Abubakr Ali Binged Disney Music to Get Ready For His Romantic Turn in "Anything's Possible"

In our Q&A series "POPSUGAR Crush," we get to know some of our favorite celebs' more intimate details — from their first celebrity crush to the best love advice they've ever received. This month, we're crushing on "Anything's Possible" star Abubakr Ali.

Abubakr Ali takes playing a romantic lead very seriously. Maybe that's not surprising, since he's a graduate of the Yale School of Drama. And he loves a rom-com. "I'm the biggest simp," he tells POPSUGAR about his affection for the genre. But still, even he admits the way he prepared for his role as Khal, the romantic lead in Billy Porter's feature directorial debut, "Anything's Possible," was a little over the top.

"I spent a month, as silly as it is, listening to Disney music, listening to music that made me feel lanky and silly and open," he says. Ali, 31, wanted to get himself in the mindset of Khal, who he says has a "softness and innocence" that he wanted to channel. "We live in a very jaded world," he says, but that's not how Khal views things. "It was beautiful to be a part of a high school rom-com which is very joyful and full of love."

"Anything's Possible" stars Eva Reign as Kelsa, a trans girl who's just trying to get through her senior year of high school with her best friends. She has no intention of falling in love until she gets to college. But then she connects with Khal, a shy boy in her art class, and the pair begin a whirlwind romance that challenges them both in different ways. "Anything's Possible" premiered on July 15 at Outfest.

"If a movie makes me cry, I love it."

Ali says there are two reasons he signed onto the movie. "It's the first script I ever read where someone who looks like me was a male lead," he says. "I've just quite literally never, ever, ever seen that." In fact, he admits that he didn't read the entire script before he auditioned and assumed his character was a sidekick or "random best friend."

He also connected deeply with the story. "[The movie] has an overarching question that we don't see within the genre," he says. "As a marginalized person, how do you balance your desire to live freely, live joyfully in relation to the world's expectations of what your experience should be? Specifically we see that within Kelsa's journey of people kind of thinking, 'No, this is how people are going to react. This is what the world is going to do.' And her just wanting to explore her feelings with this boy."

Ali adds, "It's nice to be a part of something that balances those weighty things while also living in a very free, playful world that is the high school rom-com."

Ali's favorite rom-com — that he doesn't star in — is 2011's "Crazy Stupid Love," though he also makes the case that Disney's "Up" should fall into the genre, too. "It's a rom-com with a dead person, but it's still beautiful and it's still romantic," he says. "If a movie makes me cry, I love it. . . . If it makes you feel something, then it's worth your time at the end of the day, because we live in a world that tells you not to feel anything."

The actor says that as an artist, he's constantly thinking about how he can redefine what a "romantic hero" is. "Historically to us a romantic hero is a straight white man," he says. "And it's specifically a man who's like, 'I'm a tough guy,' or like, 'I'm too cool for school,' or, 'I'm so charming, I have nothing to worry about, and I'm going to hold onto my emotions. I'm not going to show anything.'" Khal in "Anything's Possible" is the antithesis of that. "[Khal's] unafraid to lead from a space of love and lead from a space of softness."

Ali loved working with Porter, whom he calls "the definition of an actor's director" and notes was on board with his interpretation of Khal. "It did not feel like work to me. It felt like summer camp," he says. Porter, Ali explains, encouraged the cast to take risks, to do things that wouldn't have been part of the typical rom-com playbook. "I think it allowed a lot of beautiful things to come out in the movie."

The next project up for Ali could not be more different, though. He'll star as the title character in Netflix's "Grendel," an adaptation of the gritty comic-book series. Ali flew out to shoot "Grendel" almost immediately after wrapping "Anything's Possible."

"They could not be more opposite human beings," he says, "which was so funny to navigate, to go from this sweet, kind, open-hearted, soft kid to this tortured, traumatized, haunted murderer with a very specific point of view and a very specific goal in mind. But in hindsight, I don't know how I did it."

Ali adds: "Working on Grendel, it was an ugly character, an ugly human being, like on the inside, just a very conflicted, scary person. And to go from exploring beauty and poetry and play to just dealing with very scary things and a very scary human being was the challenge of a lifetime and a joy for me as an actor."

"Anything's Possible" starts streaming July 22 on Prime Video. Read the rest of Ali's "POPSUGAR Crush" interview ahead.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 14: Abubakr Ali poses in the IMDb Portrait Studio at the 2022 Outfest LA LGBTQ+ Film Festival Opening Night at The Orpheum Theatre on July 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Corey Nickols/Getty Images for IMDb)
Getty | Corey Nickols

First celebrity crush?

This is so stupid. I don't know how this happened. It was Jessie from "Toy Story 2."

Favorite flirtatious emoji?

I'm a gemini, so it's the smiling purple devil (😈). I hate myself for this, but it's true.

Signature scent (go-to cologne/perfume)?

I'd always been anticologne, but very recently someone told me, "You need to be an adult, buy cologne." It's Saint Laurent something. I don't like cologne. I never have, but that one is just passable enough where I can tolerate.

Dogs or cats?

I just got a dog like five months ago. A little puppy. The best dog ever. His name is Blue. I grew up with cats, but I am forever changed into a wholly dog person.

What would your dating profile say about you?

The elemental simp.

Ideal first date?

There's three things that make for a beautiful date: a nice dessert, a drive or a walk somewhere, and just something to look at, at the end of the day, whether it be a view, a statue, whatever it is. Those three things, I think, for me would make a perfect date.

Go-to movie-night movie?

It's either "Star Wars: Episode III" if I feel like crying or "Avengers: Infinity War" if I feel like crying a little bit less.

Are you more likely to make the first move? If so, what is it?

I wish I was; I'm not. I wish I was, but I'm a waiter. There's so many crushes I'd had in high school that they never, ever knew. It's wildly unfortunate.

Best love advice?

Don't judge it.

Best trip you've been on?

It was like three years ago. I made a lot of money through a job or something. I was like, "You know what? I always wanted to go to Disney World." And I asked so many people to see if they would want to go; no one wanted to go. And I wanted a very specific Disney World experience. I was like, "I want to do it up." So I may or may not have gone to Disney World by myself for a week.

Favorite thing to cook?

I'm a garbage cook. I would say what I do is prepare food. The best thing I can prepare is a steak with a little bit of salt on it.

Getting dressed up or wearing comfy clothes?

Comfy clothes, always. [July 15] was the premiere, and for me, I was dressed up . . . and I was so lucky, the amazing stylist I work with, her name was Chloe, dressed me in something that I felt myself in, and that's a gift. For me, as long as I can feel my feet and be like, "Oh, I feel like myself," I'm a happy boy. I think it was the sneakers. I wore these, like, white sneakers that felt so comfortable. I wore, like, a green suit, and it looked amazing, but something about the sneakers, I was like, "OK. I feel like a person."