'Moana' Star Auli'i Cravhalo on Her New Show, Singing for Millions, and Surviving the Oscars
After giving voice to an instant animated icon, National Memorial Day Concert on May 28, a safe bet would be pretty far: she's still only 16 years old.
The Hawaiian-born singer and actress heads to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Sunday to join in the annual televised Memorial Day celebration honoring the service and sacrifices of America's military and their families, where she'll make her first public performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
As she prepped for tackling one of the most enduring -- and notoriously challenging -- songs in American history, Cravahlo joined Moviefone to chat about what the opportunity means to her, her upcoming TV series "Rise," memories of that crazy Oscar night and getting through her math exams in the middle of it all.
Moviefone: This is a very specifically challenging song for any singer to undertake. Tell me what you're thinking as you prepare to sing the National Anthem.
Auli'I Cravalho: It is a challenging song. There's no doubt about it. There's a lot behind it. There's a lot of emotion that needs to be portrayed. Besides the emotion, there's also some crazy pitches in there that you've also got to nail. So I'm working very hard on it, and my heart's in the right place, and I'm excited to perform.
Have you ever performed it publicly before?
No, I have not. My mom is a member of the public, but she's the only person I've ever sung it for. So she doesn't really count. This will be the first.
I'm sure she was an appreciative audience! You've been getting more and more experience singing in front of larger and larger audiences, both in front of you, and via television. What has the experience has been like, getting these really high-profile gigs?
Each one of them never ceases to give me butterflies or crazy nerves. All of these amazing performances have helped me developed in new ways that I never thought possible, and I will tell you that I am nervous for Memorial Day, even now, but I will persevere, and I will get through it.
Each event has taught me so much about myself, and about how to conquer my nerves, and each one has its own significance. Memorial Day is no different. I have had so many family members who have served, and are currently serving as well. So it's going to be an amazing event, there's no doubt about it.
What does it mean to you to be able to honor those who have served the country, and to have an opportunity to creatively express your own sense of patriotism?
It means so, so much. I have grown up on an island all my life. Even though I have been miles and miles away from our capital, I have never once doubted how important, and how honored, and how privileged I am to be an American citizen. To be able to sing the National Anthem at our nation's capitol, at 16 years of age, I could not be more honored. I know that I am making my family proud, so I'm just thrilled.
Do you remember the very first song that you performed in front of a decent-sized audience?
I don't even remember the name of the song. Everyone knows the song, except no one really knows it. It's like "Red is the color of an apple, orange is the color of an orange ..." [NOTE: "The Rainbow Song," from "Barney & Friends"] Like, that one.
I'm pretty sure I stopped at yellow, because I had stage fright, and I was in a local pizza joint, because they said, if there was a rainbow, and you sang the song, you get a free slice of pizza. Needless to say, my mom had to buy me the slice of pizza because I couldn't finish the song. But I do believe that was the first song I ever sang in public. Thank you for bringing back that memory for me, Scott!
Tell me about your experience singing at the Oscars. You got rave reviews for your performance. It was an interesting and unusual evening all around. What was that experience like for you?
That was incredible. I will never, ever forget that performance. For the days after the performance, I really couldn't forget it because whenever I would lay down, the back of my head was throbbing because I had a lump from the guy who decided to hit me on the back of the head with a pole. I will never forget that performance! I know that there will be a lot of flags at Memorial Day, so I'm preparing myself for that as well.
I was so thrilled. I remember seeing so many celebrities in the crowd, and realizing that, you know what, yes, they're amazing, but they're all people. So I'm going to give my performance as if there's no one in the audience, because the only person in the audience that's really, truly special, besides Lin-Manuel Miranda and Dwayne Johnson, is my mom. So technically, I was just performing the Oscars for my mom. There will be a lot more people to perform to for Memorial Day.
With that said, did you get to meet anybody throughout the course of the night that was special to you that was kind of a pinch-me-I'm-dreaming sort of moment?
I got to meet Katy Perry. I saw Adrien Brody from a distance. And Meryl Streep was, like, in the front row while I was performing. If I didn't have a better control over my stomach, I could have, like, legitimately projectile vomited on her -- but I didn't. Whew! But she was close enough to do that.
"Moana" has been embraced by so many people, and you've been out in lots of situations where you've gotten to meet fans. Tell me what that experience, being a part of this immediate sort of global family that loved that movie, has been like for you.
It's been so amazing for me. I have grown up in Hawaii all my life, and the fact that "Moana" is a Polynesian influence, that was incredible for me. This is kind of the first of its kind where we've seen a Polynesian heroine that's strong, that is empowered, that's empowering to those who watch it.
I think that really spanned across so many people, which is why so many people have loved it for its music, for Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina and Opetaia [Foa'i] and the music team, as well as the characters themselves, how they're relatable, and the storyline as well: figuring out what you want to do, and listening to that quiet voice, and pursuing it as well.
It's been amazing coming home and getting hugs and leis from my family members who are so proud of the film and proud of me. There's nothing that I wanted more than to have my family members, and to have my island, and my island family really proud of me. So I'm so grateful.
Do you hope that as you continue in different acting roles that you get the opportunity to tell more stories about people in the Polynesian culture, whether they be traditional stories like "Moana," or contemporary stories about people today?
I think the reason I want to be an actress is because I get to be a part of that storytelling process. The stories that wouldn't usually be heard. Like I was saying, I'm just so proud to be a part of "Rise," because it tells a story of real people, as well as "Moana." "Moana" was about a young teenager figuring out who she was. So I'm just so happy with what I've been a part of.
That's why I wanted to act, because I get to tell these stories, so yes, more stories inspired by Polynesia, and more stories in general that speak of real people, I'm excited to be a part of.
You're definitely going to be telling more stories because you got a nice good news this week with the pickup of "Rise."
Tell me why that project felt right for you, and what you're going to be doing on the show.
I fell in love with "Rise" the first time that I read the script. I auditioned for it, and I don't audition for many because I don't really know how to do auditions, if I'm honest. So I was really excited for "Rise" because it felt so real.
It's inspired by the book "Drama High" by Michael Sokolove. It's about a working class town, and my character comes from a single parent home. I get all of those things. I get going to high school, and trying to be popular, and yet be true to yourself. Just the normal things that high schoolers go through. I'm 16. Believe me, I get it!
The fact is that "Rise" isn't a picture perfect show either. It's written by an incredible staff who want to tell a story that's true. So that's why it felt so important to me. I also get to perform on there, and sing my little heart out. So there's a lot of elements that I'm really proud of.
Have you had a chance to go to Disneyland or Disney World since the world discovered "Moana"?
No, no I haven't actually. I haven't even been able to spend very much time home. I'm on Oahu now, and I'm in my room, and after this, I will actually be prepping for my math exam, my trigonometry exam, so I don't have much time to go to Disneyland. I've never been to Disney World. Hopefully, Moana will be able to see the Moana in the park! I haven't met her yet, but I heard that she's wonderful, and I'm excited for the day that we meet.