The Stunning Transformation Of Auli'i Cravalho - The List (2024)

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ByAlyssa Davis

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Auli'i Cravalho's start in acting is something of a Cinderella story. The actor grew up in a single-parent household in a small town in Hawaii, and she was discovered by happenstance at just 14 years old. Launching to superstardom with her debut role as Moana in the 2016 eponymous Disney movie, Cravalho's career has taken off in the years since — and it isn't showing any signs of slowing down.


While navigating the nuances of fame as a teenager, balancing high school coursework with various acting projects, Cravalho has managed to stay grounded amid the glamour of her profession. Now a young adult, the "Moana" star is focused on using her acting skills to highlight women's empowerment while also using her platform to advocate for important social issues and groups of disadvantaged people.

Unlike many of her nepo baby peers, Cravalho's humble childhood has influenced her decision-making when it comes to choosing acting roles, giving back to her community, and expanding her professional endeavors from acting alone to becoming involved in a behind-the-scenes capacity. Her career may still be young, but all signs point to Cravalho being a major force in the entertainment industry for years to come.


Auli'i Cravalho didn't believe she had a chance to make it big as a small town girl

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Auli'i Cravalho grew up in a small Hawaiian town, raised by her single mom. While she was passionate about theater and music from a young age, she never entertained the idea that her wildest dreams of making it big could — and would — come true. "I always loved singing and dancing and acting, and I think I was always a flamboyant and vocal person, but I also realized my own circ*mstance of growing up on a small island, in a small town and knowing that as much as I would love to do this, the chances are so slim," Cravalho told Variety. Additionally, the "Moana" star remarked that her lack of stage experience led her to believe no casting agent would ever pick her up for a project.


Instead, the actor spent her childhood and early teenage years believing she was destined to live out a fulfilling life in Hawaii, like several generations of her family before her. Cravalho explained during an interview with The Cut: "My mom is, like, the seventh child of the seventh child, and basically everyone stayed. I saw my legacy staying in the Hawaiian Islands, which is beautiful, but I couldn't have expected that I would be here."

Everything changed when she was approached by a casting director

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When Auli'i Cravalho was 14 years old — a freshman in high school — she and some friends created an audition tape for an entertainment opportunity at a local nonprofit event. Though they didn't land the gig, a Disney casting director saw the reel and reached out to Cravalho via email about auditioning for "Moana" — which she and her mother initially thought was a scam. "I remember showing it to my mom and saying, 'Okay, first of all, I think she used the wrong 'your,' and I don't know how I feel about this,'" the star recalled during her interview withVariety.


With nothing to lose, Cravalho and her mom decided to head to the casting studio on the off chance that the opportunity could be legitimate. "She said we'd just put on a nice dress, and it would just be what it is, and that was already bigger than anything I thought was possible," the actor explained. Sure enough, it was not a scam — after going through a process of three auditions, Cravalho was offered the role of Moana in the animated Disney movie.

She made history as both the youngest actress to voice a Disney princess and Disney's first Polynesian princess

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In landing the role of Moana,Auli'i Cravalho made history in more ways than one. At 14 years old, she became the youngest person to ever play a Disney princess. Cravalho also became the first Polynesian actor to play a princess for the iconic entertainment conglomerate, and she felt fiercely protective of ensuring her culture was represented accurately. "I'll admit, I was a little wary before I got put into this role," she told Dazzling Daily Deals. "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," Cravalho explained.


Disney did the legwork to ensure "Moana" was factual, authentic, and respectful, which impressed the young star. Sheexplainedthat, among other things, the studio connected with Ocean History Trust, a group of Hawaiian elders, to consult them about fishing and navigating the sea, and that the dancing scenes were choreographed by a Polynesian dancer. "I love that Disney has taken the time and effort to do research about us and extensive research about our culture and find those wonderful stories about Maui," Cravalho gushed to Harper's Bazaar.

Auli'i Cravalho related strongly to her Disney princess character

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As a born and raised Hawaiian, Auli'i Cravalho felt deeply connected to her title character in "Moana." Prior to her acting career, Cravalho spent her entire childhood in Hawaii and attended an all-Hawaiian school. As part of its curriculum, she learned about island mythology and folklore, including tales of the trickster demi-god Maui — who's played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the Disney movie. "I was basically her and she was basically me," Cravalho told The Cut of her connection with Moana. "I knew the stories of Maui and I was raised with Hawaiian and Polynesian values. I understood the importance that she would have, not only culturally, but also generationally."


Breathing even more authenticity into the Disney princess, Cravalho also recorded a Hawaiian-language version of "Moana." She told the outlet that it's become a popular resource for teachers in Hawaii, and that her young cousins have benefited from the Hawaiian-language iteration of the movie during their grade school education. Cravalho expressed the importance of the project, saying it will always be one of the most meaningful things she's done in her acting career.

The actress balanced high school with her voice recording sessions for Moana

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While recording her voice-over for "Moana," Auli'i Cravalho was also continuing her high school education — a juggling act that's seriously impressive for a 14-year-old. During her Variety interview,the actor recalled: "I was a sophom*ore at the time, and I would fly out once or twice a month, usually on the weekends. I still had to get in all of my assignments when I was flying out to Los Angeles for the sessions there, and I would also have tutoring and have to complete homework assignments, emailing back and forth."


Starring in an animated movie allowed for a less rigid schedule than filming a live-action production, but Cravalho still had to figure out how to balance her dream job with high school responsibilities. She remembered negotiating deadlines with her teachers, promising to make them proud by finishing her schoolwork and delivering a history-making performance if they could just afford her a little bit of flexibility. "I worked so hard to be the student that I wanted to be, as well as to take on the new challenges and new career of acting," the Disney star said, expressing how much effort she put into finding balance between the two.

Auli'i Cravalho navigated the transition from childhood to adulthood while navigating her fame

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During her interview with Variety, Auli'i Cravalho explained how challenging it was to be a normal teenager transitioning from childhood to adulthood while also navigating the nuances of fame. A high school senior at the time of her conversation with the outlet, Cravalho shared that she was trying to do well in economics, Spanish, and Hawaiian while becoming known as a movie star among her peers and also trying to determine her greater place in the world — which is a lot for a young person to figure out all at once.


The actor mused: "I think it's been interesting being in that in-between of feeling like you're kind of an adult, maybe not being able to vote but still having very passionate thoughts about how you want to change the world. And having a career that praises you and kind of puts you on a pedestal — but still being late on so many of my homework assignments and getting in trouble with my mom for not cleaning my room." Cravalho remarked that her mother helps keep her feet on the ground, which the star really values because she doesn't want to be swept away by the flashier aspects of her glamourous career.

She embraced the challenges of her first live-action role

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When taking the leap from voice acting to performing on-screen, Auli'i Cravalho embraced the challenges that came with being on camera for the first time, and she had a lot of support from others who were part of the project. Following the soaring success of "Moana" in 2016, the young actor was cast on the 2018 television show "Rise."


In her Variety interview, Cravalho expressed surprise at her ability to successfully transition from acting with her voice alone to pairing her body language and facial expressions with her dialogue. "I'm much more used to controlling my emotion through my voice — I know what that's supposed to sound like and I know what that's supposed to feel like — and it was interesting to translate that into a physical aspect," she told the outlet.

Cravalho credited her castmates — as well as the writers and directors of the production — with helping her hone her on-screen acting skills. "We had a new director every episode or every two episodes, and even that allowed me to not get comfortable with my performance, and that was so important for me because that made me want to be better," the star explained. Cravalho added that with each episode, she noticed her performance improving, and seeing herself make strides in her craft felt really rewarding.


Auli'i Cravalho also identified with her first live-action character

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Like her character in "Moana," Auli'i Cravalho shares several commonalities with her "Rise" character, Lilette. The actor told Variety that her personal experience growing up in a small town with a tight-knit community in which everyone knows each other — and the generations of family members that came before them — drew her to the television role.


"[Lilette is] growing up in a small town like I did, and a lot of times when you come from a small town, there's a small mindset and a box that people put you [in]," Cravalho explained. She added that when a family has lived in a small town for several generations, people in the community often make assumptions about individuals who make up the younger generation based on the identities and reputations of those in the older generations. It's a situation Lilette has to reckon with, which deeply resonated with Cravalho.

Being raised by a single parent is another aspect of Lilette's life that Cravalho found relatable. The star shared that the us-against-the-world dynamic between Lilette and her mother reminded Cravalho of the relationship she had with her own mom as a child and teenager.


She embraced her bisexuality for her role in queer rom-com Crush

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After landing three guest roles on television shows as well as two movies in 2019 and 2020, Auli'i Cravalho was cast in "Crush," a queer, coming-of-age rom-com produced for Hulu in 2022. The "Moana" star came out as bisexual on TikTok in April 2020. Like Cravalho, her "Crush" character AJ had already come out as bi — which drew her to the project even more. She told IndieWire she "lovedthat while being a young teen queer rom-com, it also did not center around a coming out story, because I've seen that."


Additionally, Cravalho celebrated the fact that the project was led by an entirely LGBTQ creative team. "Suddenly it made sense like, 'Oh, this is why the script is written so vibrantly.' It's because we're represented behind the camera as well as in front of it, and I felt that when reading the script," the actor explained.

Cravalho continued: "It makes or breaks the movie because ... we're putting on screen an experience that can't be fudged." She stressed the importance of having a queer cast portray queer characters as well, opining that heterosexual actors wouldn't have been able to infuse a queer romance with as much authenticity because they don't relate to queer attraction.

Auli'i Cravalho doesn't care about what others have to say about her career

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During her conversation with IndieWire, Auli'i Cravalho revealed the type of roles she gravitates toward: those portraying strong characters from whom she can glean wisdom. Because she's always looking for projects that are personally fulfilling and offer valuable life lessons, she isn't really concerned with what other people think of her acting choices — and hasn't let the pressure of living up to the enormous success of her debut in "Moana" affect her ability to choose future roles.


"To be honest, I haven't really thought about other people's opinions on my roles," Cravalho admitted. She added: "I hope to keep it that way because I'm becoming proud of the work that I do, and that feeling is separate from anyone else's take on my work." Considering she was 21 years old at the time of the interview, her self-assurance is impressive.

Cravalho also delved deeper into her thought process when it comes to reading scripts and choosing roles that speak to her. She explained: "My only requirement for looking at roles is simply, do I have lines of dialogue? Do I have enough of them? Am I intelligent? Am I written through the eyes of a man? Am I playing something up, like a part of myself that isn't really an essential part of my identity? Am I eye candy? I just want to play smart women," the actor said.


She's still adjusting the financial security her success has afforded her

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Auli'i Cravalho's rapid rise to fame and the financial benefits that have come with it are often still an adjustment for the actor. Even nearly a decade after the premiere of "Moana," Cravalho reckons with the monetary impact her acting career has had on her life. While many of her industry peers hail from famous families and privileged backgrounds, Cravalho's formative years weren't always easy. "I don't forget coming from a single-parent household, growing up in Hawaii on EBT — that's real. I am not, in real life, a Disney princess," she told The Cut.


Though she enjoys her profession and is extremely grateful for its advantages, Cravalho also questions whether she's making the most of her position when it comes to giving back to others and making a difference in the world. "Sometimes I do worry about what I'm doing with my time," the actor admitted to the outlet. "Am I spending it helping my community and making an impact in real life?" Cravalho explained that while she wants to use her privilege as a movie and television star to better the world, she also wouldn't be able to consider such an immense responsibility were it not for acting in the first place — a career that allowed her mom to retire. "I have never encountered this kind of financial security before — and I would be stupid to give it up," Cravalho said.


Auli'i Cravalho deferred her acceptance to Columbia University for fear of becoming irrelevant in Hollywood

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Columbia University accepted Auli'i Cravalho's application to study environmental science there in 2021.The actor ultimately decided against taking the higher education route, but only after deferring her acceptance several times. In fact, the "Moana" star deferred so many times that should she want to attend the esteemed university in the future, she would have to resubmit an application.


During her conversation with The Cut, Cravalho revealed what was keeping her from feeling like college was the right move during that time.While several child stars have continued to have successful acting careers while earning a college degree (such as AnnaSophia Robb and Emma Watson), Cravalho didn't feel confident that she would be able to achieve the same feat. "My biggest fear, and the reason I ended up deferring over and over and over again until I lost my spot, is that I was so afraid that if I took a break from work, that the industry would forget about me," she divulged.

The actress uses her platform to advocate for causes close to her heart

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In 2022, Auli'i Cravalho decided it was time to use her platform to raise social awareness of an incredibly important topic. While attending the premiere of Amazon Prime television show "The Power," the actor wore a red handprint over her mouth — a symbol used by supporters of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. Cravalho spoke to Good Morning Americaabout her powerful statement, telling the outlet: "I'm also representing No More Stolen Sisters, it is about missing and murdered and Indigenous women."


Cravalho, who starred in "The Power," spoke of shooting in Vancouver, Canada, and seeing the various memorials in the area dedicated to Indigenous women who have disappeared. Wanting to bring forth the theme of women's empowerment in real life, in addition to its place in the TV show, the actor explained: "Indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be kidnapped or abducted, and it is incredibly frustrating that there are not enough cases that are actually followed up with, and it points to police and how they are not using their funds correctly."

She is slated to star in a Mean Girls musical movie and executive-produce a live-action Moana

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Auli'i Cravalho has two major upcoming projects on her plate: she's starring in a film adaptation of the"Mean Girls"stage musical, as well as joining the live-action "Moana" adaptation as an executive producer. For the reimagined version of the cult classic "Mean Girls," the actor will portray Janis, who was originally played by Lizzy Caplan in the 2004 movie.


As for "Moana," many fans speculated about Cravalho reprising her role as the Disney princess, especially after Dwayne Johnson announced he would be bringing Maui to life on-screen. However, Cravalho told fans that she would not play the princess in the adaptation — but would be joining the project in a different capacity.

Sharing a video on Instagram, Cravalho expressed gratitude for the role "Moana" played in her life but explained that she would not reprise her role. "I believe it is absolutely vital the casting accurately represents the characters and stories we want to tell.So, as an executive producer on the film, I cannot wait to help find the next actress to portray Moana's courageous spirit, undeniable wit, and emotional strength," she said. Cravalho added: "I'm truly honored to pass this baton to the next young woman of Pacific Island descent, to honor our incredible Pacific peoples, cultures, and communities that help inspire her story. And I look forward to all the beautiful Pacific representations to come."


The Stunning Transformation Of Auli'i Cravalho - The List (2024)
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