"If you're having a hard time, it's because you're supposed to," Smith said in response to Massoud's struggle

By Robyn Merrett and Melody Chiu
December 05, 2019 12:25 AM
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Will Smith is offering some no-nonsense advice to his Aladdin costar Mena Massoud after the younger actor said he’s had no auditions since his part in the live-action Disney remake.

“The thing about this business, that is not unlike life, it’s hard by design,” Smith, 51, told PEOPLE on Wednesday when asked about Massoud’s predicament.

“It’s like the universe, God, whatever you believe, designed it to be hard. So, if you’re having a hard time it’s because you’re supposed to,” Smith said at the Spies in Disguise world premiere red carpet live-stream hosted by PeopleTV.

Despite the many challenges that come with making it in Hollywood, Smith — who arrived at the premiere in an Audi Q7 — said it’s important to never give up.

“That difficulty is overcome by patience, commitment, dedication, endurance — so if you have a dream, you desperately have to be willing to work on it every single hour of the day with your deepest love and focus. You can not get around having a hard time,” Smith explained.

Massoud, 28, made headlines on Tuesday after he revealed in an interview with The Daily Beast that no new opportunities have come his way since Aladdin was released, despite the movie crossing the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office.

Will Smith and Mena Massoud
| Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

“I’m kind of tired of staying quiet about it,” he told the outlet. “I want people to know that it’s not always dandelions and roses when you’re doing something like Aladdin. ‘He must have made millions. He must be getting all these offers.’ It’s none of those things. I haven’t had a single audition since Aladdin came out.”

He later added: “The big truth is I haven’t really seen a big anything from [Aladdin].”

Massoud said that when he tells others about the lack of casting interest after his major Hollywood breakout, they don’t believe him.

“It’s wild to a lot of people,” he said. “People have these ideas in their head. It’s like, I’m sitting here being like, okay, 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? … Can you just give me a chance?”

An Egyptian immigrant to Canada, Massoud was once told by his parents not to pursue acting as a career, so he originally attended the University of Toronto to study neuroscience. However, he quickly transferred to Ryerson University where he entered the theater program.

Will Smith as the Genie and Mena Massoud as Aladdin
| Credit: Disney

The actor said his Middle Eastern background often makes him the “wild card” in a casting call with mostly white candidates — and it often leads to roles limited to characters like terrorists, which he has no interest in portraying in his work moving forward.

“There’s always a wild card or two when you’re casting,” he said. “… In a room of Caucasian guys, a director might be like, ‘Okay, let’s see, like, two guys who aren’t.’ And maybe they’ll be the wild card choice.”

Massoud is now set to appear opposite Abigail Breslin in Hulu’s new revenge series Reprisal — a role he earned prior to Aladdin‘s release when the casting directors didn’t know who he was yet.

“I feel like I’m going to be overlooked and underestimated for a long time because I am a young actor,” he told The Daily Beast. “I’m an up-and-comer in the sense that I’ve been doing this for 10 years, but to a lot of people, Aladdin‘s the first thing they’ve seen me in. So I think I’m going to be viewed that way for a long time. I’m going to have to work at chipping away at that.”