While there was some hand-wringing that Guy Ritchie’s live-action adaptation of Aladdin wouldn’t be able to find actors of Middle-Eastern and Eastern descent, it looks like they’re filling out the cast quite well. Although Will Smith will voice the Genie (which is fine since it’s a mythical character), the human roles have gone to Mena Massoud for Aladdin, Naomi Scott (Power Rangers) for Princess Jasmine, and now we’ve got two more actors on board.
THR reports that Marwan Kenzari (the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express) is in talks for the role of the villainous vizier Jafar while SNL alum Nasim Pedrad is on board to play the new character of Mara, “handmaiden and friend to Jasmine. The part is described as a comedic supporting role,” presumably because that’s cheaper than animating a tiger to be Jasmine’s pal.
It’s encouraging that the lead roles are going to non-white actors, especially since you don’t need to sell Aladdin on big names. Will Smith helps you there, but the really selling point is the property (lots of people have fond memories of Aladdin) and Disney’s track record with their live-action adaptations. I didn’t love Beauty and the Beast, but it’s the most successful movie of the year so far, so most audiences clearly went for it.
The addition of Pedrad in a new role is interesting, and it makes me wonder if they’ll continue to add new characters. While it’s nice that Jafar has a talking parrot as a sidekick in the animated film, that might not translate too well to a live-action feature, so perhaps he’ll be getting a human henchman. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if they keep Aladdin’s monkey, Apu, as a CGI sidekick.
There is currently no release date yet for Aladdin, but if the cast is coming together this quickly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start shooting by the end of the year or in early 2018 for a 2019 or 2020 release.