Auli’i Cravalho is a hugger. We had the honor of an embrace with the vibrant 16-year-old Moana star following an interview in a suite at the swanky Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill in San Francisco. This is a far cry from her home in Mililani, a small town on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii. Now she’s staying in four-star-hotels, has Disney princess status, just KILLED it at the Oscars with her performance of “How Far I’ll Go” (with an intro rapped by Lin-Manuel Miranda, no less), and is starring in the pilot of the upcoming series Drama High. But even with all that, ALL OF THAT, she’s still a goofy, giggly, down-to-earth 16-year-old who offers up hugs and selfies.
Her life has gone through such a ginormous transformation over the course of the last year. When we started off a question with “In a mill…,” she cut us off before we could even get the words “million years” out with a resounding “No, no, no.” She is completely and genuinely in a state of shock and awe over her star-studded new reality, and we were in awe of her. Here are eight charming things we learned from this rising star.
1. On Getting Knocked in the Head at the Oscars: “I had a good-sized bump. It was good to remind me that “I’m at the Oscars.” At the end, I looked down, and I saw Meryl Streep, and my heart almost leaped out of my chest and onto her lap, and she was close enough to do that, but I reeled it in, and at the end, I took a big breath. That’s my mom’s favorite moment, “There’s my baby, there’s my little one, there she is.”
2. On Her Then and Her Now: “I come from a really small town on the big island of Hawaii; it was really special for my family to drive to our local library, pick up a DVD, put it in, and sit together and watch a movie. We didn’t have TV, we didn’t have cable, and here I am, sitting in the Fairmont — the hotel is gorgeous, and they spray the lobby every 15 minutes with a gardenia scent. This is ridiculous! And I’m so blessed to be here. But no, I could have never imagined it. I wasn’t going to audition for Moana because I didn’t think that I would ever get it. I was always afraid to put my 100 percent into something; I knew if I tried my hardest for anything and got a no, it would break me. So, the fact that I did it once and put my entire heart and soul into it and it turned out well, I am forever grateful for that.”
3. On Being Like Moana: “When I first auditioned, it was at the Hawaii 5-0 casting office. I was really excited. My mom said, “If nothing else happens, I’m still so proud of you.” They asked if we wanted water… it was so cool. I auditioned and sang a few songs; I sang “I See the Light” from Tangled. I sang a few Hawaiian songs, and the casting director asked, “Okay, so, what do you do for fun?” I said, “I paddle for my school canoe club.” She asked,” Where do you go to school?” “Well, I go to an all Hawaiian school.” “Do you dance much?” she asked. “Well, I dance Hula.” “So, you grew up on the island your whole life?” “Yes, I grew up in a small town, and we had pigs and chickens.” And at that moment I realized,” Hey, I have a lot of similarities to Moana. And it worked out really well.” (Photo via Walt Disney Studios)
4: On Why Moana Is a Disney Princess for Today: “Moana is a Disney heroine. In this day and age, we don’t need princesses and people to save them and wear heels; the heroine decides that something is not right and is going to change it and save the world. It’s beautiful that I get to play this character; she inspires me. She’s an independent young woman who hit a demi-god over the head who loves her family unconditionally and that makes her even stronger.”
5. On Lin-Manuel Miranda: “He is very nice. He is fantastic. He’s an absolute genius. He really is. He tweets me every now and then about how his son is singing along to Moana. It really warms my heart because he’s a man who is so incredibly accomplished. I’ve been a fan of his since In the Heights. I was the understudy for the understudy for the understudy at home. I know all the songs. He was someone I looked up to because he made it big, and he’s Puerto Rican (Auli’I is a fourth Puerto Rican), and I connected to that. Everyone can connect to his work. I just love him.”
6. On What About Moana She Appreciates the Most: “She’s beautiful inside and out, she’s strong, she’s the heroine of her own story, and she also doesn’t have a love interest, which I think is great. The moral of Moana is figuring out who you are, and the journey Moana goes on is one everyone can connect to, maybe not traveling hundreds of miles in the open sea, but the journey of figuring out who you are and listening to that voice down inside you. Coming from a place where everyone sings the same songs and does the same things, there’s nothing wrong with that. Moana loves her family, but there’s always that what if, what if I expand my horizons, what if I become more than what is available to me outside my doorstep. I’m 16 and Moana is 16 in our film, and I’m a junior — next year I’ll be a senior — then I’ll go to college and figure out what I want to do with my life. And one might need to go on that journey, it might take time, you might meet a demi-god, you might have to defeat some monsters and some very difficult situations, and you might have to choose between leaving everything that you’ve known, but the person you become is worth it.”
7. On Her New Job As a Role Model: “I had some idea how much Moana would mean to others like to me, the brown girl who comes from an island where she’s rocking her natural hair, and she’s beautiful, inside and out. When I auditioned for the role, I was 14; when people would ask about being an inspiration, I didn’t know how to answer that — my mom still asks me to clean my room! I can come from an honest place and say that I have a lot to learn, a lot to grow, and that is fine. I’m grateful for everything, but I am not a perfect person, and I’m honored to be called a role model, but I have so much more to go. I would inspire everyone to realize that you are not a complete person ever, and you are never to stop growing ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. I’m honored, but I still have a way to go.”
8. On Her New Show: “It’s called Drama High. Jason Katim, who worked on Hamilton, is doing it. It’s being shot in New York, so I get to wear really cute hats and scarves and coats and boots and all these adorable things. My character is Lilette. The pilot is about high schoolers and how people can come from all different walks of life and come together for the theater, and the theater is where we express ourselves and different stories that we might be afraid to tell. We can come out on stage and can emote so much passion and feeling in others that are watching it.”
We are so thrilled that Auli’i left her small town and took up residence in our hearts, and we can’t wait to watch her again. In the meantime, you can pick up Moana on Blu-ray and DVD beginning March 7.
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