Photo credit: Disney.
Sims is best known for his work on Step
Up, the Footloose reboot
and So You Think You Can
Dance. Over the last year, he's rewritten his story. After
directing his first documentary, When
the Beat Drops, Sims jumped into choreographing for Disney's Aladdin, starring Will Smith. Then he
worked on Descendants 3 with Kenny Ortega and took an on-screen role
as villain, Dr. Facilier.
Dance Network last spoke with him
during his press tour for When the Beat
Drops, so it was a thrill to hear all of the exciting news that has been
coming his way.
More: Why Directing ’When
The Beat Drops’ Was A Game-Changer For Jamal Sims
Network: How did the Aladdin project
come your way?
Sims: The music supervisor I
worked with on Hannah Montana called
me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in working on Aladdin. I had just finished the documentary
and I said I really wanted to do a musical next. I said that on Wednesday, and
then on Friday I got the call.
I made a vision board on Wednesday
and I put Africa in the middle and then I put two tickets to represent a
musical. He told me Aladdin was
going to shoot a bit in Morocco and in London. It really felt like a wish come
true. It was magical from the very beginning.
Since Aladdin is a live-action
film, you are dealing with humans and CGI. How challenging was that for you as
Jamal: What was cool about our team was that we had the
best of the best in the business — everybody from production design to costumes
to special effects. We knew the enormity of this project and what it means to
people, so we didn't want to mess it up.
I would choreograph some stuff just
out of the blue and then they would design some CGI animation and we would meet
in the middle and find a way to marry these two. We would do meetings where we
would discuss what can we do physically and what can we do with the special
effects to discover how that combines together.
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also performed as a dance double in the film. Who did you double?
Jamal: Yes! They told me that some of the characters were
going to be CGI, so they had me jump in and do it. I fit the height for some of
the genie stuff, but Will did most of the work. For some of the other
characters, I would come in and put on the motion-capture suit and
go to work.
You have to be so specific working
with CGI because the timing has to be right. We had some great days, just me
and my core dancers, dressed up in those suits and playing. We got to be the
monkey, Abu, and we got to be the carpet — it was incredible!
What was it like to work with Will Smith?
Jamal: The vibe of the set starts at the top. When you work
with huge actors, like Will, if they come in and they have this attitude that's
not friendly or kind, it trickles down to every department. With Will, he came
in consistently kind, friendly and inspiring. The dancers couldn't wait to be
He talked to everybody and that vibe
made it so fun that I think that's what transfers over into the film. That joy
is seen in numbers like "Friend Like Me." I think that all started
with Will. It made coming to
work just a pleasure.
What number stands out as your favorite in the film?
Jamal: The one that I really love is the "Prince
Ali" parade. First of all, we had 300 dancers in the middle of this huge
set, which was in Aqaba [in Jordan]. We had eight horses. We had six camels. I
had to choreograph something with live animals. We had people, we had floats.
It was just crazy. You get to see all of these different styles of dance that
are incorporated into the number, I think that's the spectacle of the film.
I couldn't fit everybody into one
rehearsal space, so I had to schedule a certain amount of people for a certain
amount of hours, and then the next group of key people would come in. It was
like a factory. When we got to do it in the street the first time, it was
Let's talk about Descendants 3 and
Jamal: It was my first time working with Kenny Ortega, I had never met him before. I've
seen him out, but I have never really been introduced to him, even though I've
always been a fan of his work — especially as a choreographer turned director.
I just admired him for so long, so to be able to meet him after I did Aladdin and then working on the film
I am a villain. It's so funny, I told
Kenny, "I laugh too much. I smile too much. Are you sure?" He
insisted that I was a perfect villain. It's awesome to be able to do something
else outside of what I am known for.
More: It's Time for IMDb
to Give Choreographers Their Own Category
What's next for you?
Jamal: Right now, I'm directing a short film that's a
musical and it's loosely based on my life. I'm preparing for that and I'm going
to do that this summer.
chance we will see you back on So You Think You Can Dance?
Jamal: I would absolutely love to. For the past three
seasons, I've been out of the country. I would love to come back.
Aladdin opens nationwide on Friday, May 25. Descendants 3 is set to premiere in
August on Disney Channel.
Don’t miss Dance Network’s latest ‘To The Pointe’
interview with ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ choreographer, Marguerite Derricks: