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

Dr. Albert de Villiers, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
‘People need to start listening’: IH top doc combats COVID-19 misconceptions

Dr. Albert de Villiers says light at the end of the tunnel will grow in step with people’s adherence to PHO guidance

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

Youth Climate Corps members April Gariepy, Summer Monkman and Linn Murray at work in West Arm Provincial Park, fall 2020. Photo: Submitted
Youth Climate Corps members April Gariepy, Summer Monkman and Linn Murray at work in West Arm Provincial Park. fall 2020. Photo submitted
VIDEO: Kootenay youth climate group works to protect Nelson’s water supply

Youth Climate Corps members spent five weeks thinning forest in West Arm Park

Interior Health has set up a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar doctors and mayor urge residents to take COVID-19 seriously as cases are confirmed in the city

“Your doctors would like you to understand we do now have Covid cases here”

Photo: Black Press file
Trail traffic stop yields stolen cheque investigation

Trail RCMP will continue enhanced impaired driving enforcement this holiday season

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Good Samaritan Mountainview Village located at 1540 KLO Road in Kelowna. (Good Samaritan Society)
First long-term care resident dies from COVID-19 in Interior Health

Man in his 80s dies following virus outbreak at Mountainview Village

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

Stock photo courtesy Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca.
Double-murder trial in case of Cranbrook couple killed adjourned until January

The trial was adjourned following an application from the defence related to COVID-19

Most Read