Auli’i Cravalho talks Crush, Moana

AJ (Auli'i Cravalho) in Crush (Brett Roedel/Hulu).

Moana actress Auli’i Cravalho spoke to Solzy at the Movies about starring in Hulu original movie Crush and playing a Disney princess.

Cravalho stars opposite Rowan Blanchard in the romantic comedy. The film, about an artist who is forced to join the high school track team before falling for an unexpected teammate, also stars Isabella Ferreira, Tyler Alvarez, Teala Dunn, Rico Paris, Addie Weyrich, Aasif Mandvi, Michelle Buteau and Megan Mullally. Sammi Cohen directs Crush from a script written by Kristen King and Casey Rackham.

Crush will start streaming April 29 on Hulu.

Crush key art. Gabriela (Isabella Ferreira), Paige Evans (Rowan Blanchard), and AJ Campos (Auli’i Cravalho), shown. (Photo by: Hulu)

What was it about the script for Crush that drew you to the role?

Auli’i Cravalho: What really drew me to Crush was actually noticing that our film, while filled with beautiful queer characters, was not focused around a coming out story. That felt really refreshing and important to me. Also, my character, AJ, is someone that I’ve really never played before. I’ve never played someone who is masc and mysterious and that felt really important to me to also reach out of my comfort zone. For this film, I also practiced running, which is funny to say, but it’s true. I had to practice—I’m not great at it. Also, I took a couple of skateboarding lessons and I took myself to a skate park. There were people that were better than me and bigger than me, and I fell down a lot. But metaphorically and truly, falling down and getting back up really helped me, I think, get into the headspace of AJ and helped me metaphorically kind of a lot because I don’t like falling. It bruises my pride—more than it bruises my knees, it bruises my pride. But I ended up learning a lot from the script and my character, AJ.

After coming out as bisexual two years ago, how important was it to take on a LGBTQ role and provide representation?

Auli’i Cravalho: I’ve always known that I was queer but I didn’t really think I needed to come out. And then I decided to make a TikTok and lipsync Eminem. The internet blew up because it was during the pandemic and no one had anything else to talk about. Suddenly, people were asking me, they were like, how does it feel to be bi? I was like, feels the same as yesterday, baby—it did nothing different for me. It feels really important to have authentic representation in our media. I identify as queer. Quite a few of our cast members in front of the camera in front of the camera as well for Crush, but also our writers, Casey Rackham and Kirsten King, as well as our director, Sammi Cohen—we are all queer. I think that just adds to the vibrance of our film because we can make fun of ourselves—you know what I mean? It’s fun and funny, and yet, also not demeaning in any way. That’s the kind of humor that is so special because you don’t need to put someone down in order to be funny or to have a laugh. So yeah, representation is really important.

If there had been trans representation, education, and awareness when I was growing up the 90s, I would not have waited until late 2015 to come out to myself.

Auli’i Cravalho: Yeah, exactly. I’m starting to realize as well that what we see in film directly impacts how people are treated in real life. To have that representation on screen, to show more diverse, inclusive, and sex positive storylines only creates a more inclusive future, and it broadens people’s minds. I don’t know if people truly understand how important representation in film really is.

What do you particularly look for in a character when you’re reading a script?

Auli’i Cravalho: What don’t I look for in a character when reading a script? I mean, they have to be smart. They have to have dialogue. They have to do be different, be someone that I maybe haven’t played before, or that touches a part of my soul that I haven’t reached in a while. That’s something that AJ definitely did. I appreciated her honesty, and the fact that she was already out. She’s been bi and I also loved the relationship between her and her seemingly perfect sister because I grew up as an only child. To have a sister who ran track and who seemed perfect and having to deal with those feelings of perhaps inadequacy is interesting to me—how that reflects in relationships as far as loving relationships of perhaps a partner but also relationships with her herself. If I feel I’m constantly in competition with myself, what does that bring out? I think AJ is very competitive in track but very competitive and harsh in life because she feels she needs to be at her A game always. I really enjoyed portraying that and feeling that.

What were some of the challenges that came with filming during a pandemic?

Auli’i Cravalho: Well, there were quite a few positive cases, actually, when we were filming in Syracuse. Having to navigate that, having a COVID officer also on set, we didn’t get to hang out as much with people outside of our bubbles. It’s more isolating than you think but it’s also a joy and a blessing to make movies, especially during a pandemic. I remember during the first year of the pandemic, when no one knew what was to come—nothing was being made. To create during the pandemic is still such a joy and such a blessing. It’s difficult and luckily, I didn’t get sick.

What do you hope people take away from watching the film?

Auli’i Cravalho: I hope people take away that first crushes are so all-encompassing. I remember my first crushes when I would look at them similarly to Paige in our film. It felt like time slowed down—suddenly, my crush was walking in slow motion. There’s colors exploding behind them, fireworks are going off in my brain. First crushes are difficult and interesting without even worrying about the queer aspect. I hope people watch this film and laugh and love these characters for the rom-com that we’re in and kind of take the messaging as relax, people are gay (laughs). You know what I mean? just have fun with it.

Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho. Credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

You’ve previously voiced Moana. How do you manage to stay grounded after voicing a Disney Princess?

Auli’i Cravalho: I did, in fact, play a Disney Princess, thank you for reminding me. It was a lot of fun! I credit fully my upbringing and the fact that I grew up in a single parent household with my mom and growing up in Hawaii as well. I didn’t grow up in LA and LA, I feel, has a lot of actors and it’s just—there’s so much talent there. But it can also be kind of—you can lose yourself because the there are just so many pretty people. To keep myself humble, I truly just surround myself with good people. I’m really blessed to have a wonderful support system. I also keep my friend group small. It’s better to have good friends than a lot of friends.

It was so nice to meet you.

Auli’i Cravalho: Thank you, Danielle.

Hulu will launch Crush on April 29, 2022.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.