Will Smith may be a desperado, but he isn’t desperate for roles. In fact, when he was presented with the idea of playing the Genie in Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, out this weekend, the actor’s first impulse was to say no.
Why would an a-lister say no to a role in a big Disney live action adaptation? Well, Robin Williams’ original performance in 1992’s Aladdin was one of the most iconic of all-time, and Will Smith didn’t originally think he could bring anything new to the table. He told Ellen DeGeneres this week:
I was like, ‘Naw, man. No, Robin Williams like smashed that thing.’ You have to be careful stepping into projects like that. At first I looked at it… he revolutionized what you could do in these kinds of movies. I was listening and listening. I didn’t think I wanted to touch it. Then, I started playing with the music and the music was where I found my “in” to the genie.
While Will Smith initially felt he would have to pass on Aladdin, he did tinker around with the idea for a bit. He revealed on Ellen that when he went into the studio and spent some time toying around with the iconic song ‘Friend like Me’ he realized he could be the right fit for the big, blue genie.
Per the actor, the real flash of inspiration was when Will Smith realized he could bring in his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air character's characteristics and bring some hip-hop flavor to the role. He also said:
‘Friend like Me’ was the first song that I messed with in the studio and then I found that sort of hip-hop flavor. What Robin did was took his stand up and used his standup persona. I was like, ‘Oh, I could just use my Fresh Prince persona because the Genie has been forward and back in time. You can pull references from anywhere. I mirrored that, and the hip hop in was where I saw I could put my own signature while maintaining the nostalgic value.
Nostalgia is a big thing in Disney’s 2019 live-action Aladdin. Without giving too much away, the movie mirrors a lot of the iconic classic’s most memorable moments. However, it also spins the tale in a new way, with characters like Jasmine gaining agency and characters like the Genie adding a different flavor into the mix. In fact, 'Friend Like Me' has been a big entry point for Will Smith to engage with fans of the franchise as well.
Whoever took on the role of the genie was always going to have to deal with being compared to Robin Williams, who would be a tough act for anyone to follow. Honestly, the role really needed to go to someone splashy with a big name in order to work, and we're lucky Will Smith said yes after much deliberation. If the Guy Ritchie flick had cast a no-name, I'm not sure that person would have been able to pull it off.
Aladdin hits theaters this Friday. For a full look at the summer movies coming up, check out our movies schedule.