The girl who played Moana is all grown up and starring in an addictive new TV show.

Auli’i Cravalho’s voice has already been in your home and in your ears. More likely than not, it has already swelled around you in your car and reached out and touched you while you were seated in a cinema.

Yet, you might not be completely familiar with her face.

The singer and actress voiced the title character in Disney’s 2016 smash hit Moana, which included performing arguably one of the best Disney songs of all time, the Grammy winning, Oscar nominated How Far I’ll Go.

At the time of being cast in Moana, Auli’i was in her first year of high school and living in her native Hawaii with her mother. After hearing about the call-out for the newest Disney Princess role, she decided at the very last minute to send through an audition tape to the Disney team and ended up being cast out of hundreds of applicants.

Now, the 17 year old’s face and powerhouse singing voice are set to be all over the small screen with the launch of her new TV series Rise, which will air in Australia exclusively on Stan from March 14.

The show is executive produced by Jason Katims (the man behind Friday Night Lights and Parenthood) and adapted from Michael Sokolove’s book Drama High.

The televised world of Rise takes place behind the walls of a rundown high school located in a smallish Pennsylvania town, a place where businesses are struggling to stay open, spirits are low and the only joy the townspeople find is in the success of the school’s football team. 

Josh Radnor, Auli'i Cravalho, Damon J. Gillespie and Rosie Perez in Rise. Source: Stan.

In Rise, Auli'i plays the quiet and studious Lillette Suarez, a high school student whose home life looks very different to that of the other students she sits beside all day.

Raised by a single mother with a less than stellar reputation about town, Lillette holds down an arduous part-time job in order to help make ends meet while also spending her nights bent over her homework, dreaming of a life studying at a fancy college that is world's away from the deary life she currently has to contend with.

The story-line really kicks off when uninspired and frustrated English teacher Lou Mazzuchelli (played by How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor) decides to shake up the high school's musical theatre department by putting on a version of Spring Awakening, a revolutionary rock inspired musical that showcases teenagers coming into their sexuality while also dealing with issues surrounding abortion, rape and first loves.

After performing a stunning rendition of the Broadway musical's standout out song, Mama Who Bore Me, Lillette is cast in the production's lead role, which also leads to her ousting the school's former leading lady Gwen (Amy Forsyth) with whom she also has a tricky personal history with.

While the whole "down on her luck teenage girl works hard and realises her dreams" story-line may seem a bit overused and cliche at first look, it appears here in Rise with a very honest presence, thanks mainly to Auli'i's interpretation of the character and the way she was able to draw on her own life experiences.

As it turns out, the young actress shares more than a few similarities with the character of Lillette.

Auli'i Cravalho as Lillette Suarez in Rise. Source: Stan.

"I remember so clearly the day I first read the script for Rise," Auli'i said. "I was at home in bed and I opened the script and thought ‘OK, lets just see how this goes'. Then I just read the entire thing so quickly, all in one go, and I loved it right away because of the characters. None of them are perfect.

"I was really drawn to the character of Lillette because she comes from very humble beginnings and she grew up in a single parent household. I also grew up in small town and was raised in a single parent household with only my my mum like she was.

"I also love that she just has to work so hard to get anything she wants. She works both before and after school as a waitress and she has to really rise above her own circumstances. Lillette also has to focus really hard at school, because she knows education and persistence is her way out of that town. Which is another big similarity between the two of us.

"But Lillette's audition scene in Rise was actually the first big audition sequence I’ve ever done, on screen or in real life. When I worked on Moana, I actually got that role by sending in an audition tape and really the same thing happened with Rise. But as I got into the character of Lillette, and if I had to get onto a stage and audition like that, I would have been just as nervous as she was. Before we filmed that scene, I went over and over the music and the lines and I was doing vocal warm-ups backstage. All because it felt like a real audition to me."

While the musical theater sequences in Rise were arduous to film, with so much singing and movement involved, Auli'i said the scenes she found the hardest and most unsettling to film were the ones opposite her mother Vanessa (played by Shirley Rumierk).

Take a look at the brilliant trailer for Rise, coming soon to Stan. 

"There is such turmoil in Rise and these high school students all have so much to face and they just want to be able to get through it all," Auli'i said. 

"When I was playing Lilliet, the scenes I had to film with the actress who plays her mother on the show, those were really hard to do. Because you look at these two characters and you just think ‘Who is the adult here?’ and 'Who is teaching who?'."


"No one has a perfect relationship with their parent, but these scenes also prove that it’s just the two of them against the world.

"In the scenes where Lilliet is being so forceful and strong-minded and her mother is being the same way, those scenes were really difficult for me personally. I have a great relationship with my mother and she is my rock. When I had to travel across the world and when I had to move from Hawaii, which is my place of birth, to New York City it was all ok in the end because she is my home.

"Seeing Lilliet have such difficulty in just talking to her mother. To see that she can’t find the same comfort in her mother that I find in mine. Those were the scenes where I I had to leave Auliʻi behind and just dig in."

Rise has also received early praise from critics for the way it showcases a diverse cast of teenage characters facing a range of issues, from one of the boys hiding his sexuality from his hyper religious family to another character navigating the halls of the high school as a transgender student.

Looking for another incredible show to watch on Stan? Look no further than Veronica Mars. 

"I’m in high school myself and I'm grateful to be growing up in this generation, where these 'issues' are really just part of the world," Auli'i said. "The people in this show are just the people I see in my own school high school."

"I like the fact that we get to depict these story-lines in a way that is not controversial, because I don’t see them as being controversial in any way. It’s just life and the only way we make it anything else is labelling it as controversial.

"I’m a teenager myself and I’m going through all the same things as these characters. It’s all about just trying to find out who you are in this crazy, tumultuous world."

Rise is the kind of series that will make you believe in the power of televised storytelling again.

If you're a teenager, it will reflect the world you live in back to you, with a heightened sense of drama wrapped around a group of lovable characters.

And if you're an adult, it will remind you about the hope and heartache you felt in high school, and the dreams you always meant to chase.

Rise will premiere on Stan on Wednesday March 14, and new episodes will then drop weekly. 

For more TV and film reviews, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.

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