Will Smith: ‘Friend Like Me’ Convinced Him He Could Play Genie In ‘Aladdin’

According to Will Smith, “Friend Like Me” was what convinced him he could play the Genie in a live-action Aladdin. Smith knew he had big shoes to fill in the role made famous by the late Robin Williams in the 1992 animated classic. Smith was aware of the pressure on him, and probably felt the most pressure himself.

Friend Like Me: Will Smith as Genie in Aladdin
Will Smith | Daniel Smith/Disney

Smith was at the press conference for Aladdin in 2019. He spoke about the pressures of taking on the Genie role and how “Friend Like Me” helped him figure it out. 

Will Smith was hesitant to play the Genie from ‘Aladdin’

In the animated Aladdin, Williams could just riff in the recording studio. The animators would draw whatever impressions they decided to use. That was a tough act for Smith to follow.

Will Smith Genie in Aladdin
L-R: Mena Massoud and Will Smith | Disney

RELATED: How Will Smith Brought the Fresh Prince Back for ‘Aladdin’

“It definitely started with fear,” Smith said. “What Robin Williams did with his character was, he just didn’t leave a lot of room to add to the Genie. So I started off fearful but then when I got with the music, it just started waking up that fun childlike silly part of me. This was the most joyful experience of my career.”

Will Smith: ‘Friend Like Me’ was the key to the ‘Aladdin’ Genie

Smith started out as a rapper, The Fresh Prince. When he began working on the music for Aladdin, he understood it on a musical level. “Friend Like Me,” in which Genie explains the three wishes to Aladdin (Mena Massoud), was the key.

RELATED: Disney’s Live-Action ‘Aladdin’ Sequel Will Reportedly Tell a Completely New Story

“The song that got me over the hump of yes, I can play Genie, was ‘Friend Like Me,’” Smith said. “I went into the studio the first day and I really wanted to play with it to see if I could add something to it. Literally 30 minutes in the studio and starting to play with it and finding that in that 94, 96 BPM range, we were playing around in there thinking ultimately it was a little bit faster than that. But that 94, 96 BPM range is right old school hip hop.”

Will Smith added a little something to ‘Friend Like Me’

Smith’s performance of “Friend Like Me” in Aladdin is faithful to the animated version. However, in the recording booth, Smith played with different mixes. His remix appears over the end credits and on the soundtrack.

RELATED: What Is Mena Massoud Doing After ‘Aladdin’?

“So I grabbed the Honey Drippers’ ‘Impeach The President’ which is a really classic old school hip hop break beat,” Smith said. “I had them throw that break beat under there and I messed with that. And I was like, ‘Oh my God. I’m home, I’m home.’ Then I started playing with the hip hop flavor and then the Genie was really born in my mind from the music. I understood once I played with ‘Friend Like Me.’”