Michael James Scott
Enchants The World With Love, Life & laughter
As The Genie In Disney’s Aladdin

MONARCH: Let’s dive right in. You are originally from Baltimore. How was your childhood there?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: I was born in Baltimore Maryland, but grew up in Orlando, Florida. Those early years were tough times for my parents. When I was about six years old they did something pretty extreme and bold. Wanting their boys out of the inner city and not wanting us to be another black male statistic they moved us all to Orlando, Florida in hopes of some different opportunities for us to be exposed to. Why Orlando? They were very young parents. My mom was 19, and my dad was 20. My aunt lived in Florida; she met my uncle in the military, and they settled in Orlando. And my aunt said, “Just come down here.” And so, lo and behold, my parents picked up and moved us down to Otown!

MONARCH: Did you always want to be a performer?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: What’s interesting about that is that it’s all I ever wanted to be—a performer. There was never anything else I wanted to do—never. My mom says I sang before I spoke. So for me, being able to perform and make people smile was the thing that made me really excited, and I love it. I come from a community of people who really cared about what they saw in this little, young, chubby chocolate child in Orlando, Florida.

MONARCH: So your parents were in support of your dreams, or did they think you could do something else?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: I’ve said this before: My parents did not know what to do with me, but they let me be me. So they just said yes. They were both so supportive of my brother and me, and although they did not know much about the industry, they sought out teachers and others who could place me in different opportunities, like performing groups and dance and singing classes. I’m so grateful to my parents, and I always say this to parents: “Chill. Kids will tell you who they are, but we have to listen.”

MONARCH: How did you turn this into a reality and land the role of Genie in Aladdin?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: Well, the crazy thing is that the Genie was never on my radar. It really was not. I had heard through the grapevine—because I was on Broadway at the time and it was in the community—that Disney Theatrical was doing some readings and workshops of the show in Seattle but then cut to they’re going to do a reading of all the changes that they did in Seattle to New York. And James Monroe Iglelhart, who originated the Genie on Broadway, who is like my brother, could not come to New York to do this reading. So I literally get a call one day from my agents. They said, “Can you come in and do the Genie for a reading?” And I just said yes. I learned the role in a day and a half, and before I know it, I’m walking into a room full of people: Disney execs, all of our big creatives here at Disney Theatrical, and our leadership from Disney Theatrical…all of them, right? Everyone’s there, and I’m like, oh wow. I didn’t have time to think; there was no time to, so I just did it. That was literally my audition for the show. It was an amazing blessing how that all worked out.

I come from a community of
people who really cared about
what they saw in this little,
young, chubby chocolate child
in in Orlando, Florida.

MONARCH: It was meant for you. Did you stick to the script, or did you add a lot, do your own thing?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: I definitely added some things in there that were very me, and that was really fun…to just be uninhibited and just go. I was able to show another version of the Genie, different from James Monroe’s version of the Genie. The Genie is a once-in-a-lifetime role; it is a role that you pray for. You’re on nonstop. It is you. You are driving the ship, people are excited about seeing you, and they want to love you. What’s even more incredible about it is that as a man of color to be the leading role, that is literally the embodiment of love, light, and laughter—backed by one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, our incredible Disney Theatrical Group. To be able to be a part of that and be the lead in that show does not come around a lot for us. It was something that I never even expected on my journey, but boy, I’m just so beyond thankful and grateful that it entered my path.

MONARCH: The Genie is a very high-energy character, and you’re on the entire time, driving the entire show. How do you prepare for this?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: You are absolutely right about that. That’s one of the most amazing things about the role and why it’s so unique. There’s so much to take into consideration with a role like the Genie. Like any position at a job where you are hired, you are in charge of YOU and what you bring to your role so therefore the department of yourself. Whether it’s the tech CEO, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, it doesn’t matter… you are in charge of the energy you bring to the table. What I didn’t really quite understand was the idea of authenticity and how authenticity would actually work in my favor. The moment I stopped apologizing for all of the things that are Michael James Scott was the moment I really could really fly. It was an incredible lesson for me that I got to learn, and it’s not just in theater; it’s something in life as well. And I think that opened so much for me. Especially with a role like the Genie, there’s a lot of expectation, and it could feel very daunting in terms of the pressure of getting it right. But the moment I stopped apologizing for who Michael James Scott was, it was at that moment that I could really become the Genie. It’s also amazing to think about all the things when I was growing up that made me different, that made me feel othered, if you will, that made us all feel those things that are uniquely us, where we’re maybe self-conscious or we’ve been told, you need to bring it down a little bit—all of those things are the things that they wanted in the Genie.

MONARCH: This production has taken you everywhere, all around the world. How have they responded to this play and your character?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: Yes, I call it my Genie journey that I’ve gotten to do, where, you know, Disney Theatrical, they’ve taken me literally around the world to get to do this role. Every culture is a little different. I was very worried about what will it be like in Australia? What will that be? Will it still be the same? What will it be like in London? You know the saying, music is a universal language? I say Aladdin is a universal show. The 1992 animated movie happened, and there’s such ownership over that movie. It is brilliant, nostalgic, classic amazingness.

MONARCH: How has playing the Genie in Orlando affected your life off stage?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: Oh gosh, it has affected it in such a beautiful way. I’m so proud of where I come from and I’m so proud of the community I come from, and they are very proud of me as well. So there’s a very beautiful relationship with the community that really fostered me as a young artist in terms of just being able to exist in that community and be a voice for not just the community but for so many other people, you know, Black and brown kids and other LGBTQ+, you know, community period. Just to be able to say that it is all possible because if I could do it, being the little chocolate chubby child from Orlando, Florida, anyone can do it. I’m telling you, it’s possible.

MONARCH: As a Black man with a major role in a Disney or Broadway production, did you realize that you are making history?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: You know, I never even thought about that until, I think, the pandemic happened and obviously a lot changed for all of us. As we went into the 10-year celebration of Aladdin, I think that was the first time that I sort of thought, “Oh wow, there is some history being made here.” So coming out of the pandemic, as actors and us as Disney on Broadway as a company, it was beyond important, and I really felt a shift happen; it was not lost on me, and I took such great pride in knowing that I needed to come back, be a Black leading man in a gigantic Broadway show with an enormous entertainment theatrical production company. I’m just so proud to be a part of it. I love it.

MONARCH: What message do you think this sent to the world?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: Representation matters. It’s so important when you, can actually see the manifestation of your dream in front of you. When you can see it alive, up in front of you, you can see the manifestation of what is possible, which is why representation matters and that is why the statement, “We matter,” is so important.

MONARCH: I want to have a little fun. What are your favorite musicals? Understanding that Aladdin is your favorite musical, let’s set that aside. What other musicals could be added to that list?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: My favorite, hmm… Dream Girls, Pearl Bailey in Hello, Dolly! There’s also Rent. Those would be my favorites. Oh, I have one more I want to add—oh my gosh, of course, Once on This Island.

MONARCH: What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to go into theater?

MICHAEL JAMES SCOTT: There are two things I would say believe in the thing that makes you special, because no one else has it because they are not you. I’m going to say that again… Believe in the thing that makes you special because no one else has it because THEY ARE NOT YOU!

MONARCH: Thank you, thank you, thank you for making the space for me to be a part of your amazing world. It was such a pleasure speaking with you, and Ill see you on Broadway.