Disney’s newest star Auli’i Cravalho: Moana is a great role model

Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

What an exciting time for Auli’i Cravalho.

The Hawaiian actress is turning 16 on Tuesday. The following day, her voice will be heard by droves of moviegoers as the namesake heroine in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Moana.” Auli’i (pronounced “Ow-Lee-Ee”) stars as the title character, a fictional Polynesian princess who must travel across the Pacific to save her family. Along the way, the brave teen meets up with portly demi-god Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), and they become fast friends and travel companions. We spoke to the talented, charismatic young lady, who lives in Oahu, while she was on a press trip in Miami.

How did you prepare for the role?

I didn’t, really. I use my normal voice. I didn’t have to train or anything. I guess I’m a natural born talker! I’ve always been kind of animated, ever since I was a child. I’m so thrilled about this experience and can’t wait for the audiences to see it on screen. This is my first movie role. My first everything.

How you describe the character of Moana?

She’s a wonderful heroine and a role model, absolutely. She has an amazing story, crossing hundreds of miles on this journey, which is also an emotional journey, to find out who she is and what she is about and what she can accomplish. It’s a ride and an adventure.

Moana is pretty fierce. How similar are you to her?

I would say more similar than different. First and foremost, I grew up on an island like she did. And I’m very good friends with the ocean. The water has always been a big part of my life. I seem to be always out there — surfing, or in an outrigger canoe. I fully respect the ocean and all that it is.

What was it like costarring with The Rock?

We didn’t get to do any scenes in the same room, unfortunately. He had a stand-in to run lines. But we did meet eventually, actually in Miami, and he brought me flowers! We bonded over our Hawaiian background. I had seen all his movies. He’s a very kind man. A gentle giant.

“Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel Miranda is the man behind the soundtrack. Impressive, huh?

Yes! He is so cool and so smart and so talented. I was able to see “Hamilton,” and I can tell you all the reviews are positive, and rightfully so. The show is so incredibly moving and the songs he did for “Moana” are too. Meeting him was incredible. I just wanted to stand next to him and just kind of touch his arm and let some of his aura rub off on me [laughs]. We really had an overall talented team.

What is your favorite Disney movie? Beside “Moana,” of course.

I would have to say “Mulan.” She is strong and beautiful and when her family and the world needed her, she was there.

What’s next career-wise for you?

I do have some projects that I can’t talk about just yet. Right now high school is still in full swing so I have to focus on my studies. I can’t wait to have my Sweet 16 and then spend the holidays with my family back at home in Hawaii. They have been so supportive of me.