With Disney's live-action Aladdin, Mena Massoud rides his magic carpet to box-office stardom.
Thank a calculus class for Mena Massoud’s acting career. Born in Egypt and reared in Toronto, Massoud, following his parents’ wishes for him to become a physician, was studying neuroscience at the University of Toronto when he encountered one integral too many. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” the 27-year-old budding heartthrob remembers. “I just decided I was gonna stop trying to please my parents and follow my own dreams.”
Talk about wish fulfillment: After a breakout stint in Amazon’s Jack Ryan, Massoud landed the much-coveted title role in Guy Ritchie’s live-action version of Disney’s animated classic Aladdin—a prominent part of his own Canadian childhood. “My parents were immigrants looking for something to play for their children—Aladdin was a no-brainer,” he recalls. “It’s a story that they knew from their own childhood, and it was a culture and people that looked like us!”
The iconic role, however, wasn’t child’s play. “What I found most daunting was the number of things I had to learn,” he says—a list that ranged from singing, dancing and playing an oud (a Middle Eastern lute) to riding a camel, scuba diving, boxing and other stunt skills.
He also knew he’d be making a major inroad in Middle Easterner representation on the big screen. “That doesn’t happen a lot in Hollywood—it might be Disney’s most diverse film ever,” he notes, adding that it’s a milestone he personally connects with. “It’s a representation of the very journey I’ve taken. It means a lot to me in that sense.”