home. He will likely become a household name after playing Aladdin.
The choice of Massoud to play Aladdin, followed a worldwide casting call that encompassed India, Abu Dhabi, Egypt and London. The 27-year-old actor will make his debut in this live-action remake of Aladdin, set for release on 24 May 2019, which is set to become his big time breakout role. Mena is stepping into the shoes of this iconic Disney character alongside Hollywood icon Will Smith, who plays the Genie, a role made famous by the late Robin Williams in the original animated version of the Story.
Aladdin is Mena’s biggest role so far. He previously starred in a season one episode of Nikita in 2011, as a member of Al-Qaeda whose convoy was intercepted at the border of Chechnya, and is most recently seen in Tom Clancy’s ‘Jack Ryan’ alongside John Krasinski (an Amazon production). Mena’s rise to success has been mired by the usual struggles which many ethnic minorities often face in Hollywood. In reference to his heritage, Mena previously told Defective Geeks ‘I grew up in a culturally different household. My parents saw certain things differently than other people. ‘I went to schools that had a significantly large Caucasian population and I feel very fortunate because I was able to compare that perspective with my family’s. It allowed me to create a wider world view on things. Also, though, at this point in my career, being a visible minority in this industry still affects me. I can’t compete for roles that require me to be Caucasian or African American, even if those characters really connect with me and intrigue me. The competition may be less, some people would say, but the amount of work to be had is less as well. However, I think the industry is growing more and more and starting to support actors of all cultural backgrounds.’
In the movie, the character of Aladdin was initially a “street rat” or “street waif” wearing a patched up pair of cream pants and without shoes. Disney consciously intended to cast an unknown actor for the role; therefore, it is no surprise we haven’t heard Mena Massoud’s name before. Mena’s significance projects even further than simply being a symbol of success for ethnic minorities in Hollywood. He is also proud vegan who, in the last 3-4 years, swapped meat eating for a wholly plant-based diet. As part of that he has launched ‘The Evolving Vegan’ project, and aspires to highlight the most intriguing green recipes currently available. Discussing his vegan passion with LiveKindly, Mena said: ‘I wanted to create a community and lifestyle brand that encouraged people to evolve vegan. To move in that direction. To try their hardest and do their best to eliminate animal products from their life. To begin the process. I think there is a benefit anytime anyone reduces their animal intake and their environmental impact.’
Mena’s casting in Aladdin has a certain personal pathos also, as he has previously referred to the late Robin Williams as a major inspiration for him ‘in everything he did’. He joins Will Smith in his immense admiration of the iconic actor/comedian, who also said, at the Premier of Aladdin, that he wanted to pay tribute to Williams, by declaring that “What Robin Williams did with the Genie was revolutionary in animation.”
Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine: Jasmine is the sixth member of the Disney Princess line-up, after Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel and Belle. She is a dreamer who is free-spirited, confident and kind. Naomi Scott, who is of Gujarati Indian, Ugandan and British descent, ticked all the boxes for getting the role. The English actress and singer starred in the Disney Channel Original Movie Lemonade Mouth before she played the Pink Ranger in the Power Ranger movie this year.
Will Smith will reprise the live role that Robin Williams played in the original animated Aladdin film (Pictures: Disney)
The role of the Genie, loosely based on the Genie of the lamp featured in the One Thousand and One Nights folk tale Aladdin, will be played by Smith: Discussing the part – which Robin Williams made famous back in 1992 – the 50-year-old confessed: “This movie has a lot of really great ideas that I love and the concept of the Genie, somebody whose whole existence is dedicated to helping people find themselves and create the lives that they want, that aspect is almost the purest definition of love,’ he shared on Entertainment Tonight. ‘So for me playing the Genie – you’re always looking for something that you can connect to with a character that’s authentic – that devotion and dedication is what I aspire to with my life.’
Referring to Robin Williams, Smith told The Hudsucker: ‘He was an incredibly well-rounded actor but I grew up on his role in Mrs. Doubtfire. That role by itself is very well-rounded and he goes through an amazing journey in that movie. I think it’s very underrated.’ Aladdin, directed by Guy Ritchie, also stars Billy Magnussen as Prince Anders.