Mena Massoud arrives at the premiere of “Aladdin” on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. Canadian “Aladdin” star Mena Massoud says his wild carpet ride to movie stardom has been bewildering, and humbling. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Chris Pizzello/Invision

The diverse ambitions of Canadian star of Disney’s live-action ‘Aladdin’ remake

Egyptian-born Mena Massoud was unknown before snagging the lead role in the live-action Disney remake

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 lead role in the live-action Disney remake of the animated children’s tale in theatres now.

He says he “lived in a closet” in a friend’s apartment to save money for a few months when he moved to Los Angeles two and a half years ago, until he booked a role on the Amazon episodic thriller ”Jack Ryan,” which he shot in Montreal.

Now the 27-year-old finds himself in a big-budget feature helmed by U.K. director Guy Ritchie and sharing top billing with industry veteran Will Smith, who plays the wise-cracking, blue-tinted Genie.

Massoud seized on the revamp’s mission to feature a diverse cast and a more empowered female heroine, a headstrong Princess Jasmine with political aspirations, played by Naomi Scott.

He’s also mindful of an impressionable young audience that will be drawn to this film, boasting about a cast that includes actors with heritage from Tunisia, India, Turkey and Iran.

“‘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,’” Massoud says in a whirlwind round of interviews in Toronto on Thursday.

“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.”

He admits it was challenging on many fronts to play a rakish thief who darts through crowded markets by leaping from roof tops while singing his heart out.

In addition to acting, singing and dancing, Massoud says he learned to scuba dive, juggle, ride a camel and perfect basic parkour moves including somersaults, cartwheels, flips and slides.

And then there was the day he was greeted on set with news he needed to learn to play the oud, a classical Middle Eastern string instrument.

“And I was like, ‘What?’” he recalls.

“And then … on the day-of, Guy was like, ‘You know what? We’re actually going to get Naomi to play it because it makes more sense if Jasmine plays it.’ So that’s show business for you.”

Such demands are all in service of a long-term career for Massoud, who says he’s dreamed of becoming an actor since he was a kid, even dropping out of a neuroscience program to study theatre at Ryerson University.

But he also has an eye on producing films through his own production company, and promoting a diverse talent pool in Toronto through a project he calls the EDA Foundation, or the Ethnically Diverse Artists Foundation.

Its goal is ”to support and really make the path easier for ethnically diverse artists in Toronto,” he says.

Then there’s Evolving Vegan, a company he founded to promote veganism through an IGTV series currently on Instagram. There are also plans for a book and a travelling culinary TV series that would highlight more than 50 vegan and vegetarian establishments in 10 different cities across North America.

“It would kind of be like Anthony Bourdain, but vegan-style,” he explains.

Of course, there’s more on the acting horizon, too.

Next, Massoud heads to North Carolina to star opposite Abigail Spencer in the Hulu drama “Reprisal,” which he calls: “very different, very dark and dramatic.”

Amid all his interests, Massoud insists acting is his primary passion.

“I’ve always envisioned working with the best directors in the world,” he says, citing Christoph Waltz as inspiration.

“Christoph Waltz, you know, blew up in Hollywood at a very old age. He won two Oscars back-to-back so I thought, ‘You know what? Even if it happens when I’m 50, that’s fine.’ You know, I’ll always keep going, always keep trying.

“To have (‘Aladdin’) happen now is a blessing.”

READ MORE: Now 30, ‘The Little Mermaid’ paved the way for Elsa and Anna

READ MORE: Summer Movie Preview: Sequels galore, but original gems too

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATED: Man arrested on Richmond Avenue after standoff with police following ‘serious assault’

Police were called early Sunday morning following an assault in the building

Victoria harpist releases ‘old school’ jazz album, makes singing debut

Musician ‘blown away’ by reactions to her seventh album Songs From the Harp

WestShore Skatepark Coalition faces uphill battle as costs jump $166,000

‘It feels like a David and Goliath situation,’ says coalition member

Victoria’s Christmas bird count set to take flight

More volunteers needed on the West Shore for Dec. 14 count

Trees topped, greenery snatched from Saanich park

‘If everyone took one thing, there’d be nothing left,’ says president of park society

VIDEO: SNL skewers Trudeau’s mockery of Trump in high school cafeteria sketch

The three world leaders won’t let Trump sit at the cool kids’ table

Greater Victoria 2019 holiday craft fair roundup

Get a jump on your holiday shopping

B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

Students call for spending as international enrolment produces huge surpluses at many universities

Conservatives urge Morneau to deliver ‘urgent’ fall economic update

Morneau says the first thing the Liberals plan to do is bring in their promised tax cut for the middle class

INFOGRAPHIC: How much money did your local university or college make last year?

B.C. university and colleges posted a combined $340 million surplus in 2018/19

B.C. creates $8.5M organization to improve safety for health care workers

Group will bring together unions, province, health care organizations

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Most Read