Based on the 1992 animated classic of the same name, Aladdin was one of Disney’s first animated features to have characters of color. Representation is important in this day and age because it allows people of color and the marginalized to see themselves in the characters seen on screen. So it was significantly important to reflect that in the casting of the live-action adaptation of Aladdin. Though there were reports of some casting issues, director Guy Ritchie and the rest of the Disney team were dedicated to finding the right actors for the film. And they found them in Mena Massoud, who plays the title character, and Naomi Scott, who plays Princess Jasmine.
Geeks of Doom and a group of journalists were invited to attend the global press conference in Los Angeles, CA, where Massoud and Scott talked about what it was like to be a part of the production, working with Ritchie, and how they all infused some of their own personalities and quirks into the characters while also respecting the animated original. Check out what they had to say below.
Massoud has some pretty big shoes to fill playing the title role of Aladdin. As the live-action version of the character, Massoud brilliantly captures the spirit and swagger of the title character. But the one thing he is most excited about is the fact that kids will be able to see someone who looks like them on screen through Massoud’s performance:
“I am especially proud of the presentation and the ethnically diverse casting that was put into this. It’s not often you can go into a movie theater and see all people of color presented like this. It’s certainly something that I was missing in my childhood. So I am proud of the casting that Guy and Disney put together. I am exciting for little boys and girls to go see someone that looks like them on screen.”
For Naomi Scott, she brings Jasmine, the first Disney princess of color, to life. And just like her animated counterpart, she is a force to be reckoned with. Highly intelligent and driven, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and she knows what she wants in life. But there is a stronger emphasis on those aspects of the character, which speaks to the female empowerment movement we are seeing now. Those contemporary themes combined with the new song “Speechless,” will resonate with today’s audience. Scott credits Alan Menken, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman), for giving her the song:
“When I heard it, just the words and the lyrics, and how timely it was, the message behind the song, the idea of not going speechless, that everyone has a voice, it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t what you don’t like, matter what your gender is, your voice matters. And speaking out against injustice matters, not just standing by and being a spectator.
So recording that day was very emotional. But it was really emotional because I wanted it to feel like what she is going through at that moment. We did some of it live, as well, which was a different type of challenge. Yeah. It’s out there. The song for me is the world’s song like whatever it will be, will be, and whatever people will take from it, they will take. I am just obviously blessed to be the kind of person to embody it in the movie.”
Nasim Pedrad plays Daliha, an entirely new character created just for the film. In it, Daliha is one of Jasmine’s handmaidens and closest confidants. Being a new character, Pedrad did not have anything to refer to but says a lot of the joys of creating the character from scratch was great:
“It was so fun because it was all the joys of creating something from scratch but then watching that intersect with this story we all know and love, which I have so much respect for coming into it. I’m a ’90s kid, so for me, Aladdin was Golden Age Disney.”
To echo what Massoud said, Pedrad continued:
“I am so proud to be a part of the most diversely cast Disney movie of all time, I think. That really resonated with me as a child because it was the first time I saw a Middle Eastern protagonist in a major motion picture. So to get to be a part of that and play a little fun role in being Jasmine’s friend and handmaiden, especially under the guidance of Guy [Ritchie], who is so collaborative and fun. He puts the scene up on its feet and turns it into a whole fun new thing that you would have never necessarily seen on the page. It was such a blast.
And we got to spend time together, a lot of my scenes were with Naomi, but we got to spend a lot of time together before we started filming and there was an instant camaraderie and friendship that I think hopefully translates into the dynamic of the characters.”
Scott then chimed in to say Pedrad kills it in the movie:
“She does so much improv because she is such an amazing writer as well. I was just laughing the whole time. I couldn’t keep it together. But I think she brought more to the character than anyone could even imagine for this role.”
Music and songs are such a critical part of Aladdin that it was important not to only have those two aspects in the live-action film, but also be sure that the cast could carry a tune. Massoud will be singing a new rendition of “One Jump Ahead.” Smith will sing “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Prince Ali.” And Scott will be singing “Speechless,” an original song that is new to Aladdin.
The actress says that she discussed how she would work Disney’s specific style of music into her own voice, so when she sang as Jasmine, she sang in character:
“I had to put on some type of voice. It was a challenge, especially the singing live thing, as well. But I really wanted to do it. We would have an earpiece and I was basically singing a cappella in this quiet room to myself like a crazy person. Literally, that’s what it felt like. I think that is how I viewed it. But I did not want to put on a musical theater performance as well. I did not want it to feel performancy. I wanted it to feel like you are going through what she is going through, and I kind of sway more in the kind of R&B world, in terms of my own music. So maybe I added a little bit of that. I don’t really know what happened in that booth. But I think it was a mix of both, singing in character and also bringing in a little bit of my own flavor.”
Songwriter Menken says even though Scott had more of a background in R&B, what she brought to “Speechless” really worked in the context of the story and the arrangement:
“Every aspect of that song kind of raised a different bar. Because once that song was in place we had to go, ‘Okay, now how do we set that song up? How do we create the moments that she would break into that, that would work into the story and organically lead into it?’ So we divided those into two parts: the first part is ‘I don’t want to remain speechless,’ the second part is, ‘I won’t remain speechless.’ Yes, it does have a sort of pop feel to it and we took a lot of that pop orchestration and added the colors of Aladdin. It was nerve-wracking, but at the end of the day it actually really works.”
Aladdin opens in theaters on May 24, 2019. Click right here for our review, trailers, and more.