Michael James Scott on the Magic of “Just Say Yes”
Michael James Scott still can’t believe he has a career on Broadway. A performing arts school graduate and self-described “show kid” who grew up singing songs from Rent in Orlando, Florida (epicenter of all things Disney), Scott grew up dreaming of the Broadway stage. Today, it’s his reality. Michael James Scott plays the principal Genie in Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway, a role he originated in Australia and performed throughout the London and North American tour. He’s been in numerous other Broadway shows (including Something Rotten and Book of Mormon), has multiple film and television credits (like Showtime’s Black Monday), and is currently working on an album.
The actor is featured in the June 2019 Pride Edition of Playbill, which commemorates and celebrates 50 years since the Stonewall Riots. “I couldn’t ask for a more incredible honor,” he says. It’s another thing “the young Michael James Scott wouldn’t believe…That I would get to be in [the Pride Edition of Playbill], playing the Genie on Broadway, being an out, gay man… A man of color, all of it. It’s just incredible.”
On a blue velvet couch, in between the hustle and bustle of having his tuxedo jacket pinned, person groomed, photo taken — before a Tony’s fitting, followed by his evening performance as Genie, Michael James Scott made the case for believing in one’s dreams (“cliché as it is,” he said with grace). He also offered up tips on how to wear an ascot this summer, his favorite Disney song, and how to take off glitter.
Bonobos: Tell me about your outfit for the shoot today.
Scott: I’m wearing one of the most beautiful blazers, a tuxedo pant and a t-shirt. I love to dress up. I love the idea of wearing a tux pant and a t-shirt. I would wear it to an opening of a show, a Broadway show, and I would also wear it on a beautiful spring day, walking down Soho; put on cute sunglasses, and I’m like, “I’m in.” I’m not afraid to really dress up just for the day, just because. I’m all about that.
I like to have a little bit of a “something” with anything that I’m wearing. Even if I’m wearing all black, [I’ll add] black sequin shoes, or sparkly shoes. It literally can be in a lapel, it can be in a scarf, it can be in a hat, but I like to have something that is a little bit of a statement.
You’re playing one of the most iconic roles of all time, Genie. Everything about him is a statement. What is it like to get dressed as that character?
Well, it is crazy because the Genie is the king of accessories. There’s everything. Everything and the kitchen sink. Not only in his — in specifically my costume on Broadway, but also just things around him. He’s constantly bringing out props. And I’m that way in life as well. I love an accessory. I love adding little things onto everything.
You’re gonna accidentally go onstage as Genie with those sequin sneakers.
Yes, yes. Exactly. I’m like, “oops.” But, please, there’s no shortage of bling in the show. To put on that costume … It truly is my armor when I get into it. It starts with them doing my makeup. I sit in the chair, and I get the eyebrows and the glitter. And then we get dressed. I have a wonderful dresser, Cathy, who gets me into my costume. As soon as she snaps on my collar that happens over my doublet, all Swarovski crystals, I feel like I am a genie. It’s the craziest thing.
On the glitter: How do you get rid of it, or do you never fully? Is it in the bed when you wake up in the morning, no matter what you do the night before?
Yes, yes, yes to all of it. You probably see, as you’re sitting with me right here, you’ll be like, “There’s a little piece.” It never goes away. I have a French Bulldog, and she’ll have a little thing right on her little cheek, or right by her ear. My partner, bless his heart, if I give him a hug or give him a kiss on his cheek or something, you see the glitter.
I did the [Aladdin] show in Australia, and when I was playing the Genie down under, my makeup artist there, we Googled [how to take it off]. Coconut oil is a huge thing. Note to everyone: if you’re having a night out and you’re glittered a go-go, just use some coconut oil.
I saw on Instagram that you’re a fan of the ascot. I would like to ask, on behalf people everyone who might like to wear an ascot, for ascot tips, advice. What, how and where? The who, what, where, and why of an ascot, please.
Well, here’s the thing. The ascot is making a return. It really is a thing, [it’s] coming back. And I also was like, “Why not? Why not have an ascot?” The ascot you saw on Instagram is a very thin, sort of satiny one. So, it’s not hot, which is great. Lightweight. And the thing about it is that it’s where you tie the knot, because if you tie the knot too close to the neck, it’s warm. You feel a little claustrophobic.So it’s about where you tie that double knot to get it right. And then it sits perfectly, and it’s such a great accent piece. My summer thing is going to be about ascots.
Besides Aladdin, what’s your favorite Disney movie/character/song?
I actually love Pocahontas. I’m obsessed, I love it so much. “Colors of the Wind.”
Is that your shower song?
No, my shower song would probably be some sort of Beyoncé situation.
What’s a question that you wish someone would ask you, and what’s the answer?
I wish people would ask [about what it] takes to do a show. I think people think about the glamour of it all, and when you strip it all away, we are athletes, we’re working.
I also think it’s interesting that we tend to not talk about how we — we talk about how we got to our places — but for example: how we have gotten to the place where an out, gay, black man is leading a show, that question is actually never asked. We get to sort of talk about it, and it’s fabulous and wonderful, but how did that happen? We’ve come so far, and it’s so exciting and wonderful, and it’s a question that it would great to be asked to keep the conversation going for all of the others coming up.
And so, what do you think?
For me, it was about my parents saying yes. There was never, ever an ounce of hesitation about who I am and what I wanted to do. They just said yes. Whenever I talk to young [people] who are wanting to come up in the business, I say to their parents, “Just say yes.” I grew up with very little money, and what I know from it all is that it was because of the love, and because of them saying yes, that I am here, able to do this.
More often than not, there isn’t a yes in young people’s lives in terms of getting to be who you are, do what you want to do. As cliché as it is, [it’s about] believing in that dream that you have, and never ever settling for you not being able to do it. What you have, no one else has, because they are not you! If the thing that you want to do is not what your parents want you to do, don’t ever not think about it. The mind is powerful, and if you can believe in that thing — there’s a spark that happens when somebody does something that they love to do. Don’t ever forget that. You can watch a concert, or the Grammys, or whatever it is…and you’re like, “I’m affected by that. What is that thing?” Remember that feeling and take that into your world. There doesn’t have to be an actual program for it. Later in life, you can get to that. But…don’t settle for what somebody else wants you to do. Really believe in the thing that you want to do, and remember that feeling.
I am so happy that I get to live in my truth, my authentic self. Well, trying to continue to live in my authentic self. It’s a process. But, just that it will inspire some other little chubby black kid down in Florida or wherever, who may be gay and doesn’t understand why they’re different. And that different thing that was in them…was going to take them to be able to one day play the freaking Genie on Broadway. You know what I mean? If I can inspire one person to feel that there is a place for them, then I’m thrilled.