Auli’i Cravalho dishes on ‘A Capitol Fourth,’ legacy of ‘Moana,’ college at Columbia

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Auli'i Cravalho (Part 1)

Listen to our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Kids will hear a familiar voice on “A Capitol Fourth” Sunday at 8 p.m. on PBS.

“Moana” voice actor Auli’i Cravalho will be performing “A Whole New World.”

“I’ve been a Disney Head for a while,” Cravalho told WTOP. “I worked with Alan Menken on ‘The Little Mermaid Live,’ so ‘A Whole New World’ just fit. It really has a lot of heart. It reminded me that through the pandemic a whole new world is coming now that vaccines have rolled out. I’m excited to get back out there, see my friends and family and live a little!”

Her virtual performance will be recorded in New York City.

“I am a little nervous considering this was one of my first performances since the end of the pandemic, but it’s great to get back out there,” Cravalho said. “I was in Los Angeles, I stayed in my apartment and it was quite isolating. I didn’t do much but stay by myself.”

How is she adjusting to life on the mainland since growing up in Hawaii?

“I am still trying to make Los Angeles feel like home,” Cravalho said. “I got my license so now I can drive and that opens up the city and state. I’m a snob with L.A. beaches. Nothing compares to Hawaii. People are like, ‘You should go down to the beach and watch the sunset,’ and I’m like, ‘Ehh.’ Nothing compares to Oahu and the beaches there.”

Indeed, her life has changed since voicing the title role in Disney’s “Moana” (2016).

“I think it should have won the Oscar,” Cravalho said. “It was such a wild ride. It was a blast. I was cast when I was 14, the film came out the day after my 16th birthday, it changed my life for the better. It was my first job, obviously my first acting gig.”

She still enjoys watching Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson rap on “You’re Welcome.”

“That really is the perfect mesh of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Dwayne Johnson,” Cravalho said. “You’ve got Dwayne’s charm and swagger that really only he has, then Lin-Manuel with his killer raps and that syncopation that just gets in your bones. … I loved working with them.”

Believe it or not, Cravalho didn’t realize The Rock started his career as a wrestler.

“I’ll be honest, I knew vaguely ‘Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?’ but I also didn’t know it was related to him in any way,” Cravalho said. “I grew up in meme culture, so I knew the phrase but I didn’t know the face to the meme. So when I met Dwayne and I looked on his legacy, I realized, ‘Oh, right. Wrestling. Right.’ But I didn’t know it was him, I’ll be honest.”

Either way, “Moana” continues to inspire young kids growing up in Hawaii.

“After ‘Moana,’ I along with Disney and the University of Hawaii re-recorded the entire film in the Hawaiian language, so we continue to see ‘Moana’ make waves, help the culture and the community that it was made to celebrate, so I’m really grateful for that,” Cravalho said.

She recently filmed the upcoming TV series “The Power” based on Naomi Alderman’s novel.

“It explores a world where women and girls kind of in their teenage years suddenly develop a power to electrocute people at will, so it explores that power of electricity but also how power structures change when women have a strength over the opposite sex,” Cravalho said.

Contrary to IMDB, she is not cast in an adaptation of Broadway’s “Spring Awakening.”

“I know that comes up on IMDB, but I don’t know what that is!” Cravalho said. “Thank you for doing your research, but it’s not real! I did perform ‘Spring Awakening’ in the show ‘Rise,’ so I do know the songs, I would love to play it on or off Broadway. … Maybe this is manifestation? Maybe someone put all of our names on there to try and get something out in the universe!”

Between auditions, she was also just accepted at Columbia University in New York City.

“I’m thinking of going into either environmental science or conservation studies,” Cravalho said. “Before auditioning for ‘Moana,’ I was interested in microbiology and graduated with more than four years of science. … I was in a molecular cell biology course. … Now I get to pursue my passion of acting and singing, but I really want to get back into that intellectual and academic space.”

Who knew that your favorite Disney character would become a future scientist?

“It’s true, how far she’ll go!” Cravalho said.

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Auli'i Cravalho (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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