Aladdin: Mena Massoud on Reimagination of Disney Animation with Singing, Dancing and Parkour [Exclusive Interview]

Mena Massoud Talks Ezra Bridger Casting Rumors

It’s not exactly the Aladdin from your childhood.

Although Disney live action remakes of their classic animation films will follow the main plots closely, these films will place its own stamp with updated themes that are relevant to today’s times.

Disney searched worldwide for the perfect actor to play Aladdin with Mena Massoud. The young thespian has checked off the multiple talents to play the street rat with the singing, dancing and stunt work.

The Egyptian-born Canadian has made his mark as Tarek Kassar in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan for Amazon Prime Video. He has appeared in multiple television series, including Open Heart, Cut to the Chase, The 99 and Poser.

Massoud will soon be a familiar face with Aladdin being in theaters this weekend. He stars alongside with Will Smith (Men in Black, Independence Day), Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) and Marwan Kenzari (What Happened to Monday). The film is directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and written by John August (Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

LRM Online had an exclusive phone interview with Mena Massoud earlier this month as he was on the promotional worldwide tour for Aladdin.

We discussed about his intense training and difficulties for the film with the singing, dancing and parkour. Additionally, we also talked about the high expectations from Will Smitha and director Guy Ritchie.

Aladdin is playing in theaters this Friday.

Read our interview below.

LRM: How does it feel to be part of a movie of Aladdin? I’m not even sure where were you even born yet when the original movie came out. [Laughs]

Mena Massoud: I was one years old when the movie came out here.

LRM: Did you grew up with Aladdin since you were so young at the time?

Mena Massoud: Yeah, I did. I think the first time I watched it was probably back in Egypt on VHS. I was born in Egypt. We moved to Canada when I was three years old. I grew up watching Aladdin. I’ve seen it a lot of times.

LRM: With this being a Disney live action remake, a lot of people focus on the similarities and some people try to focus on differences. What should we be looking for this Aladdin?

Mena Massoud: It’s a tough thing, because you’re right. People often want to compare it and over-analyze it. For us, this is a reimagining of a classic Disney story that everyone grew up and love. For us, it was just more about making the characters real and bringing them to life. It’s also making it more relevant in the times that we live in. Everyone’s heard of the new song that Jasmine has in the film. It created to help make the story more relevant in the time that we live in. We’ll have themes throughout that I think people can relate to in society in this day and age.

LRM: Did you make any special preparations for yourself? This film is going to have everything. The singing, the dancing and the action sequences.

Mena Massoud: I spent six weeks preparing for the role. Ideally, we would have had a little bit more time, but casting took longer than expected. So that pushed everything back. I had six weeks before the film and I continued to prepare throughout shooting the film. The singing, dancing, stunt work, parkour, scuba diving and camel riding, there was a lot that I had to learn and to sharpen my skills. Of course, there were also character work and script studying.

LRM: What do you suppose was the most difficult thing that you had to prepare for? There’s a lot of different talents and skills you’re going to have to showcase for this film.

Mena Massoud: I think more than any one thing was trying to pull off everything at once. With the singing and dancing, it’s being able to remember the choreography while obviously pulling off the singing. For One Jump, for example, it’s not just singing and dancing, it’s more singing in parkour of running, jumping and everything like that. It makes it very challenging. The combination of skills I think is what I found more difficult. Doing any one thing at one time is hard enough as it is, but having to combine different things is very difficult.

LRM: Talk about the diversity that’s going to be in this film. One of the proudest things that I believe about this Aladdin that this film is not going to be whitewashed per se. Could you address that?

Mena Massoud: Yeah, I agree with you. That’s one thing that I’m most proud of in this film, to be honest, more than any of the skills, talents or any of the things that we had to pull off. The fact that Disney stayed true to the story and cast people very appropriately. I think for every generation and for every movement, there should be kind of one project or two that symbolize a movement. We have a chance to make this film that symbolizes that movement with ethnically diverse actors with Middle Easterners, Latinos and Asians. Disney was able to cast people from all around the world for this. Disney went to the Netherlands to cast Marwan [Kenzari] then to Canada for me and I’m Egyptian. It’s the UK for Naomi and she’s half-Indian. People will respond and go watch for film. At the end of the day, that’s the only way that any business knows how to move in one direction is if the film makes money and if it’s successful. Hopefully, this is the beginning of something special.

LRM: I have to ask about Guy Ritchie, who was attached to this film as a director. I get it. The big question is can he direct a musical? Did he manage to prove that to you?

Mena Massoud: I think so. I think it’s the perfect film for Guy. It’s not like he’s doing Chicago or Wicked. I think he’s doing a lot, which has music in it. It’s not a traditional musical in that sense. Even from the original animation, there’s really no dancing here. He’s just singing and then doing action work. Guy has had a very successful career telling of thieves and criminals. At the end of the day, this was a story about a young man who steals to survive. For me, I don’t think we could’ve picked anybody more perfect to pull this off.

LRM: Will we still see his signature directing style throughout the this movie then?

Mena Massoud: Yeah, definitely. I think anybody who’s familiar with Guy’s work will come out of it and still definitely has Guy’s stamp on it. Not to say that music and the dancing isn’t in there. It’s all there, but you can definitely tell that his touch is in there.

LRM: One of the things that’s usually going to be addressed is that haters are going to hate. How did Will Smith going do in this film?

Mena Massoud: I love that. It’s true. It’s such a true statement. Personally, I’m not just saying, because this was my director and this was my castmate. Whoever played the genie will have to have a bigger than reality personality and have to be themselves at the end of the day. I think the reason Robin Williams pulled it off so well is because he was just being Robin Williams. He wasn’t trying to put on a character. He’s just being himself. Will does that as well. Will is the Will Smith we all know and love from 30 years in the business. He brings everything that he’s done in the past and puts it into this one character. I don’t know anyone more experienced, beloved or bigger than life that could have done it. I think he was the perfect person for the role.

LRM: Excellent answer. Hey, thank you Mena. I look forward in this film. Thank you.

Mena Massoud: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive

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Gig Patta

Gig Patta is a journalist and interviewer for LRM and Latino-Review since 2009. He was a writer for other entertainment sites in the past with Collider and He originally came from the world of print journalism with several years as a reporter with the San Diego Business Journal and California Review. He earned his MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management and BA in Economics from UC San Diego. Follow him on Instagram @gigpatta or Facebook @officialgigpatta.

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