BWW Interview: ALADDIN's Jonathan Weir Talks Playing the Disney Villain
The blockbuster Broadway musical ALADDIN, now touring North America, reaches Houston this week. Mischer Neurosciences Broadway at the Hobby Center presents the Disney classic June 26 through July 14, 2019. For this BroadwayWorld interview, I got the chance to talk to Jonathan Weir, who plays Jafar in ALADDIN. Weir talks about his role, the show, and his longtime relationship with Disney.
BroadwayWorld: You're performing in ALADDIN on Broadway. You're living the dream.
Jonathan Weir: I know. Actually, I started doing this professionally 34 years ago. When I was in 9th grade I started doing theater and that's all I wanted to be: working actor. And lo and behold, all these years later, I'm doing it. It is a gift.
BroadwayWorld: I'll go into my first question. Are there any theatrical effects the audience can look forward to?
Jonathan Weir: Oh god, yeah. First of all, it's [adapted] from the iconic 1992 film, and it has all the magic you would expect. The carpet flies. There's lots of bling. Tons of bling. Gregg Barnes's costumes are spectacular and gorgeous and provide much of the architecture for the world of Agrabah, which is a fictional world. And Jafar's demise at the end of the show is pretty spectacular and gets a pretty positive response. They love to boo him.
The show is also--it gets billed as a show for kids--but it's really a show for entire families. I say this a lot in interviews, and I really mean it: ALADDIN is not just for kids. You get people [in the audience] who are millennials and this was their movie growing up. We get parents and grandparents. There's adult humor and adult themes--romance, trying to [honor] the memory of your mother (which Aladdin is trying to do), discovering romance and friendship, and bonding. It's pretty chock full of something for everybody.
BroadwayWorld: So you're playing Jafar --
Jonathan Weir: Indeed.
BroadwayWorld: -- and you also played Scar.
Jonathan Weir: I did. I was a standby for Scar in the second national tour of Disney's THE LION KING. I was the insurance policy essentially. They would call me every couple of years and I'd go out. (I'm based in Chicago, so my work as an actor is there [primarily].) I eventually went and [performed the role of Scar] in New York three times and I performed both roles on Broadway. So I've had a long lasting career with Disney. It's been going on 16 years and it's been a happy time.
BroadwayWorld: Jafar and Scar are both bad guys. Do those roles just sort of come to you or are you attracted to them?
Jonathan Weir: [Laughs] I guess, for Disney anyway, I'm a bad guy. I've played a multitude of characters in my life, so to get to play these iconic villains for Disney is a special thing. So I'd say they come to me, like all roles, a variety of different types of characters, that I play.
BroadwayWorld: I see what you're saying. Did any of the other characters you've played in the past help you with this role?
Jonathan Weir: Well, I think every role gets us to the next one, essentially. Every character is multifaceted and even a "bad guy" isn't just bad. He thinks he's doing the right thing.
BroadwayWorld: Well, that was going to be my other question. What is [Jafar's] motivation?
Jonathan Weir: Well, other than ultimate power? [Laughs] (Of course, Scar and Jafar and several other Disney villains have that [goal] in common.) He's a complete megalomaniac and willing to do whatever [to get it].
Both Jafar and Scar, they're slippery, they have their wiles, they're clever. Obviously, they're different because one's an animal and one is human. But the goal is to overcome the person above you who is in power and take over control. There's definitely a similarity there.
As I said, nobody who's doing bad things thinks they're bad things. They think they're doing the best possible thing in the world. They can rationalize that any number of ways. [Laughs] All political comments aside. [Laughs]
BroadwayWorld: Ah, you reminded me. I forgot for 10 seconds.
Jonathan Weir: [Laughs] If only.
BroadwayWorld: What good does Jafar think he's doing?
Jonathan Weir: He believes that if everything was running his way, it would be a much better kingdom obviously.
Jonathan Weir: And he's got, not unlike Scar, he's got his right hand man, Iago, to do his bidding. They both manage to rationalize, to think what they're doing is the best possible thing for the world.
BroadwayWorld: Well, I know if I had supreme power, I'd be a great queen and dictator. And everything would be coming up roses. I'm sure the power wouldn't corrupt me in any way.
Jonathan Weir: [Laughs] Not at all. Power doesn't corrupt.
BroadwayWorld: Did this role present any challenges for you even though you've been doing this for a while?
Jonathan Weir: It's the longest run I've done. We're starting our third year. We just had our 866th show last night, so I've done about 830-something of those shows, with some vacations and sick days.
So the physical [aspect presented challenges]. I work out 3 or 4 times a week to stay in shape. It's like being an athlete. We're doing Tuesday through Sunday shows, five-show weekends, so it's not for the faint of heart.
BroadwayWorld: What keeps you going?
Jonathan Weir: The audiences. Also, to get to continue to explore a role you've been doing this long, to try to continue to mine it for subtleties and nuances, is a gift.
ALADDIN. Presented by Mischer Neurosciences Broadway at the Hobby Center. June 26 - July 14, 2019. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby Street. Performance days and times are Tue - Thurs at 7:30 pm; Thurs (June 27) at 2 pm; Mon (July 1) at 7:30 pm; Fri at 8 pm; Sat at 2 & 8 pm; and Sun at 1 pm & 6:30 pm. No performance on Thurs, July 4. Tickets start at $35 and are available by phone at 1-800- 982-2787 and online at TheHobbyCenter.org or BroadwayAtTheHobbyCenter.com.