An Interview With Auli’i Cravalho of Disney’s “Moana”
Auli’i Cravalho would tell you that she’s just a “normal girl.” I wouldn’t agree with that. As far as anyone goes, she was the most well spoken, and positively vibrant person that I might have ever spoken with. When we started our conversation, she was putting away her Trigonometry homework to make time to speak with me. Nothing about her mannerisms or speech particularly screamed Hollywood, but it was immediately easy to see why this captivating and charming young woman was chosen to play the lead role in the new Disney feature animated film Moana.
(909) So you’re going to be in the Disney feature film, Moana! Can you tell me a little bit about the movie and what that’s going to be like?
(Auli’i) Sure! Moana is about “Moana” the ocean as that is translated; and it’s also about Moana, a teenager, who is a wonderful, strong and beautiful young girl, who is KINDA trying to figure out who she’s going to be. She lives on a wonderful island called Motunui and is the daughter of the chief played by Temuera Morrison, he’s Tui. It’s an interesting relationship between them. Her father of course he loves her, and she loves him but he wants her to stay on the island and stay safe.
While Moana is so incredibly drawn to the ocean and she wants to go and explore, which is something that her ancestors may have done, but they don’t do anymore. So as it turns out, she is kind of forced to go on this journey across HUNDREDS of miles of ocean, and she loves it! She discovers, and meets actually, the demigod Maui, played by Dwayne Johnson, Hey-hey-hey! And together, they basically save the world, from kinda this darkness that’s looming over them.
It’s a wonderful film, that YES talks about the physical journey, across hundreds of miles of ocean, but also the emotional journey Moana goes through as a sixteen year old trying to figure out who she is, while others tell her who she should be. I really love it.
(909) That sounds really good, like a good strong female role model. I heard that they decided against a love interest in the movie. Disney is always moving forward on creating strong female leads and good role models. Who would you say has been your role model in life?
Yeah definitely! My mom! My mom is one of the most biggest role models in my life. I love her! She has taken care of me for, ya know, basically all my life. Not even basically, since I’ve popped out of the womb. She’s really great! She’s my rock in all this. When everything around me is kind of, not even kind of, is REALLY different. Food is different, the clothes that I’m wearing is not even what I’m used to, and the air I’m breathing is, ya know cold and all that. It’s really good to still have Mom there. There’s nothing that can beat having your mom with you.
(909) So things have been changing a lot?
Well, there’s been a lot of new experiences I’d say. They’re wonderful of course, but everything can be overwhelming. Especially as like this is happening to me, it’s a WONDERFUL whirlwind, but a whirlwind none the less.
(909) Yeah, definitely! So what where you doing before? Did you expect to find yourself in the next Disney feature film?
Um, well I mean, it wasn’t exactly something that I neccesarily planed out in my life, but I’m glad that it happened. I was a freshman in high school when the main auditions for Moana was happening, and I didn’t initially try out for it, because I was in my freshman year of high school? That should be like enough of a description of that, because high school is confusing. So I was focusing on high school, but, as it turns out, my friends and I decided to put together a group audition to become the entertainment of a non-profit event. We were hoping to raise some funds and anything that would have come out of it was going into that non-profit.
We had this awesome harmony in there, and we were having this acappella audition and we had beat boxing… and we didn’t get in; BUT the woman who was going through our auditions, was also the casting director for Disney on the island of Oahu. So she saw my audition with my friends and contacted me and asked if I wanted to become Moana, or rather asked if I wanted to try out for Moana, which thank god, thank the Lord almighty I said yes! Could you imagine if I said no? AH!
It worked out real well, and yeah, a few auditions later they told me that I would be playing the role of Moana.
Before this though I was just a normal girl I guess. I wasn’t represented by anyone, I didn’t take acting or singing lessons or anything like that. I was just pretty much me, if anything I was kind of hoping to go into law, specifically microbiology. Like, there was… it was SO different!
Heh-heh-heh, Yes you will! I do singing in the film, as well as speaking. Our music team made up of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i is such an amazing team. They worked together to blend this wonderful, kind of Polynesian influences, yet very distinctly and wonderfully “Disney” and I had thought that could never happen. I’m so glad that it did.
(909) Being the first Polynesian Disney Princess, how do you feel they’ve captured the culture and the scenery?
That was a thing that came from a personal place. I was even a little scared before I had even thought of trying out for the role of Moana. As soon as you hear about somebody making a film inspired by your culture, you want it to be right. You want it to feel right, and I can honestly say that I’m very proud to be working on Moana, and the fact that they’ve had this movie in the works for five years. They’ve taken recent trips, and they still ask for, ya know, advice and knowledge from cultural advisers. It’s really amazing. They’ve done such a wonderful job. So YES I’m very proud of this film and I think they’ve done it well.
(909) I’ve been a huge fan of John Musker, and Ron Clements since I was a kid. Alladin, The Little Mermaid, they’re iconic. How was it working with them? Have you ever been directed before?
Well, I’ve been in backyard plays, and I have put on some amazing performances in my living room. Aside from that, no, nothing like this. So to be directed by, first of all, such legendary directors it was really amazing. I’d kind of describe them as two bodies, sharing one mind. If you meet them, and I really hope you do, they talk over eacother a lot. It’s so funny because they both know EXACTLY what they’re going to say but they use different synonyms and they look at each other and just debate on what exactly the idea is they’re trying to come up with, then they come up with this terrific finished product.
Being in the recording booth and having them on the other side of the glass is a really fun and funny experience, because they’re just amazing. They know exactly what they want, but they have this wonderful and rich way of describing everything. It’s so interesting.
(909) So in the recording studio, did you get to work with everyone directly? Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk? Or were your parts recorded separately?
I WISH we worked directly with each other. I was actually not aware that it’s quite common for voice actors to work separately. I mean, you of course, as a fan of Disney Films, and Ron and John’s, when animated characters talk to one another it really does carry the emotion back and forth. That was so surprising to me. I recorded entirely separate from all of my co-stars, and yet when I hear it, or see it on screen the characters seem to be conversing so naturally which I think is just amazing.
(909) So what can we look forward to now that this film is wrapping up? Where are we going to see Auli’i?
I’m not sure just yet. There are a few things cooking I will say, BUT I’m really really happy with everything that is happening right now. I wouldn’t have ever guessed this would happen to me. It’s just a big blessing and I understand how difficult it is to get into this industry and now that I’m in it I really don’t want to get out. My passion is acting and singing but I never thought I’d get to do it, and it’s just a big blessing.
(909) So then what advice would you give to the other young girls trying to be the next Disney star?
Hmm.. Well I would give advice to everyone! Boy, girl, young old. It’s kind of related to Moana I think, which is interesting to me. Moana is 16, and going on this Journey and so am I. So taking this time to figure out who you are is really important. Before you go on a big journey like this, or make this big decision to like, become an actress, or whatever it is. What you become is going to stay with, and you want to make sure your roots are deeply planted. This is something I’ve learned, and my roots are deeply connected to my culture, which is what I hope to carry along with me no matter where I go or what role I might take. I am very “me” so to anyone who wants to get into this, make sure you’re YOU, not anyone else.
(909) I had heard they kind of tricked you a bit when they told you that you got the role. Is that true? What happened?
Yes! Okay that is entirely true. So, how the audition proccess worked was that I submitted my first audition specifically for Moana. I was in summer school and I couldn’t figure out a time when I could actually, you know, do a skype session with them and do a live kind of audition. So I couldn’t figure out a time, and as it turns out, they flew me out to California and I did my live audition there. It took up a weekend but it worked out really well. Then when I came back, they told me that I would need to some more ad lib and they just needed me to come in and do some other stuff. I’m not sure what they needed me to do because at that time that’s when they told me I would be playing Moana! They didn’t need me for ad lib, they just wanted me to be on camera when they told me.
(909) Wow, that sounds really exciting.
Yeah! Well my mom was at work, and I had to call her at work and she was freaking out, because she was expecting me to do some little stuff and… she was like “I wouldn’t have gone to work if I knew this was happening!” and yeah, it just worked out really well. It became a kind of funny yet heart warming video that still brings tears and laughter to our eyes even today. It’s funny to see.
(909) We’ll have to get that video out for everyone to see.
Oh.. Nuh-uh, no you don’t have to.
(But we DID have to.. Sorry!)
(909) I heard that they actually designed Moana before they ever went out to cast her. A lot of people say she looks a lot like you, do you compare yourself to Moana? Was it strange stepping into her role?
Hmm. Well, you’re right! Moana was finished before I even stepped into the role. It’s kind of a joke that I look a lot like the character, but it’s not really a joke. It just feels meant to be that I played this character you know? I paddle, and I go out on out-rigger canoes and I technically sail as part of my actual life, not just in the movie, that’s just my life here on Hawaii. So it’s interesting, I don’t feel like I had to step into a role. Moana grows up on an island, I grew up on an island, we’re both really culturally connected and I think we both just love our people. We’re alike in so many ways, so I didn’t necessarily have to prepare for the role I was just really lucky with that.
(909) Well thank you so much for taking some time to speak with us. I’m sorry for taking you away from your homework to speak with us; Trigonometry right? It’s been a real pleasure, and I really truly had a great time speaking with you.
No! Don’t even apologize! Thank you so much for calling me today! I needed a break, thank you. Goodbye!
So be sure to catch Disney’s Moana, in theatre Nov. 23rd Starring Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson, directed by John Musker and Ron Clements with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i.