Disney’s lengthy search for its live-action Aladdin lead has come to a close with Mena Massoud. The Egypt-born, Canada-raised actor was announced for the titular role during the D23 Expo, a three-day fan convention in California, alongside Naomi Scott from Power Rangers as Jasmine and Will Smith as Genie.
“So honored & grateful for the opportunity to help bring this magical story to life once again,” Massoud tweeted after the news dropped. “Let’s get to work!”
Massoud has been working in television and film since 2011, amassing credits on Teen Nick’s Open Heart, The CW’s Nikita, and the Canadian series Saving Hope. But he’s largely remained under the radar — until this new boost to his celebrity stock.
Get to know the new Aladdin star below.
His first role was on Nikita
In 2011, Massoud appeared on “Covenants,” the 17th episode of Nikita season 1, his first credited role. He portrayed a member of Al-Qaeda, whose convoy was stopped by the border of Chechnya, thanks to the titular assassin.
Massoud has felt the sting of Hollywood’s diversity fight
Open Heart was Massoud’s most well-known gig in 2015, playing the character Jared, and even that point in his career was hard won.
“I grew up in a culturally different household,” he explained in an interview with Defective Geeks. “My parents saw certain things differently than other people. I went to schools that had a significantly large Caucasian population and I feel very fortunate because I was able to compare that perspective with my family’s. It allowed me to create a wider world view on things. Also, though, at this point in my career, being a visible minority in this industry still affects me.”
He continued, “I can’t compete for roles that require me to be Caucasian or African American, even if those characters really connect with me and intrigue me. The competition may be less, some people would say, but the amount of work to be had is less as well. However, I think the industry is growing more and more and starting to support actors of all cultural backgrounds.”
We’ll be seeing more of him beyond Aladdin
Alongside stars like John Krasinski and Timothy Hutton, Massoud will appear in Amazon’s straight-to-series Jack Ryan from creators Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland. He’ll play Tarek Kassar, “the best and brightest” of the CIA analysts, as well as a friend to Krasinski’s Jack Ryan. Busting Jack’s chops is part of their relationship.
Robin Williams helped inspire him to pursue acting
Massoud’s new role in Aladdin couldn’t be more significant for the actor. According to an interview with the website The Hudsucker, the late Robin Williams, “in everything he did,” was a major inspiration for Massoud to pursue acting. Massoud would transfer from the University of Toronto to an arts program at Ryerson University. “He was an incredibly well-rounded actor but I grew up on his role in Mrs. Doubtfire,” Massoud said of Williams. “That role by itself is very well-rounded and he goes through an amazing journey in that movie. I think it’s very underrated.”
Williams, of course, iconically voiced the Genie in Disney’s animated original of Aladdin.