A lot has changed for Auli'i Cravalho in five years.
The actress was 14 when Disney tapped her to star in "Moana," voicing the animated musical's titular island heroine. She still lived with her mother on Oahu in Hawaii, where she was focused on choir, AP classes and a budding interest in microbiology.
Now 19, Cravalho's new home base is her Los Angeles apartment, where for the first time, she is living on her own — save for her year-old tuxedo cat, Rocco, who begrudgingly has half a dozen bow ties in his wardrobe. ("He and I are really good friends now," she said. "But in the beginning, it was a lot of hissing.")
Cravalho still wants to go to college, but schooling is on pause as her career flourishes. In her first live-action starring role, in the Netflix drama "All Together Now," she plays Amber Appleton, a high school student balancing homelessness and a fraught family life with her dreams of becoming a singer and enrolling in college.
So Cravalho is juggling a lot of change: a move, growing up, a shift from animation voice-over to live action — not to mention the isolation that has come with the pandemic, exacerbated for someone so outgoing and energetic.
But at least one thing is still the same: Her mother, Puanani, moved into a place of her own just 10 minutes from Cravalho. They recently watched her new show together. "She was like, 'You're great!' And I was like, 'Does my face always look like that?' "
Out of the blue
The role was something of a surprise. "I had actually auditioned for Brett Haley, our director, for another one of his Netflix films. He was like, 'You know, you're not quite right, but I'll keep you in mind.' And I was like, sure. But he actually did."
She didn't have to be asked twice. " 'All Together Now' is something that touched my heart as soon as I read the script. I related so personally to Amber, coming from a single-parent household myself — she's so hopeful and also has big dreams and passions in music. It just felt like the perfect role for me."
Her character faces some deeply emotional issues. They were difficult scenes to tackle, she said, but ultimately they were rewarding. "In a way, I felt like I was truly an actor for the first time because, at the end of each day, I had nothing left. I came home to my cat and I went to bed. But it felt great."
She also got to work with Carol Burnett. "When the name Carol Burnett was whispered, so quietly, as to not disturb the juju, I remember being very excited — 'We got Carol!' — which is a direct line from 'Annie.' That's how I knew Carol Burnett, because she played Miss Hannigan. And my mom knew her, of course, from 'The Carol Burnett Show,' so both of us were screaming when we saw the official announcement. She's so kind, and from an acting perspective, she is so natural."
The film leaves viewers with the impression that there's more to the story. Are there plans for a sequel?
"I have no idea," Cravalho said. "This isn't even me being cutesy about it; I have absolutely no clue ... but I'd be excited to see it."