“Moana” Star Auli‘i Cravalho Opens Up About the Oscars and “Drama High”

HONOLULU Magazine gets the scoop on the Moana star’s new TV pilot and about that Academy Award hit.
Aulii Cravalho white dress Oscars
Photos: Phil McCarten / Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences


Auli‘i Cravalho, the breakout star of Disney’s Moana, has been having a fantastic couple of weeks. First there was her sublime performance at the Academy Awards—complete with a flag swipe to the back of her head that barely fazed her—followed by a flurry of TV appearances and interviews coinciding with the Moana DVD release. Next came the news that she’d been signed to a new NBC pilot, Drama High, about a group of high schoolers transforming their community through theater. Instead of heading home, she flew straight to New York City for rehearsals and, despite a cold, made time to talk to HONOLULU. We asked her about Oscars night, her new future in TV and what exactly happened with that head bonk.


HONOLULU Magazine: Where are you calling from?

Auli‘i Cravalho: I’m in New York City! I just came from shooting for a TV show that’s going to be aired Friday in New York. And it is chilly here.


HM: Wait, when did you go to New York?

AC: Since the Oscars I’ve been doing shows and appearances in Los Angeles, then Sunday I flew. We landed at 5 p.m. and went straight to rehearsals.


HM: How has all this been on your voice? Did you take precautions flying?

AC: Absolutely. I drink a lot of water. And I sleep whenever I can. Fortunately, it’s easy for me to go to sleep. I can knock out anywhere, whether it’s on a plane, a bus or a car.


HM: We last talked two days before Moana opened. Just before Thanksgiving. Do you feel like you’ve aged in dog years or something?

AC: Yes. A lot has happened since the last time we spoke. Moana came out. I’m so happy that our film was taken so well by people. I’m blessed that I got to perform, not just at the Oscars, but for us, you folks [with the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra]. That was fantastic.


The Oscars

HM: I hear it takes hours to do the show.

AC: Yes. Actually, you do a complete rehearsal the day of, then you get ready, which in itself takes forever—about three hours for hair and makeup. Then you get into your dress, which takes another 10 minutes, or more, depending on your gown. And then you start the walk on the red carpet, which is quite long and takes quite a long time. There are so many people who want to get to know you. Then the actual awards happen, which take about three hours.


HM: Sounds like The Longest Day. How do you sustain yourself? Do you eat energy bars?

AC: We don’t carry energy bars. If your stomach can hold down a meal, there’s real stuff to eat. Burgers are available. French fries.


HM: Did you have a burger?

AC: [Sings] I ate a salad. 

Actually, I’ve been digesting butterflies for weeks. I was so incredibly nervous.


Aulii Cravalho oscars white dress


About That Dress

HM: Now we have to talk about the shoes. I know women in Hawai‘i who surf and go around in slippers, like my wife, really feel the pain when they put on the shoes.

AC: Oh, my feet were sore. They looked great, my shoes. My Jimmy Choos were like 5 inches high! I’ve never been so far off the ground! Fortunately, I was able to take them off and massage my feet.


HM: The clothes. I saw two gowns.

AC: Correct. I wore a white (Rubin Singer) gown on the carpet and then the red gown (Carolina Herrera) for my performance and then a blue gown for the after-party. My quickest change was from the blue dress and into my pajamas.


HM: I bet you were exhausted.

AC: Especially since we got back from the party at 2 a.m. but then I had a call time at 3 a.m. for Good Morning America.


HM: Did you even sleep? Weren’t you too excited?

AC: I was totally out the minute I lay down. For that hour. Waking up was hard.


HM: Did they throw cold water in your face?

AC: We did everything. That, and jumping jacks. The hair and makeup were at 5 a.m. So after that, a few yawns and then you’re on.


Taking the Leap

HM: Going back to the performance, to “How Far I’ll Go.” How did you deal with the nerves?

AC: I don’t. When I’m nervous, I sing. Honest. I was literally able to sing out my nerves on stage. You’ve got to breathe into it.

But, I’d like to say this. I have learned that you need adrenalin to have an extraordinary performance. If you don’t have those nerves, don’t have that fear, then you will have an ordinary performance. Not an extraordinary one.


HM: When we talked in November, before the film opened, you said you weren’t sure about show business as a career, you were enjoying your studies at school, so you were keeping your options open.

AC: Yes.


HM: When you stepped up and began to sing, and the camera came in for a close-up, I didn’t see any doubt. I saw you going for it in a way that was very decisive. The song was like a declaration. It was like you put the doubts aside and graduated to your new life.

AC: [Quietly] Yes. I didn’t know I wanted that graduation so bad. [Pause] Yes, it would be correct: I made a leap. I love acting, I love singing and I love performing as well.

[Sings] AND I am a JUUNNN-ior in HIGH school STILLL in TRIG-o-NOM-etry … 

[Laughter] I’m going to pursue my career and also finish my schooling and I wouldn’t have it any other way.



About that Flag

HM: Now, I’m afraid, it’s time we talked about The Incident.

AC: Ah, yes. [Sighs]


HM: Did they hit you with the flag during practice?

AC: They did practice our number in rehearsal and, guess what, I got hit in the back of the head there, too! I got a slight bump on the back of the head. So we said, OK, I did get a little knock on the back of my head, and we all shared a good laugh, and said it’s definitely not going to happen at the Oscars.


HM: You barely flinched!

AC: I’m so thankful for my dancers, they were incredible. But it was a good little bump. I rubbed it for a couple of days after because it reminded me the whole experience was real.


The Takeaways

HM: What was the most surprising moment, aside from getting bonked?

AC: Probably when I finished “How Far I’ll Go” and l looked down and I saw Meryl Streep in the front row looking up and clapping for me.


HM: What was your favorite moment?

AC: The moment before I actually set foot on stage. In my dressing room, before I opened the doors, I took a really deep breath, and was able to think about my family at home and all the crowd in front of me, and I realized how important this moment was.


HM: How would you describe the Oscars experience in one word?

AC: Unforgettable.


HM: What was in your swag bag?

AC: Well. In my swag bag, I got makeup and other stuff. But what I really like is, I actually got an Oscars jacket and an Oscars cap. I’m not sure I’ll wear it outside. But it will go on my wall.


Oscar Downtime

HM: Did you study during all that Oscar downtime?

AC: Yes. I had my studio teacher with me in my dressing room drilling me and putting me through problems.


HM: Studio teacher, is that like a tutor?

AC: Yes, they can teach all subjects. Meanwhile, I could hear Lin-Manuel singing in the dressing room next to mine and Justin Timberlake in his dressing room.


HM: So I take it you met Justin Timberlake?

AC: He’s so nice. He has the bluest eyes ever. I also met John Legend who was very kind.


NBC Comes Calling

HM: Can I ask about the TV pilot?

AC: It’s from NBC and called Drama High.


HM: Did the studio call after seeing you in the Oscars?

AC: NBC called a week or so ago before. I got a call from my agent. She had so many people on the line, a lot from my office, my family, those that help with me. And they told me I had landed the role. I cried.


HM: It’s a career move.

AC: Moana is amazing and will always live with me. But the fact that I can go to another project, one after the other—usually, there’s downtime, where you think and wonder what will come next. And I’m very grateful to have this to step into right away.


HM: Who is your character?

AC: I have been cast as Lilette.


HM: Hmmm. Sounds French.

AC: I can’t say anything. It’s set here in New York. It actually starts tomorrow, the production, and I’m really looking forward to wearing the coats and jackets and scarves and boots that are worn here. Because it’s cold.


HM: What can you say about it?

AC: This will be my first live-action anything. I still have a fair amount of nerves about it. It’s about high schoolers, these teenagers coming from all walks of life, getting to express their passions and express their stories.


HM: Back to the Oscars one more time. What did you think when you watched the tape?

AC: I haven’t watched it yet. I’ve never watched the Oscars before. After my three weeks here I may, just maybe, watch the tape. But I’ll skip my part.