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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Orca 1
Orcas: Our Shared Future

Royal BC Museum dives into the world of orcas with upcoming feature exhibition

Joan Miller with the Vancouver Island North Regional Film Commission says there’s much room for optimism in the region rebounding from COVID-19 and is excited about what the future holds for the region. Black Press File Photo
North Island film industry optimistic about post-COVID rebound

Interest in filming here is still high, according to film commission, once things open back up

The 10-part Netflix series Maid, which is being exclusively shot in Greater Victoria, has been filming in Langford and Colwood over the past two weeks. On April 7, filming will take place on the east side of the Esquimalt Lagoon. (Black Press Media file)
Netflix series ‘Maid’ filming in Colwood

10-episode Warner Bros. production filmed exclusively in Greater Victoria

Victoria mural artists Joshua Lundrigan (from left) and Paul Archer join Rob Chyzowski, co-owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner in front of an Archer-designed mural that went up on Thursday at the Inner Harbour restaurant. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Positivity rules with new outdoor mural from Victoria artist

Paul Archer teams with Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner for patio project

Donna Jones, who was born and raised in the Cowichan Valley, is the executive director of the documentary ‘Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence’. (Submitted)
Islander produces documentary offering hope to those with addictions

Donna Jones and husband Brent just released Bobbi Jo: Under the Influence

‘Frank Ney’ by Patrick Flavin, ‘Millstone River Upper Falls’ by John Collison Baker, ‘Labyrinth of Dreams’ by MA Molcan, ‘On the Other Side’ by Liana Ravensbergen, ‘December Snow’ by Laurel Karjala and ‘Jacks Point’ by Dana Smiley (cropped, clockwise from top-left) are among the works in the Nanaimo Arts Council’s latest exhibition. (Photos courtesy Nanaimo Arts Council)
Nanaimo Arts Council presents its first online gallery show

Submissions now open for upcoming ‘Ekphrastic Celebration’ show

Dorothy Sevcov’s exhibition ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ is on display at Art 10 Gallery until the end of the month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Experimental paintings now on exhibit at Nanaimo’s Art 10 Gallery

Dorothy Sevcov’s ‘Having Fun With Acrylics’ on display through April

Courtenay artist Christine Boyer presents Alongside My Path: Native Wildflowers of Canada at Gallery Merrick from April 9 to 23. (Photo courtesy Christine Boyer)
Island painter shows off the wildflowers of Western Canada in first solo show

Courtenay’s Christine Boyer presents floral exhibit at Nanaimo’s Gallery Merrick

Nanaimo Harbourfront Library librarian April Ripley led the effort to create a Vancouver Island poetry booklet in recognition of National Poetry Month. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Harbourfront Library publishes booklet for National Poetry Month

Collection features winners of ‘Poem in your Pocket’ contest

SENCOTEN language revitalizationist and filmmaker Renee Sampson’s short film, Bringing Our Language Back to LIfe, shows online during the Reel 2 Real International Youth Film Festival, April 14-23. (Photo courtesy Wapikoni)
SENCOTEN language featured in short film created on Saanich Peninsula

Renee Sampson film highlights importance of passing on traditional languages to youth

The area surrounding the Chemainus Rotary Club’s bunker door is one of the new surfaces that will feature a mural. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Up to three new murals coming to Chemainus

Project will be coordinated between the Rotary Club and Festival of Murals Society

Jules Sherred, photographer and owner of Polaris Creative, is putting together an exhibit that combines two of his greatest passions: food and advocacy for those with disabilities. (Polaris Creative photo)
Kickstarter launches for fully accessible exhibit focused on food

Raising awareness has been Sherred’s life’s work.

Sooke artist Jessica Ruth Freedman is one of nine virtual in-residence artists who share the creative process, conduct webinars, write and offer sage advice with artsUNITE, a free online wayfinding platform for artists. (Contributed - Jessica Ruth Freedman)
Sooke artist joins artsUNITE, getting creative through pandemic

National program brings much-needed support to arts community

Most Read