Canadian ‘Aladdin’ star eyes diverse career championing homegrown talent

TORONTO — Canadian “Aladdin” star Mena Massoud says his wild carpet ride to movie stardom has been bewildering, and humbling.

But the affable, Toronto-bred actor says it’s just the beginning of what he hopes is a long career that will include championing homegrown productions and supporting talent from a diverse range of racial backgrounds.

The Egyptian-born Massoud was relatively unknown before snagging the leading role in the live-action Disney remake of the animated children’s tale.

He stars as the poor but charming thief Aladdin, who falls in love with the headstrong Princess Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott, and turns for help to a powerful blue-tinted genie, played by Will Smith.

Directed by Guy Ritchie, the big-budget film updates the classic by imbuing the princess with political aspirations and featuring a diverse cast with backgrounds including Tunisia, India, Turkey and Iran.

“Aladdin” opens Friday in theatres.

Massoud says he’s mindful of an impressionable young audience that will be drawn to this film, and hopes that his spin on Aladdin can be inspiring and empowering.

“The story at the end of the day is about a young man who’s going on this journey of personal identity,” says Massoud, raised in the Toronto-area communities of Scarborough and Markham and now based in Los Angeles.

“He’s an orphan. He lost his parents very young. He’s had to fight to survive on the streets every day and as much as he is charming and charismatic, he’s kind of an outcast in his society. So I just wanted to bring those themes to life and focus on this idea of we all struggle with personal identity and finding out that we’re good enough as who we are. It’s something that I went through in high school.”

Massoud says he always dreamed of acting one day, but as a kid it was especially apparent that people of colour were not well-represented on the big and small screens.

“‘Aladdin’ was one of the few things that I watched as a kid where I was like, ‘Oh, that guy looks like me and has a similar culture to mine,’” he says.

“I mean, my first role, my first ACTRA gig where I got to join the union was ‘Al Qaeda No. 2’ on a show called ‘Nikita.’ So it’s been a struggle for people of colour and I don’t think it’s enough to celebrate one group of minorities. We’ve got to celebrate all diverse artists and actors and ‘Aladdin’ does that really well.”

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