Disney’s live-action take on Aladdin will see Will Smith bring the high-spirited and energetic Genie to life. With his own brand of charisma and a bit of hip-hop flair, this Genie is not like the Robin Williams take in the animated original, but the performance still pays homage to the late comedian. In fact, the actor says the remake is the highlight of his career. And you can see how much fun he is having in that performance.
Geeks of Doom and a group of journalists were invited to sit down at the Aladdin global press conference where Smith spoke about believing in that Disney magic, how he made some of those memorable songs his own, finding a career resurgence, and what representation means to him. Check out what he had to see below.
Smith spoke about how Disney designed their animated films in order to bring out the inner child in adults. It’s an undeniable magic that can be felt whenever watching any of the Disney animated films. And now with the live-action adaptations being released, some adults who watched the animated version can experience that for themselves:
“I was saying, Disney magic is real. This is my first Disney movie. There is something that Walt Disney did in the design of these stories that at the core of these stories is something that shocks the inner child within you and forces it to come alive and smile and appreciate the moment.”
Of course, the one thing on everyone’s minds, especially those who remember the 1992 animated film, was if Smith’s performance can be anything like Williams’ performance. While the actor acknowledges that Williams didn’t leave a lot of room, he took a different approach to bring the Genie to life. Rather than imitate Williams’ performance, Smith added his own spin which helped bring that inner child out:
“For me, coming into this, first starting with fear. It definitely started with fear, especially with that Robin Williams did with this character was that he didn’t leave a lot of room to add to the genie. So I started out fearful. But when I got with the music, it just started waking up that fun childlike, silly part of me. This was the most joyful experience of my career.”
Smith addressed playing the part of Genie, which sees him as both blue and his natural skin color. But he revealed that the blue Genie that you saw on screen was actually 100% CGI. He recognized that people may have thought he was painted blue when there was no painting involved, at all. “The work was so good that they don’t even get credit for it,” Smith said.
The fact that it was CGI allow him to improv and play around with the script:
“I would just be on set, weâ€™d run the scenes and everything, and I could improv on set because I knew it wouldnâ€™t necessarily be in the movie. Then weâ€™d do the first round of the CGI work and we could go again and work it. Then Guy watched the whole movie, and I had another chance to go back and we could play with lines and make adjustments because we were going to create it anyway. So for me, there was tons of improv.â€
Playing Genie required Smith to not only act but sing and dance in some of the film’s bigger musical numbers, as well. And the one song that gave him the confidence to play the part of Aladdin’s best friend is “Friend Like Me.”
“I went into the studio the first day, and I really wanted to play with it to see if I could add something to it, and literally 30 minutes in the studio and starting to play with it and finding that 94, 96 BPM range. That 94, 96 BPM range is right old school hip-hop.
So I grabbed the Honeydrippers’ ‘Impeach The President,’ which is really a classic old school hip-hop breakbeat, and I had them throw that breakbeat under there. So I messed with that and I messed with Eric B. & Rakim’s ‘You Got Soul’ under ‘You Got A Friend Like Me,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I am home.’ And I started playing with the hip-hop flavor, and then the Genie was really born, in my mind, from the music, when I played ‘You Got A Friend Like Me.'”
Alan Menken then chimed in saying that he likened himself to an architect, where he would design the house and then “Will threw a hell of a party in that house.” He added that once Smith added his own flair to it, he backed off and let him do what he does best.
While Smith says Aladdin was one of the highlights of his career, he wasn’t afraid to open up about hitting a career ceiling:
“In my life, I have created the things that I could create. In my career, I was getting to the end of my wisdom with leading my family and I kind of got to a point where I had a bit of a collapse of my life and my creations. So I took a couple of years off, essentially to study and journey spiritually.
Aladdin was really sort of my first coming back in and seeing if my heart was still even in this kind of performing. What I discovered is that everything starts with, ‘What am I saying to the world? How does this piece contribute to the human family? Can I go around the world with the ideas that the movie represents and can I teach and preach these ideas in good conscience?’ With Aladdin, it checks all of those boxes.”
And he credits playing the role of Genie for giving him the ability to check those boxes. Additionally, he saw a little bit of himself in the character that he was playing:
“I love the idea of Genie. One of the things I related to with Genie is that Genie has shackles. The Genie has these spectacular powers but he is shackled. He is a prisoner of his spiritual fate and that is sort of how I felt with Will Smith. I was sort of shackled by Will Smith and in these last couple of years, I just started finding my freedom. We’re getting free of Will Smith and I am getting more comfortable being me. So Aladdin was that first step back out.”
While Smith may be a huge draw for the film, he was quick to point out how important Aladdin was for representation and how they could act as a global service that could connect the world.
“I think it is critically important to be able to stories, colors, textures, and tastes from around the world. I think in this particular time in the world that kind of inclusion and diversity will be a critical part in turning our connectivity because we have more connectivity than ever but transmit transitioning that connectivity into harmony is going to be really critical. These kinds of interactions in these types of movies are a powerful global service. So it was critical and important to me.”
When asked what he would want if he were given three wishes, however, he summed it up to one. And though he said it was wildly underwhelming, he was honest and genuine:
“I would have one wish, and my one wish would be divine understanding. That’s the thing that I have been finding, I just turned fifty this year, and that lack of understanding and confusion is the mother of fear and violence. So, for me, I would absolutely wish for divine understanding to be shared with all. I think understanding is the seeds of peace.”
Aladdin opens in theaters on May 24, 2019. Click right here for trailers and more.