Mena Massoud might be able to sit and chat amidst a busy Austin, Tex., hotel lobby for now, but that time is dwindling: the actor is the title character in Disney’s mega live-action reboot of “Aladdin,” due out in May, where he stars as the Disney icon alongside Will Smith and Naomi Scott.
The release of the trailer alone has created a fan base for the 27-year-old actor.
“Before I got on the plane I had autograph collectors waiting for me, with posters of ‘Aladdin’ and stills from the movie,” he says of his trip from Los Angeles to Austin for SXSW. “And then when I got off the plane, again there were, like, autograph collectors waiting. I’m kind of preparing myself to lose a little bit of the privacy that I used to have.”
He’s warming up to the attention that is sure to come with “Aladdin” with a role in “Run This Town,” the Damian Lewis-starring film about the final year in office of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (who was caught on videotape smoking crack cocaine and in other bizarre behavior), which premiered at SXSW over the weekend.
Massoud plays Kamal, Ford’s right-hand man; the character is a mashup of about three real-life assistants Ford had. The film also stars Nina Dobrev, Ben Platt and Scott Speedman.
“It’s a Toronto story. And me and Nina are from Toronto, so we knew of Rob Ford really well,” Massoud says. “And it’s about Millennials, it’s about Millennials not being able to afford real estate like the older generation used to, and being looked down upon by the older generation.”
He arrived on set for “Run This Town” soon after wrapping seven months of filming “Aladdin” in London.
“It’s interesting as an actor because you do something like ‘Aladdin’ where I’m singing and I’m dancing and I’m doing stunt work and a lot of that is really challenging — but then I came to do this film and I had some of the most challenging scenes I’ve ever done as an actor, because of the very fast political jargon,” he says.
Massoud was born in Egypt and immigrated with his family to Canada when he was three and a half years old. At the start he was cast in parts like “Al Qaeda #2” — the leading role in “Aladdin,” he says, is a turning point for him, for seeing a Middle Eastern man represented on screen.
“All I want for my career is I want to work with the best directors and I want to be treated like a Caucasian man would be,” Massoud says. “I grew up not really seeing a lot of leads in the industry that weren’t like — and I look up to these people — but like Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale. And now Rami Malek just won an Oscar — he’s [Egyptian], too. It gives me hope.”
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