Special thanks to Disney for the magical trip to Los Angeles to cover the World Premiere of Moana and its press events.
I have a fifteen year old and on a daily basis I wonder how on earth he’s going to make it to and through college. He’s really intelligent, but like no street smarts. And he hasn’t learned the art of the give and take during conversation yet. There’s generally a whole lot of him escalating his voice to talk above the people he’s talking to, because God forbid he forget what he wanted to say while other people said what THEY wanted to say.
So when Auli’i Cravalho walked into the room to our thunderous applause, I was kind of expecting a sweet but innocent and maybe kind of like my fifteen year old, fifteen year old. What I got was this absolutely poised and well spoken, intelligent, beautiful young woman who knows what she wants in life, and believes enough in herself to know she can get it.
I left the interview wanting to spend the day with her hearing more about her culture and her people and her plans for the future.
So who is Auli’i Cravalho?
Here are the ten most important things you need to know about Auli’i Cravalho before seeing Moana.
1. She was the last young lady casting director, Rachel Sutton saw on her last day of casting, and the only girl they called for a second “callback”
Auli’i didn’t know it, but she was hand selected by Directors Ron Clements & John Musker, and producer Osnat Shurer from her video submissions and only one round of ad lib auditions. The team wanted to find someone of Polynesian descent that just had “that thing”, and Auli’i had that thing. She didn’t know that she had the part when they called her back into the studio for a “callback”, a trip that she took to Honolulu with her aunt, not with her mom!
I was called into technically another audition where I was told I would need to do just some more ad lib. And that was after I had already flown up to LA and I had done some recording up there. I had tried out the first time in my life in front of like real life people. Besides my mom, you know. And I had a lot of fun. And then that was my kind of second callback, I suppose. And they told me I’d just do some more ad lib. …. I did more ad lib and they were like, “You know, could you say it a little bit more happy, like for instance if we gave you the role, how would you react?” And I was like, “Okay! Wow!” I gave forth my best shot. And that’s when they told me I was gonna be in Moana. I was crying and I was so happy, and just thrilled that, first of all, they thought that I was like worthy enough for this role. I didn’t think that I was – I could never imagine in my wildest dreams that I would be voicing this character. But I was just so happy and blessed. And then I told my mom. And then I had another cry sesh, so it was really good.
2. She was wary of Disney trying to represent her Polynesian culture
As any culture would be, as Dwayne Johnson was, Auli’i was a little wary of Disney trying to represent her Polynesian culture when she first got involved in the project. She says anyone who hears their culture is inspiring a film wants to know that it is going to be done right, that their culture is going to be portrayed in the right light, but once she got started, her wariness disappeared.
After sort of working on the film and I learned that we have an Oceanic Story Trust, made up of individuals who are elders, who are fishermen, or navigators. That every single component, whether it was just a small little dancing scene in there, was choreographed by a Polynesian dancer. That just the little details, even just listening to the palm trees swaying in the background, that they got all of that. Because that’s what it’s about, it’s in the fine details that I think make, just the large production that much more special.
3. She wants you to know that Moana is a story about a hero, not just a princess.
Rebecca Darling asked her son if he was going to go see this new princess movie with her and he responded, “Mom, no. It’s a hero movie, it’s not a princess movie!” Auli’i gave a loud “YAAAAAYYYY!” upon hearing this. Her animation and energy was infectious and we all cheered with her. Auli’i agrees.
That is, I think, the underlying theme of Moana is something that everyone can take away. Yes, young women, but also young men who are going to go into this era and be the own heroes and heroines of their own story. It’s so important. I’m 15, going on 16, and you know, I’ve found that I can look up to Moana. And that she’s a true heroine. And that she’s determined and beautiful inside and out. That being strong doesn’t mean that you don’t have your weaker moments, that you aren’t as connected emotionally either. Moana is all of that, and I think her journey of finding herself is something that everyone can take away from, girl or boy.
4. Auli’i is the same age as her character, Moana, and the youngest Disney Princess
Auli’i turned 16 on November 22, the day before Moana hit theaters, and she is very proud of the character that Disney decided to portray on screen. She loves that people will look up to Moana, and in turn look up to her, but it’s still a little surreal to her.
That’s something I can’t quite wrap my mind around just yet. Like I said, I’m a 15 year old who has so much more to learn, and I have so much more to grow. I just am really excited for everyone to see her on screen because I find her someone that I look up to.
5. If she could get a tattoo it would relate to her family
I asked Auli’i if Moana had to choose a tattoo like the one Gramma Tala had, what would Moana’s tattoo look like? Her answer was so mature, nothing like my answer at 15 would have been, and I have the tribal lizard tramp stamp to prove it! I now believe tattoos should have a story, and Auli’i believes the same.
I think tattoos are, of course, very permanent, and I think the journey that Moana goes on, she understands that she’ll have many journeys after this. So I’m not sure what tattoo she would get. Although I personally would get a tatau, which is actually what I believe the word tattoo is based off of. It’s a Polynesian kind of tattoo, I suppose. It’s quite painful, more painful than the process of a regular needle because it’s actually tapping the ink into your skin.
(Look for a scene of this in the movie!)
I think if anything, Moana is brave enough, and secure enough in her own sense, to know that if she was to get anything permanent, she would make sure that it connected her to her family. And to her island.
PS: She thought it was a great question. *blush*
6. She just wanted to make her mom proud
So often when you talk to child stars and ask them how they got where they are, they cite an overwhelming parental support. Auli’i’s mom is no exception to that rule. Even when she couldn’t leave Hawai’i to take Auli’i to her auditions in Los Angeles due to work, she found someone else who could. She cheered her daughter on in her backyard performances and believed in her when she didn’t believe in herself. Because of all of the support, Auli’i just wanted to make her mom proud. I think there’s a huge takeaway here for all parents. Every child has a gift to share, it’s our job to hone in on that and help them sharpen the tool.
I thought to myself, why don’t I just try? I’m gonna get older and I’m gonna say to myself, oh, maybe not. And I realized that all that time that my mom spent, saying, “Okay, just try it, you never know what’s gonna come up”. I was totally twisting that around in the way that she wouldn’t want me to. And I think she was away at work, and I was at school. And I thought to myself, just – if anything, I want to make her proud. And so when I had the first like audition in Hawaii. And it was at the Hawaii 5-0 casting studio she just said, “I’m so proud of you”. And I was like, I haven’t even done anything. I’m not even solid on these lines, do I know all the words to my song? I mumbled some of the words, but she was still so proud of me. And so that’s what encouraged me to continue on my journey.
And I hope that anyone else just goes out on that limb because they don’t know what life has in store for them. And please, please don’t put yourself down. Because there is so much more potential than you even know.
7. Auli’i is a math and science whiz
Before she landed the role as Moana, she was in a science and molecular cell biology program at her school and her passion is science. She wants to continue on in that field even though she plans to stay in film.
8. She’s into combining science research and philanthropy
Auli’i has a passion project she would like to pursue even as she continues on her journey in Hollywood that involves using natural algae to develop a reef and ocean safe sunscreen that is better for both us and the environment.
Natural algae in our system is able to absorb and refract so much light, which gives it it’s wonderful fluorescent sometimes deep green color. And with that I’m hoping to create some kind of suntan lotion that is better for us and better for the environment. The life of, I believe, just the land and the world stems from our oceans, and we need to protect it. There is kind of a Hawaiian saying, “If we protect the ocean, if we love on it, it will love on us” and return, the blessing to us. So hopefully in the future I’ll continue in this field of film. As well as kind of a passion of mine which is science.
9. She loves hugs
When Auli’i had to get into a difficult headspace while doing the voice work for Moana, she would sometimes find herself upset with tears in her eyes. In those moments, she would come out of the booth and her mom would be right there to hug and reassure her.
When it would get to be too much or when I was finally done recording those [difficult] scenes, I would be like, “Okay, stop production”, with tears in my eyes. I would open the door and Mom like would literally be right there. And we would have like a ten minute break of just getting out of that headspace. And there were a lot of hugs.
When our interview was over, she hugged each and every one of us, thanking us for our time. She’s a really, really remarkable girl.
10. She had to re-learn how to breathe
Auli’i is, admittedly, not a seasoned professional. Prior to this gig, the only training she had were her self-directed and produced backyard plays, and the school and church choir. Once she landed the role of Moana, Disney got her a vocal coach who had to teach her how to breathe which is vital to singing and voice acting.
The voice coach gave me tips on breathing and all the things that she thought I knew, but in fact I didn’t know. Even just working on breathing, and I realize that voice acting, you can’t hide much. They can cut things here and there but if it’s a more emotional scene, you’ll start to have a heavier breathing. And in the song, if you’re emotional and your breathing has to get heavy, your breathing has to get heavy but you can’t get out of breath. So it was another learning curve.
Auli’i was a gracious, beautiful girl and I can’t wait to buy her first bottle of sunscreen & see or hear her on the big screen again and again in years to come.
RUN! Go see Moana in theaters NOW! It opened today, November 23, in theaters nationwide.
ALL PHOTOS © LOUISE BISHOP/MOMSTART UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes Moana, a sweeping, CG-animated feature film about an adventurous teenager who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. During her journey, Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess & the Frog) and produced by Osnat Shurer (Lifted, One Man Band), Moana sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.