What does it mean when you star in a movie that makes a billion dollars? If you’re Robert Downey Jr.—whose face and public persona have been as much a part of the marketing apparatus for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as any thrill-heavy movie trailer—it essentially means a blank check once you eventually decide to bow out of the role. (Even if you then decide to spend said blank check hanging out with the John Cena polar bear, for reasons we will never possibly fathom.) If you’re Avatar star Sam Worthington, you at least get a largely forgettable Terminator movie out of it before your face once again slides, oil-like, off the memory of the American movie-going public. But if you star in a live-action Disney blockbuster, you might not even get as much as that.
Take, for instance, the case of Mena Massoud, the titular street rat of Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin remake, i.e. the ostensibly public face of a film that ended up bringing in $1.05 billion at the box office. Massoud talked to The Daily Beast for a piece this week about the transformative power of making one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies such a veritable buttload of money, i.e., pretty much none at all, because dude hasn’t even gotten an audition since he waved goodbye to Agrabah.
“It’s wild to a lot of people,” Massoud said, detailing exactly how little his life has changed despite having grasped the ostensible brass ring. “People have these ideas in their head. It’s like, I’m sitting here being like, OK, Aladdin just hit $1 billion. Can I at least get an audition? Like I’m not expecting you to be like, here’s Batman. But can I just get in the room? Like, can you just give me a chance? So it’s not always what you think.” The piece in question emphasizes that a) it’s not like Massoud’s not working at all—he booked a role on Hulu’s new show Reprisal before filming on Aladdin began—and b) that he’s not complaining about any of this, so much as pointing out how “billion dollar movie” isn’t necessarily the secret door to casting easy street you might automatically expect it to be.
Massoud also acknowledges that there are plenty of factors at work here, including race (he’s Egyptian, although his family immigrated to Canada when he was 3) and his general inexperience in film acting (although his run of regular roles in Canadian TV series dates back to 2011). One thing he does not touch on is the anonymizing nature of Disney’s marketing for many of its live-action movies, which usually focus on a single big-name participant—in this case, co-star Will Smith—in order to help lure people into theaters, drawn along as much by the potency of the brand as much as the highlighted appeal of the people starring in them.
“I think since Aladdin my expectations for things releasing and what they’re going to do in my career, I’ve had to really pull them back,” Massoud says in the interview, voicing the same sense of surprisingly diminishing returns that has accompanied so many of Disney’s recent live-action projects. “The big truth is I haven’t really seen a big anything from it.”