After numerous whitewashing rumors and casting delays, Disney Studios has found its Jafar. The Hollywood Reporter claims that the Aladdin villain will likely be played by actor Marwan Kenzari. Reporter asserts that while an official deal has yet to be struck between Disney and Kenzari, the odds are high that he will take up the robes and the evil staff.
Kenzari, 34, has had supporting roles in a number of blockbusters over the past few years, including the remakes of Ben-Hur (2016) and The Mummy (2017). To learn more about his career, his personal life, and how fans are reacting to his being cast as Jafar, read on below.
1. He Began Acting When His Girlfriend Signed Him Up to Audition for a Play
Kenzari was born on January 16th, 1983 in the Netherlands. He is of Dutch and Tunisian descent, and he holds dual citizenship in both countries. Initially, Kenzari had no interest in becoming an actor as a teenager, and it was only through his girlfriend that he discovered his passion. According to Variety, the girl he was seeing signed the two of them up to audition for a local stage production of Chicago. Kenzari has been acting professionally ever since.
He made his screen debut in 2008 with the film Katia’s Sister (Het zusje van Katia). Other films during this time include The Last Days of Emma Blank (De laatste dagen van Emma Blank) in 2009, Rabat in 2011, and Black Out in 2012.
2. He Won a Golden Calf Award for His Breakthrough Film ‘Wolf’ in 2013
Kenzari’s breakthrough role would come in the 2013 drama Wolf. As Majid, a talented kickboxer who succumbs to the world of gambling and organized crime, Kenzari earned international praise from critics. Eye for Film wrote:
It’s a great credit to actor Marwan Kenzari that he is able to keep the audience rooting for him despite this… His performance also redefines the cliché elements of the film (trying to raise money for hospital bills, being asked to throw a fight), turning them into things that feel real and personal, part of one individual’s life.
For his performance, Kenzari was given the Golden Calf Award for Best Actor at the 2013 Netherlands Film Festival. When asked about the film’s unique premise, he told Raindance “You want to make your own. Influences, in my opinion, come in all different directions and these films are certainly one of the strong directions. [Wolf] is a Dutch story.”
3. His Career Goal is to Become ‘the New Al Pacino’
Kenzari’s career has grown since the release of Wolf and he’s successfully made the crossover into American cinema; the hub of his acting idol Al Pacino. In a 2015 interview with AD Films, Alba Theater director Saskia Mees recalls that when she met Kenzari, he had his sights set on being the best. “I want to be the new Al Pacino,” he said at the first meeting.
When told that it would take time to reach Pacino’s performing heights, Kenzari responded by saying “Then I’ll start acting [onstage] first, the movie will come later.” It appears as though this strategy has worked. Kenzari has acted in a number of Hollywood films since 2016, the most notable being Collide, Ben-Hur, The Mummy, and The Promise, which cast him opposite Oscar Isaac and Academy Award winner Christian Bale.
When discussing the acting process, Kenzari told Variety that it isn’t always easy. “I dislike the fact that being an actor can make you a bit selfish sometimes,” he says. “During a shoot, (that’s) the only thing you live for. Explaining (to friends and family) why you’re away and not responding to calls and messages can be difficult.”
4. He Will Appear in 3 Other Projects This Year
While Kenzari’s casting as Jafar has turned the most heads, it definitely isn’t the only role that he has slated for 2017. He will appear in the science fiction thriller What Happened to Monday? opposite Willem Dafoe, Glenn Close, and Noomi Rapace. The film is set for release on August 18th.
He will also play the role of Pierre Michel in the upcoming remake of Murder on the Orient Express, enabling him to share the screen with veterans like Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kenneth Branagh. Orient Express is set for release on November 10th.
Kenzari’s most prominent role, however, is as the lead in the recently announced Netflix series The Angel. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kenzari will play Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser who spied on behalf of Israel and gained intelligence that helped to politically shape the Middle East in the 20th century. The Angel will be directed by Ariel Vromen and has yet to receive a proper release date.
5. Fans Have Praised His Casting as Jafar on Twitter
While the casting of Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine sparked some controversy due to her Indian ancestry (the character is Arabian), fans seem generally thrilled by the idea of Kenzari playing Jafar. “MARWAN KENZARI IS JAFAR?!?!” wrote one user, “GODS BE F**KING PRAISED!!! MY BAE!!! (TBF, I’d fancast him as Aladdin but I will take him being in it period).”
Another tweeted out “I don’t know who this @MarwanKenzari but had I known he was in the running, he would have def been in #MyJafar bracket. Daaaang.”
Others were too enamored by Kenzari’s dashing looks to assert much of an opinion. “Disney just cast this actor, Marwan Kenzari, as Jafar in the live-action Aladdin, which I…uh…that is…um…what was I saying?” wrote one user, while posting a shirtless photo of the actor.
Read some of the most eager (and excited) reactions below.