Disney will be taking us on a brand new magic carpet ride with a live-action adaptation of Aladdin. Directed by Guy Ritchie, the film nearly matches its animated original story beat for beat. But some slight changes and personal touches make it contemporary. But the one thing on everyone’s mind was whether or not Will Smith can even come remotely close to matching Robin William’s energy that went into becoming Genie.
It’s pretty safe to say that he did. With his larger than life personality, natural shining charisma, and some hip-hop flair, Smith made the blue wispy character his own, while also paying homage to Williams’ take.
ThatsITLA was recently invited to join their fellow journalists at the Aladdin global press conference, where the actor opened up about what it was like to be a part of his first Disney film, how it was one of the most joyful experiences of his career and more.
1 – Do You Believe In Disney Magic
Disney movies may look and feel like they are tailor-made for kids on the surface, but deep down, they are pieces of work that are made for people of all ages. At its core, these films have the ability to bring out that inner child. And Smith is a firm believer in that.
“Disney Magic is real.,” Smith said. “This is my first Disney movie. And there’s something that Walt Disney did in the design of these stories that at the core of these stories is something that shocks the inner child within you and forces it to come alive and smile and appreciate the moment.”
2 – The Most Joyful Experience Of His Career
Taking the role of Genie came with a huge set of risks. The late Robin Williams already created such an unforgettable character with his brilliant performance. So the bar was set extremely high.
“For me, coming into this, first starting with fear, it definitely started with fear,” Smith said. “What Robin Williams did with his character was, he just didn’t leave a lot of room to add to the Genie.”
However, Smith found that he could make the character his own while paying homage to William’s Genie.
“So I started off fearful. But then when I got with the music, it just started waking up that fun childlike silly part of me,” Smith said. “This was the most joyful experience of my career.”
One of the songs that resonated with the actor the most during the production of the film was ‘Friend Like Me.’ Working on it, he discovered that he could infuse some hip-hop influences into the song to make it fresh but
“I went into the studio the first day and I really wanted to play with it to see if I could add something to it,” Smith explained. “And literally 30 minutes in the studio, and starting to play with it and find that in that 94, 96 BPM range, we were playing around in there thinking ultimately it was a little bit faster than that. But that 94, 96 BPM range is right old school hip-hop.”
Smith added that he pulled from Honey Drippers’ ‘Impeach The President’ and Eric B. and Rakim’s ‘I Know You Got Soul.’ “I started playing with the hip hop flavor and then the Genie was really born in my mind from the music,” the actor said. “And I understood once I played with Friend Like Me.”
During the press conference, Smith revealed that he wasn’t painted blue to be the Genie, it was all CGI. In fact, this approach allowed him to play around with the script and improvise some of the lines.
“I would just be on set, we’d run the scenes and everything, and I could improv on set because I knew it wouldn’t necessarily be in the movie. Then we’d do the first round of the CGI work and we could go again and work it. Then Guy watched the whole movie, and I had another chance to go back and we could play with lines and make adjustments because we were going to create it anyway. So for me, there was tons of improv.”
3 – Rediscovering One’s Self.
Smith did not shy away speaking about the career break that he took, saying that he felt that he created the things that he could create in his career.
“I was getting to the end of my wisdom with leading my family and I kind of got to a point where I had a bit of just a collapse of my life and creations,” Smith said. “So I took a couple of years off essentially to study. To study and journey spiritually. And Aladdin was really my first sort of coming back in and seeing if my heart was even still in this kind of performing.”
Smith wanted to be sure that what he was doing had a positive impact on the world and that it is something that he could be happy with. “I discovered is everything starts with what am I saying to the world? How does this piece contribute to the human family? Can I go around the world with the ideas that the movie represents and can I teach and preach these ideas in good conscience? And Aladdin checks all of those boxes,” the actor said.
In fact, Smith sees a lot of himself in the Genie in terms of the larger than life persona and being creatively shackled. And he says that Aladdin was his first step that would allow Will Smith to be Will Smith. “I love the idea of Genie and one of the things that I related to in Genie is that the Genie has shackles,” Smith said. “The Genie has these spectacular powers, but he’s shackled. Like he is a prisoner of his spiritual fate. And that is sort of how I felt with Will Smith. I was sort of shackled by Will Smith. And in these last couple of years, I’ve just started finding my freedom, were getting free of Will Smith and I’m getting more comfortable being me. “
4 – Representation Matters
Getting the casting just right was critically important for the live-action adaptation. The animated original was the first to feature people of color. So Disney and director Guy Ritchie knew they had a responsibility to maintain authenticity and honesty in the city of Agrabah. And Smith could not agree more.
“I think it is critically important to be able to pull stories and colors and textures and tastes from around the world,” Smith said. “I think that in this particular time in the world, that kind of inclusion and diversity will be a critical part of turning our connectivity because we have more connectivity than ever, but transitioning that connectivity into harmony is going to be really critical. And I think these kinds of interactions in these types of movies are a powerful global service. It was critical and important to me.”
5 – Three Wishes
As any person who releases the genie would tell you, they are given three wishes, and only three. While Smith plays the wispy blue wish granting being, he says that his wishes are wildly underwhelming. In fact, he would only use one wish if given the chance. “My one wish would be divine understanding,” Smith said. “That’s the thing that I’ve been finding in, I just turned 50 this year. And that lack of understanding, confusion, is the mother of fear and violence. So for me, I would absolutely wish for divine understanding to be shared with all. I think that understanding is the seeds of peace.”
Aladdin opens in theaters on May 24, 2019.