The actor and rapper dropped by “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Tuesday with his “Aladdin” co-stars Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott to chat about the hotly anticipated movie. Interestingly, Smith said he was initially skittish about playing the Genie in the new adaptation because of the inevitable comparisons it would draw to Robin Williams’ take in the 1992 animated original.
“He really smashed this role. He revolutionized what you could do in these kinds of movies,” Smith told DeGeneres. “I just didn’t think I wanted to touch it.”
To put his own stamp on the role, the actor said he referenced Williams’ artistic process, if not the interpretation per se.
“The music is where I find my ‘in’ to the Genie,” he said. “What Robin did was he took his stand-up persona and used his stand-up persona ... I was like, oh, I could just use my ‘Fresh Prince’ persona and use that, because the Genie’s been forward and back in time so he could pull references from anywhere.”
Smith’s musical chops were on display earlier in the interview, too, when he walked onto the set as his 1997 smash, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” played in the background.
Though 22 years have passed since the song became a global smash, Smith didn’t miss a beat, and happily rapped and danced along to both the verse and the chorus.