Aladdin is now playing in theaters

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For relative newcomer Mena Massoud, playing the lead role of Aladdin in Disney’s live-action reimagining is the project of a lifetime.

As he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, “People like me struggle to get roles.”

Born in Cairo, Egypt, Massoud, 27, moved to Canada when he was 3 years old.

For Massoud, Aladdin — which features a racially diverse cast and a fleshed out, fiercely feminist Princess Jasmine (played by Naomi Scott) — is a milestone in Hollywood representation.

“We want it to represent something for them and for women,” he says. “I want to look back 20 years from now and be like, ‘This movie affected people.'”

For more about Massoud, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands now.

The actor told Entertainment Weekly in December that he booked the role of Aladdin on a Wednesday, and started work on a Friday.

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Aladdin
| Credit: Disney

“I had to fly to London to prep and I think that was a blessing in disguise because I didn’t have time to really overthink anything or get in my head about it. To me, it was just one of the biggest opportunities in my career so far,” he said.

Outside of acting, Massoud is also the founder of Evolving Vegan, a company dedicated to getting people to practice plant-based living. The company’s first project, led by Massoud, is a vegan lifestyle cookbook set for release this summer.

Aladdin is now playing in theaters.