When the original Aladdin was released in 1992, Naomi Scott had yet to be born. But it was one of the first Disney animated movies – in addition to Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella – starring a rebel princess that the strikingly beautiful British actress remembers watching as a child. Now in Guy Ritchie’s live-action Aladdin, a sparkling musical updating of the Disney classic, Scott proudly embraces the spirit and integrity of her character Jasmine who refuses an arranged marriage according to her country’s traditions.
“It’s important to present Jasmine as a strong, clever, yet feminine character,” Scott says. “Jasmine is fighting for justice. She is both a leader and a politician and I think it is so cool for little girls to be watching me play her and think, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense. Jasmine deserves to be the leader’. She’s the person who has studied and understands her kingdom and everything that goes with it and that’s the way it should be.”
Scott brings extraordinary energy to Jasmine while she fights for her independence in her native land of Agrabah with the help of Aladdin (Canadian actor Mena Massoud). Will Smith co-stars as the Genie alongside Marwan Kenzari (Jafar), Navid Negahban (the Sultan), Nasim Pedrad (Dalia), and Billy Magnussen (Prince Anders).
The 26-year-old Scott is a singer in her own right who has just released her third (R&B) album and is now showcasing her vocal gifts by singing the classic and beloved Alan Menken and Tim Rice duet, “A Whole New World” as well as a new anthem, “Speechless”, composed specifically for this new Aladdin movie.
Scott’s career was launched when she was spotted at the age of 15 singing Alicia Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You” at the church where her mother and father were pastors. She then began her career on the Disney Channel TV series Life Bites before working on Terra Nova and most recently on Power Rangers (2017).
In addition to Aladdin, Scott will enjoy a massive career boost with her starring role in the upcoming Charlie’s Angels reboot directed by Elizabeth Banks.
Raised by deeply religious parents, Scott is a devout Christian. Her father Jonathan is English while her mother Usha is originally from Uganda and of Gujarati Indian ancestry. Naomi Scott has been married since 2014 to Ipswich Town footballer Jordan Spence whom she first met at age 16 in her parent’s church. They are currently collaborating on various music projects, including an upcoming video for the rapper Nick Brewer.
Naomi, you have a parallel career as a singer, so what was it like for you to be able to showcase your voice in a musical like Aladdin?
NAOMI SCOTT: Of course, I love singing. I think the challenge in terms of the singing was being able to sing as a character in a very different style from my own music and the way I naturally use my own voice.
I also sang live a lot during the whole movie which was another challenge. But I thrived on that… I was the one who was saying, ‘Look guys, why don’t we do some of this live because for me it feels more connected and more in the moment’.
“I’m looking forward to everything that lies ahead for me”
Apart from interpreting several great Menken and Rice songs from the original Aladdin, you get to perform a powerful new solo number, “Speechless”. What was that like?
NS: It’s an incredible power ballad. A real “belter” is how I would describe it. I can honestly confess that it’s the hardest song I’ve ever had to sing in my life but also the most satisfying once you feel you’ve done it justice.
It’s also an important song in terms of Jasmine’s journey and her struggle to find her voice and speak out on behalf of her people. She’s trying to tell everyone that the struggle won’t be easy, that she might not win this battle, but she’s going to give it everything she has.
It also sends out a powerful message to young women, especially in the era of the #MeToo movement, don’t you think?
NS: Oh, yeah. I also felt very connected to it and was inspired by her story. And I hope her story and the film is going to resonate with young girls all over the world. It’s also the kind of story that is very much in keeping with the spirit of the time and I hope it keeps up the momentum.
I also think that seeing Aladdin supporting her is also a very important lesson for boys, too, and sets a great example.
“It’s important to present Jasmine as a strong, clever, yet feminine character. Jasmine is fighting for justice.”
Were you and everyone else in the cast conscious of trying to present a more progressive view of the role of women in society?
NS: Yes, but we didn’t want it to be something that people would feel like we’re making a political statement. We wanted it to be a natural progression and reflection of our time.
In our movie, Jasmine isn’t simply fighting about the choice of who she wants to marry, but she’s also leading the battle to protect her kingdom from an evil dictator (Jafar). In that way we’ve given her another important mission and challenge and we can tell a story about both love and broader issues that are not simply personal.
In terms of the acting, what did you feel you needed to bring to Jasmine?
NS: When Guy Ritchie and I were discussing the character, we wanted to find a way to translate this character to the present. I wanted to try to present her in a way that still connects to the original but also adds something fresh and new and more modern.
Did you draw any particular inspiration from other great musical actresses of the past when you were playing Jasmine?
NS: Not really. For me, my inspiration, the tools and the energy to play her, came from the idea that there are so many women’s stories that I know and that I have heard, stories of strength and resilience about women who have spoken out and been shut down.
I took on all of that and tried to put that into my performance. When I was singing I felt all of that inspiration and I just felt so empowered by the responsibility that came with trying to give a voice to all women.
Was there also an added sense of responsibility about embodying a new kind of image of princesses as distinct from those we’ve seen in previous movies and animated stories?
NS: We needed to be able to redefine how we see princesses, and be very serious in terms of how we define Jasmine, who she is, where her journey is taking her, and what is she going to offer the world? I liked the idea of portraying Jasmine as someone we should admire not because she’s a princess, but because she’s a leader and she is very direct in how she approaches things.
I wanted Jasmine to be mature, strong and empowered – but at the same time, human. It’s not about being perfect, because you can also find strength in weaknesses and learn from your mistakes to better yourself and make a better world for others.
What can we learn from the cultural struggle between Princess Jasmine and her father, the Sultan (Navid Negahban)?
NS: Navid and I were so connected. He has daughters and so he brought that experience to our relationship. Also, Jasmine’s father does not hold her back because he hates her, but because he is overprotective and loves her so much. Jasmine knows that, so she has to take him by the hand and lead him towards the future.
You’ll also be enjoying another major starring role in the upcoming Charlie’s Angels reboot. How did you come to be cast in that project?
NS: I met Elizabeth Banks while we were working together on Power Rangers three years ago. She is literally the perfect person to direct this movie. She’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my entire life.
I also feel very blessed to be able to play another powerful woman. I’m very fortunate to be getting these opportunities and I’m looking forward to everything that lies ahead for me.
INTERVIEW BY WENN