One may say that Moana was a role newcomer Auli'i Cravalho was destined to play. After hearing about the auditions for Disney's first Polynesian princess, "Moana," at her all-Hawaiian school, Cravalho didn't think she was good enough to audition. Luckily, a casting director in Oahu discovered her at a charity competition and had her audition on the very last day of casting. The rest is history.
Moviefone sat down with Cravalho to chat about her first acting experience, representing a new heroine, and how far she'll go on her own journey.
Moviefone: How filming "Moana," considering it was your first role and you headed straight into a booth where you had to act against a microphone?
Auli'i Cravalho: Yes! That was interesting, there was major learning curve for that. I didn't know what to do, but I just kind of worked with it. Plus, I had the best people directing me -- Ron [Clements] and John [Musker], so I felt right at home. I think it was just finding that pocket of getting comfortable, because I remember being nervous. And I remember being nervous because I was nervous, and I thought that my voice was going to change because I was nervous. All of these thoughts swarmed in my head and I'm trying to digest butterflies as I walk into this booth and when the directors are there, they're like 'Ok, we're going to try it a few times,' and then Ron's like, 'Oh maybe we'll try it only once though, we think you're doing great.' And I was like 'I haven't even said a single word, thank you,' and from then on it just got better and better.
The chemistry between Moana and Maui (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is so on point. Did you ever get a chance to actually act against Dwayne?
Thank you! I thought that I was going to be rubbing elbows with Dwayne Johnson in the booth, but no. He's the busiest man in Hollywood, so I suppose I can forgive him. We met on the Miami shoot though, and we had a lot of fun. But, the way our voices play off of each other, it really does sound like a true conversation, and that's where I swear some Disney magic becomes involved. I don't know how they do it, I really don't. It's incredible that I can do a line forty times and they can tell which ones they believe will work just from hearing Dwayne's voice and remembering how the scene plays out.
I'm old enough to actually remember when Disney princesses looked a certain way and they were all the same with different stories. I was part of the 'please give us a cultural princess,' and here you are. You're fifteen years old and this is your responsibility to carry on. How does that responsibility feel considering that it is your first job and how do you intend to move forward with that?
I feel so incredibly blessed to be voicing this character, who is inspired by my culture, who is rocking a beautiful tan, whose body is athletic and strong, and whose hair blows freely with those curls. I love my character, and I think she's so incredibly important in this day. We put Moana in the Disney heroine category. I think it's hit the major media that Moana doesn't have a love interest, and they're like, 'Oh no!" But it's like, 'Oh, yes!' Moana doesn't need a love interest. Her journey -- finding herself -- is something she does all on her own. I'm so excited for young girls and other women and everyone else to see this film because finding yourself should never be compromised.
You sing a gorgeous song in this film. Can you talk a little bit about the vocal training you did to prepare?
I didn't have formal voice training before this.
I sang in my school choir and my church choir.
You have a stunning voice.
Thank you! I credit my singing voice to my mom, because she didn't give me a binky when I was a child, so I screamed and I developed wonderful lungs. So thank you mom, for that. I love our music, I think it encompasses so much of what I've heard growing up. Opetaia Foa'i and his band just brings the Polynesian vibe to it. Lin-Manuel Miranda, his lyrics just blow my mind. I remember when I got the lyrics for the first time. I was on cloud nine. Mark Mancina as well, his score just takes it to a new level of emotion. Our music team rocks.
How are you handling going from being a regular island girl to Disney royalty now?
I still see myself as a normal fifteen year old. That's the thing. People come up to me in the store and they're like 'Oh my god, are you Moana?' I'm reaching for the peas, and I'm like, 'Uh, yeah...' I'm still quite normal in that sense. I am in love with my character, and I know how special she is. I feel honored that anyone would think of me as a role model, or think of me as someone they would look up to. But quite frankly, I have a lot to learn. I have so many things that I have yet to do and yet to see, and it blows my mind that someone does think of me as a role model. I haven't quite wrapped my mind around it just yet.
So, you're joining the ranks of the Disney heroines of the past, Jodi Benson, Lea Salonga, Idina Menzel... where do you see your career going?
I don't know. This film has truly broadened my horizons. I wasn't planning on auditioning for this role, because I had seen many wonderful auditions for "Moana" on YouTube and I thought, 'Oh my god, her voice is stellar, it's so much better than mine. I wouldn't get chosen anyway, so why should I try out.' Then, this beautiful blessing happens upon me. I want to try everything that this film world has to offer because this is exciting and I don't want to limit myself. I think that something that at least I've done is think, 'Well, I'm comfortable where I'm at.' I don't want to do that anymore. I want to expand and I want to try television, I want to try live-action, I want to try Broadway if I can. I don't know what life has in store for me, so whatever it brings me I'm thrilled to try it.
Disney's "Moana" opens everywhere November 23.