‘I love the idea of the Genie. The Genie has these spectacular powers but he is shackled. 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 have started finding my freedom, where getting freed of Will Smith and I am getting more comfortable with being me.’
Will Smith finds freedom
Raymond de Asis Lo (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Disney’s domination of global box-office continues with this week’s massive opening of Aladdin. The thrilling and vibrant live-action adaptation of the ‘90s animated classic took in more than $100M in US box office and is expected to top majority of its international market on its first week.

The success of the movie is good news not only for Disney but also for Hollywood superstar Will Smith who saw his career plateau after two decades of box-office domination in the 1990s and 2000s. The last major hit of the actor was the 2016 ensemble film Suicide Squad.

“Disney magic is real,” Will told our group of journalists during the junket for the movie at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills this week. “This is my first Disney movie and there’s something that shocks the inner child within you and forces you to come alive and smile and appreciate the moment.”

Will is playing the iconic Genie in Aladdin.

Loosely based on a Middle Eastern folktale from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, the movie tells the story of a petty thief who falls in love with a princess and discovers a magic lamp that houses a Genie that, when conjured, could grant three wishes to his master.

Quite interestingly, Will has likened himself to the Genie, which was trapped and shackled for a thousand years inside the magic lamp before being conjured and brought to freedom by sheer magic.

“I took a couple of years off and I guess I sort of hit ceiling in my life I have created, in the things I could create and in my career,” he said. “I was getting to the end of my wisdom and I, kind of, got to a point where I had a bit of just a collapse of my life and creations so I took a couple of years off essentially to study and journey spiritually and Aladdin was sort of my comeback.”

Will turned 50 last year and the short time he spent away from the limelight has allowed him to rediscover himself, recalibrate and brought him a newfound appreciation of the medium that made him a superstar before he was 30 years old.

“Everything starts with what I am saying to the world,” he added. “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? Aladdin checks all those boxes. I love the idea of the Genie. One of the things I related to in the Genie was, you know, Genie has shackles.

Will Smith (second from right), who plays Genie in the film, with co-star Navid Negahban (as Sultan), production designer Gemma Jackson, composer Alan Menken, Nasim Pedrad (as Dalia), Naomi Scott (Jasmine), Mena Massoud (Aladdin) and director Guy Ritchie

“The Genie has these spectacular powers but he is shackled. 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 have started finding my freedom, where getting freed of Will Smith and I am getting more comfortable with being me.”

Will considers Aladdin the first step to Will Smith 2.0. Sometime this year, the actor is set to star in Ang Lee’s highly anticipated new film Gemini Man and, next year, he reteams with Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys for Life, the third installment of the series that cemented his superstar status in Hollywood.

“Really, it’s just about my beliefs. I am going out into the world and I have a big voice and people look and people listen, I just want to make sure I am saying things that improve and contribute to people’s lives and growth and joy and evolution.”

The actor has a popular Instagram account where he shares his more personal stories for his fans and followers.

The role of the Genie may have inspired Will, but getting to the part and becoming comfortable taking on a role originally voiced and popularized by the late legendary comedian Robin Williams was another story of its own and it didn’t help that many fans of the original were loud on social media about their fear that the actor could have been miscast.

“I started out fearful but when I heard the music, it just started waking up that fun, child-like, silly part of me and it was the most joyful experience of my career,” he said.

The song that got him “over the hump” and convinced him that he could play the Genie was Friend Like Me. He toyed with the song and its tempo, added more hip-hop element to it before he found the right groove that made him exclaim, “Oh my god, I am home, I’m home!”

“I started playing with the hip-hop flavor and then the Genie was really born.”

To Will’s credit, his take of the Genie is markedly different from the original. His performance was entertaining, heartfelt and, yes, original. One journalist commented that he made the genie “jiggy,” a nod to the actor/rapper’s hit single Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It, which elicited a giggly response from Will.

Once you have seen the movie, you’ll see why.

Directed by Guy Ritchie, Aladdin also features newcomers Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott in the roles of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, respectively. The rest of the cast includes Nasim Pedrad, Navid Negahban and Marwan Kenzari. Alan Menken is back with a retooled sound of the classic songs from the original. Gemma Jackson, who did the design for Game of Thrones, brought the city of Agrabah to life.

Aladdin is now showing in theaters nationwide.

ALADDIN DISNEY
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