At 14, Auli'i Cravalho Got The Role That Changed Her Life (2024)

Even before she was cast as the titular princess in Disney’s Moana, Auli’i Cravalho was an accomplished 14-year-old. Cravalho’s mother, a single parent, worked to give her only child an outlet (and stay busy): hula, glee club, water sports, and a summer course in molecular cell biology. “I was really interested in science,” Cravalho tells Bustle. “I was doing a project on how algae absorbs UVA, B, and C rays. And I was hoping to make it into a natural sunscreen.”

On top of all that, she was also auditioning for acting roles. It all paid off in the summer going into her sophom*ore year, when she landed Moana. “I knew the impact of having a young brown woman be called a Disney princess — who did not have a love story, who didn’t need that to complete her arc,” she says.

But it wasn’t all a fairytale. While Cravalho was dealing with the nerves that come with making one’s acting debut, she also experienced depression growing up — in addition to what she describes to Bustle as a “tumultuous home life.” Today, the 22-year-old compares her depression to clouds that come and go: some days only hazy, others full-on rainy, spent in bed with Howl's Moving Castle. “At 14, it was a very exciting time of getting Moana,” Cravalho says. “But that doesn’t change what goes on in my head.”

In the years since Cravalho’s Disney debut, she’s moved into her first solo apartment and shared plans to study at Columbia University. “Not to be cliché and call my life a Disney movie, but I have gone quite far beyond the reef,” she says.

But she also remains an actor. In December, Cravalho joined the cast of the upcoming Mean Girls musical movie. And this month, she is starring in The Power, the Prime Video adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel, as Jos Cleary-Lopez, one of many teen girls around the world who develop the sudden power of electric shock.

If there’s one thing that sparked Cravalho’s teen girl power in a more metaphorical sense, it was music. “Hawai’i is very musical — where people just kind of pull up with their ukuleles and start playing,” she says. “I loved that feeling. I’ve always been very grateful for my voice, that I have an instrument on me all the time.”

Below, Cravalho talks about her 14-year-old self’s fandom, studying at a Hawaiian school, and growing out of teenage beauty standards.

Take me back to 2014, when you turned 14. What was life like for you?

I went to a school that was for all Hawaiian students. I did a lot of sports. I was on the swim team — before that, I had trained for the U.S.A. swim team. I played water polo. I was on the synchronized dive team. I paddled six-man regattas. And I talked to myself a lot, because I was also an only child.

Before Jos realizes what’s happening to her in The Power, she says she’s having a day where she just feels weird in her body — which also sounds a lot like puberty. How did you feel about that aspect of growing up?

I got boobs at a young age, so it was really weird. I had to deal with girls coming up to me and being like, “You have really bushy eyebrows. Can I pluck your eyebrows?” I can say right now: I’m 22, and I am just growing out my leg hair. And my arm hair. For so long, I’ve been shaving away parts of myself that I thought weren’t pretty. So expression of myself has changed so much since I was 14.

What were you a fan of at 14?

I was obsessed with Supernatural. For some reason, I think Skins was having a real resurgence at that point, which was a little toxic. I was in my My Chemical Romance, Pierce the Veil phase. I was in deep. Yeah, I thought something was inherently wrong with me — I was simply 14.

You mentioned going to a school for Hawaiian students. Did that have a positive impact on your sense of self and culture growing up?

Absolutely. I attended Kamehameha Schools’ Kapālama campus, but I was born and raised in Big Island. So I started off as a boarding student, and that alone taught me a lot of independence. And we didn’t read Catcher in the Rye as required reading. We read a lot of Hawaiiana books — a lot of things specifically tied to the polytheistic nature of Hawai’i. We [didn’t] have a written language. We have only oral history. So we needed to learn mo’okū’auhau, which is a listing of our genealogy, we would learn in a chant. Hawai’i is a place for me, but also, it’s my identity.

To come out into the world, I realized that I am “ethnically ambiguous.” That is what I’m called with casting. So it is a bit of a confusing process. But I love being home. That’s where I feel most myself.

Do you get to spend a lot of time there?

Less now that I am booked and blessed. But I am realizing the importance of carving out time, so that I actually get to be at peace for a little bit and see my friends and family.

On that note, what did your friend group look like growing up? What would you do for fun?

We would just walk around the mall, Ala Moana. We wouldn’t buy anything except boba and sat around the food court for hours. For what? I don’t know how we spent hours doing that.

What would you tell your 14-year-old self today?

Hold yourself a little longer, and allow yourself to be young a little longer. It’s gonna be really hard to make space for your inner child, but you are still a child. So don’t block out that joyous part of you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And if you make a mistake, it really isn’t the end of the world. Because sometimes I still feel that way — like, it physically pains me to make a mistake. And that is unfortunately the byproduct of growing up too quickly. So I would hope to retain some of that childhood joy for a little longer. Just enjoy your books. Keep reading fantasy novels. There’s no need to get into nonfiction yet.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

At 14, Auli'i Cravalho Got The Role That Changed Her Life (2024)
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