Auli'i Cravalho reflects on life after Moana as she gears up to star in NBC's musical drama Rise

Auli’i Cravalho recently moved from Hawaii to New York City, where she’s learning just how far Moana reached.

“I can see how incredible this film has been for everyone that has watched it, including people who aren’t necessarily Pacific Islanders,” the actress, who appears in PEOPLE’s Ones to Watch package, says in this week’s issue. “It still does inspire so many to journey out, cross new barriers and not be afraid to fall.”

Cravalho, 16, also hopes to bring the spirit of her Disney character to the bustling city. “She’s strong and listens to what she believes, and she’s also respectful of her family,” the young star says. “That never changes, but there’s also this defense of knowing what is right. I’m not losing that sense in the city that never sleeps.”

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Credit: Koury Angelo

Voicing the title character in a hit Disney film and taking the stage at the Academy Awards has of course led to Cravalho getting recognized by fans.

“When I go out like with my mom, I’m shocked that cashiers are like, ‘This might sound weird, but are you Moana?’ ” she explains. “And I get to say yes! At this point I also answer to Moana. It warms my heart.”

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So what exactly does Cravalho think of that Oscars performance: “I still can’t wrap my head around it! I got to do that in front of Meryl Streep. I mean, what?!”

Now, ahead of her debut in NBC’s upcoming musical drama Rise, Cravalho continues to adjust to city life.

“I’m near, I think Lincoln Center — Lincoln Square? I don’t know. Sometimes I call it Lincoln Circle and I realize that I’m mixing up my polygons,” she admits. “It’s definitely different from Hawaii where I grew up, but it’s still the melting pot that I’m used to.”