Auli’i Cravalho starred as Moana in the hit Disney movie, performed at the Oscars and toured the world for the film. But that hasn’t prepared the 17-year-old actress for seeing herself on TV in NBC’s Rise.
“I’m going to turn into a pile of mush because I’m going to see myself on screen,” Cravalho tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I’m still not used to hearing myself, even through Moana. It still it feels so weird hearing my voice. I haven’t gotten used to it at all. And now I’m going to see my face on screen! I’m excited, but I’m also really nervous.”
Her Moana collaborator, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, looks forward to seeing Cravalho the small screen, though. “Oh, @NBCRise premieres tonight! Can’t wait to see you @auliicravalho!” Miranda, who also contributed music to the premiere, tweeted Tuesday. “(Also: I wrote a little musical nugget for tonight’s ep…not even a song, like a songlet. You’ll see.)”
The Hawaii native plays Lilette Suarez, the hardworking daughter of a single mom who auditions for her high school’s production of Spring Awakening and lands the lead role.
“I relate to my character,” Cravalho says. “She grew up in a single parent household, which so have I. She comes from humble beginnings and works hard in school as well as working a job before and after school. There’s so many real characters.”
The Disney star hopes the show — which also covers alcoholism, divorce and issues facing LGBTQ youth — will empower her generation even more during a time when high school students are taking a stand.
RELATED VIDEO: ‘Moana’ Actress Auli’i Cravalho on Representing Hawaiian Culture
“We live in tumultuous times,” she says. “We absolutely do. I’m proud to be a part of Gen X and see things change very quickly at the drop of a hat. At the end of a speech we can see that the minds of so many can be changed and hearts can be changed. That’s what I hope to do as a young person, as an actor, as just a human being; I hope to make a positive change in the world. I’m excited for our show to be seen and I hope others are inspired.”
On screen, her character finds inspiration from her passionate drama teacher, played by How I Met Your Mother alum Josh Radnor. But in real life, “I loved theater in high school, but I wasn’t necessarily cast in a lot of my school’s plays or productions,” Cravalho admits.
Instead, Cravalho embraced microbiology and found a mentor there who pushed her toward her dreams.
“My teacher actually from that, her name was Gail Ishimoto, and I love that woman,” the teen star recounts. “She was someone to give tough love, definitely. She was like, ‘Let’s face it, you’re probably not going to become an molecular cell biologist. But I love your drive. I like that you’re excited and passionate about it. Honestly that’s all you need to become successful. And what kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t reward a passionate student?”
Cravalho continues, “So that is something that I will always remember: If you’re passionate about it and if you love it enough, then something in the stars will line up for you. Even now I send her emails: Thanks for pushing me and inspiring me to follow my dreams of acting.”
Rise premieres Tuesday on NBC at 10 p.m. ET.