Thank you to Disney Studios for hosting me during the Moana Event. All interview photos by Louise Bishop/Mom Start.
We had the chance to interview Auli’i Cravalho less than two weeks from her sixteenth birthday. (November 22, 2016. Yes-the day before Moana hits theaters!) Her incredible charm, intelligence and humor made her unlike pretty much any almost sixteen year old I’ve ever met. She’s also incredibly sweet…and a hugger. Yep. I totally got a hug from Moana.
What was it like to get the news that she’s be voicing Moana?
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 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. And mom was like, “Okay, I have work. You’re going to go with your aunt. The world is gonna continue. This is awesome but like, the world continues.” So she went to work and I went with my aunt to the audition process. And 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’d be voicing Moana. I was crying and I was so happy. And just thrilled that, first of all, they thought that I was 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 called my mom. And then we had another sesh. So it was really good.
How did she feel about the film’s representation of the Polynesian culture?
I’ll admit, I was a little wary before I stepped foot into this role. Because I think anyone who hears that a movie’s going to inspired by their culture, they want it to be done right. And we don’t want any misrepresentation, we want to make sure that what we feel our culture’s about, that it’s portrayed correctly on the screen. And that was how I felt. But after I started 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, that was choreographed by a Polynesian dancer. But 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.
What does she want children to talk away from the film?
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 their 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, andthat 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.
How does it feel to be the youngest Disney Princess?
That’s pretty incredible. I’ll be the same age as the character, my birthday is on November 22nd and our film comes out on the 23rd. And Moana’s 16 in the film. It kinda just worked out like that. I’m really proud of the character that Disney has portrayed on screen. I’m proud of her build and the wonderful tan that she has. I love that not only will people look up to her but people will begin looking up to me. That’s something I can’t quite wrap my mind around just yet. I’m, like I said, 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.
Did she spot her own mannerisms or characteristics making their way into the animation?
I have learned not to touch my hair when I’m nervous. But that’s something that Moana does. All throughout the recording process, I would touch my hair or my flower. You’ll see at some point, when work needs to get done, Moana puts her hair up-which is something that I do a lot in the booth-because as luxurious as these locks are, they have to come back at some point because work has to get done. She smiles a lot, which is something I don’t quite do often. [laughs] There are some mannerisms in there. And of course she was actually designed before I had even stepped in there. So the fact that she kinda looks like me is kind of uncanny. And now that she shares my voice and I’m like, “Umm…this is a little weird.”
What were her thoughts when she saw the film for the first time?
I was really blown away. I had seen it in its kind of like chopped up stages of animation where it’s not fully complete yet. Where she would go bald, or her skirt would get stuck in the air. And I was loving it then, I cried doing the songs. But now with its finished score, with like I said, the palm trees in the background, or the lapping of the water, even. It blows me away, just the amount of detail that the animators and the sound guys have put in there. It’s incredible. And also seeing other people’s faces. That was so special. My mom was holding my hand.
How was her mom involved in the process?
She actually has a line in the film. Well, maybe you folks can figure it out. But she talks about husking the coconuts… She did fabulous. I remember she was talking like, “Okay, I need to run my lines with you….I need an agent.” I’m fine with being like the smaller star in this family. [laughs]
What was her biggest challenge in portraying Moana?
I had a definite learning curve. I think that was certainly a challenge. Like I said, backyard plays were my thang. But I didn’t know how to kind of work in a booth. For one it was cold. I don’t like being cold, I get cranky when I’m cold. And I didn’t have anyone to bounce off of. I wasn’t rubbing elbows with Dwayne Johnson like I thought I would be in the booth. I did have a writer though, Jared Bush, and he really helped me throughout the entire process because it was all new to me. And the directors as well. They made me feel right at home. They understood that, you know, this is your first time doing this. But that’s what we want. And I think that’s also something that makes Moana relatable, that I’m not a seasoned professional. But I think the emotion that I bring to her is something that is very true. And I was able to connect to Moana on a deeper level as well. So though the learning curve was there and the challenges there, I think I overcame it pretty well.
What kind of training did she receive to prepare for Moana?
I got a voice coach, I was really excited about that. Before this I had choir, and I sang in school choir as well as my church choir. I didn’t have much vocal training beyond that. I credit my singing voice to my mom, because I came out screaming out of the womb. And she didn’t give me a binky so I developed wonderful lungs. Which I thank my mom profusely for that. But I kinda just lived. And I kinda just sang my little heart out in preparation for this role. I’ll say that I did go to the beach also as preparation. But I mean, it was kinda just for fun. Yeah, but I did get a voice teacher, Peisha McPhee, and we would work on Skype since they wouldn’t fly her down to Hawaii every week. I was pushing for that too. We worked twice a week and she gave me tips on breathing and all the things that she thought I knew, but in fact I didn’t know. She’s like, “Oh, you sound good!” I’m like, “Thanks!”[out of breath] And 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.
What advice does she have for children trying to find their own way?
When I was thinking about show business and I was thinking about the thought of Hollywood, I was like, “Okay, you know what, I have the thought. Now I’m gonna be serious about it, and I’m not gonna even set my hopes too high.” And so I focused myself on schooling. Which is really important. Don’t get me wrong, I focused on science and I was planning on continuing my career there. And when Moana popped up, it was in my freshman year of high school. And I remember thinking, “Okay, I sing pretty well. I’m an okay actress.” I mean, my backyard plays are directed and produced by me. Thank you very much. I didn’t know how I would add up to my competition. I had seen wonderful auditions on YouTube. And I put myself down. I thought, “You know what, it’s fine. What could I possibly give that the directors haven’t already seen?” But this big blessing happened. And 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 audition, the first 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 like solid on these lines, do I know all the words to my song? I’m going to mumble soe 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.
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.
Stay tuned for more exclusive interviews and extras coming soon! You can find all things Moana here, including full event coverage!