High hopes for region’s talents at Abu Dhabi casting call for Aladdin remake
ABU DHABI // Rik Aby showed up at the casting call having kept in mind the old saying to “dress for the job you want” – and in his case, that meant wearing a white skull cap and a waistcoat with a bare chest.
He was one of more than 120 young talents who came to Abu Dhabi on Thursday for their chance to audition to be the next Aladdin or Princess Jasmine in director Guy Ritchie’s live-action musical remake of the classic Disney film.
Hopefuls came in from as far as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to attend the casting at twofour54, at Pyramedia, a media consultancy and production company.
Aby, however, is a full-time actor born and raised in Abu Dhabi, who has been in the profession for 19 years. He had a part in the upcoming Netflix film War Machine, parts of which were filmed in Abu Dhabi.
This, however, would be Aby’s first big break into Hollywood.
“I found out they were casting for Aladdin in the US and the UK, so I put it to the back of my mind. Then I was so shocked to find they were doing it here,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of Aladdin. I remember my sister was playing Jasmine in a school play, and I was giving her vocal lessons. We would do duets.”
Ankita Sadarjoshi flew from Muscat to try out for the film she has seen 17 times – something that came in heplful while learning her lines for her audition.
“Princess Jasmine was very important to me growing up,” said Ms Sadarjoshi, a theatre student at New York University Abu Dhabi, who is taking a term off. “I remember at a young age flipping out with happiness when I first saw her, because she was really the first Disney princess of colour. When I saw the doll, I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s a doll that actually looks like me!’”
Nashwa Al Ruwaini, chief executive of Pyramedia, who is Egyptian, British and Emirati, has brought top Arab talent to Hollywood films including Kingdom of Heaven, Syriana and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Ms Al Ruwaini said the company received thousands of applications, many with pictures of actors in full Aladdin regalia. “There are some hardcore Aladdin fans out there,” she said.
Those auditioning have to be available between July and January to be considered.
Some posters advertising the casting call mention that shooting will take place in the United Kingdom but Ms Al Ruwaini said shooting in the region was a possibility. “We’re hoping some filming will take place in the Arab world,” she said.
The original Disney animated film has been accused of not fairly representing Arabs in a positive or authentic light. Ms Al Ruwaini said she had seen some of the script and was happy with it so far.
She said casting an actor from the Arab world “would mean a lot to the people here” and that Ritchie was interested in casting a newcomer. But she said people should not worry about inaccurate portrayals in Aladdin, since “it’s a fairy tale at the end of the day”.
“Do we have genies? No. Are there really beasts living in castles like in Beauty and the Beast? No,” she said.
“We know Aladdin has cultural hiccups in it, because we’ve seen the animated version, but it’s a fairy tale.”
Aladdin comes after a strong box office performance for Beauty and the Beast, and Disney recently had a similar casting call for the leads in the live-action Mulan remake, asking that those who audition speak “fluent English and Mandarin Chinese”.
Auditions for Aladdin will be at Pyramedia’s office in Dubai Media City on Friday and Saturday with the casting team returning to Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Those interested in casting should email Nashwa.firstname.lastname@example.org and check the Pyramedia Facebook page.
Updated: April 6, 2017 04:00 AM