Mena Massoud led the sixth highest-grossing film of the year (so far) as the star of Aladdin, and yet he still can't shake that street rat treatment. In a new interview with The Daily Beast to talk about his latest project, Hulu's Reprisal, the actor revealed that playing the key role in the beloved Disney remake was far from the career-altering experience he'd thought it would be.
“I’m kind of tired of staying quiet about it,” he told The Daily Beast. “I want people to know that it’s not always dandelions and roses when you’re doing something like Aladdin. ‘He must have made millions. He must be getting all these offers.’ It’s none of those things. I haven’t had a single audition since Aladdin came out.”
For the record, his Reprisal audition took place prior to Aladdin's release, and, Massoud noted, the show's creator Josh Corbin didn't even know that Massoud had the Disney role in the pipes when he was cast in the thriller.
The Daily Beast reporter clarified that Massoud was not coming off as angry or ungrateful; he was simply stating the facts, and in this case, the facts are different than the expectation. “It’s wild to a lot of people,” he continued. “People have these ideas in their head. It’s like, I'm sitting here being like, OK, Aladdin just hit $1 billion. Can I at least get an audition? Like I’m not expecting you to be like, here’s Batman. But can I just get in the room? Like, can you just give me a chance? So it’s not always what you think.”
Mena Massoud and Will Smith in Disney's Aladdin.
It turns out, releasing a handful of hits starring non-white casts doesn't solve all of Hollywood's diversity problems. Having made his own conscious effort to avoid roles that might enforce any negative stereotypes of people of color (ever since his first on-screen role as "al Qaeda #2" in the CW's Nikita), Massoud has noticed that oftentimes in the audition room, he's the odd man out. “There’s always a wild card or two when you’re casting,” he said. “I’m usually the wild card. In a room of Caucasian guys, a director might be like, OK, let’s see, like, two guys who aren’t. And maybe they’ll be the wild card choice.”
The unsettling implication in this case is that Massoud isn't revered as a crucial part of Aladdin's success. If he was, in theory, producers, directors, and casting directors would be clamoring to get him on their projects. Instead, Massoud is treated as a cog in the wheel — important to the process, but not uniquely so, as if you can replace him with any of the other 2,000 actors he beat out in the audition, and still, Aladdin will have crossed that billion-dollar box office goal. (It's worth noting that if it truly was the case that Aladdin's success had little to do with Massoud's talent, then Disney likely wouldn't have invested so many resources into holding such a vast casting process in the first place.)
So it makes sense that Massoud is skeptical about how any one project will influence his future. “I think since Aladdin my expectations for things releasing and what they’re going to do in my career, I’ve had to really pull them back,” he said. “Because, you know, I got the same question about Aladdin and it was like, ‘Oh, you know, Aladdin’s coming out. How do you feel about what that’s going to do to your career?’ The big truth is I haven’t really seen a big anything from it.”
“As for whether people are gonna discover me from it or what it’s going to do, I literally have no clue,” he added. “I can’t tell you I know how things are going to work out anymore.”