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Auli’i Cravalho: Hulu’s ‘Crush’ on humor in the queer community & just being Auli’i

Plus, skateboarding and puns.

Crush is the latest teen romantic comedy to come to Hulu.  When an aspiring young artist named Paige (Rowan Blanchard) is forced to join her high school track team, she uses it as an opportunity to pursue the girl she’s been harboring a long-time crush on. But she soon finds herself falling for an unexpected teammate (Auli’i Cravalho) and discovers what real love feels like. We recently spoke the animated Cravalho about her latest movie.

AIPT: What drew you to Crush?

Auli’i Cravalho: I remember first reading the script for Crush and I was immediately taken with AJ because she’s a character that I’ve never played before. She’s someone who plays things close to her chest and is very cool with her emotions and tries not to reveal too much to her first crush. Whereas I’m very animated and if I have a crush on you, you’re going to know very soon.

So it was really fun to play a character that’s so different from me. And I also thought that our script was so funny and the humor was so Gen Z and queer as well, but also our film doesn’t center on a coming out story, which I think is a little groundbreaking, to be honest, because it just shows these wonderful high school characters falling in love and they also just happen to be a little gay.

AIPT: You mentioned you’re nothing like AJ. Who did you draw on for inspiration for the character?

Cravalho: I mostly just did a lot of homework. I thought of myself as AJ, who has also a beautiful twin sister named Gabriela, who is seemingly perfect. And I thought about those feelings of maybe inadequacy and always living in her shadow.

I also practiced running because I’m one of the co-captains on the track team. I hate running. I took skateboarding lessons. I committed to learning how to skateboard and I fell a lot and I also didn’t like that. For me, for Auli’i, that really bruised my pride and bruised my ego to fall in public and to go to a skate park and see younger children who are way better at skateboarding than me.That took me out of my comfort zone, but was good practice for AJ.

And it made me realize this character that I’m going to portray is someone who is used to falling and failing and trying again and not being the fastest one on the track and saying, “I’m going to get better tomorrow.”

And so from that, I realized that maybe she’s a perfectionist, and then that really resonated. Some of my favorite bits is actually doing the homework because then I find what connects me to the character, like perfectionism is something that I relate to, but I had to fail in order to realize that that’s where that stems from for AJ.

AIPT: Crush is very queer positive and very sex positive. It’s lighthearted, but also has a serious layer to it. How important was it for you for that story to be told?

Cravalho: It was very important to me. I could feel its importance when I read the script because, like you said, the heavier tones of acceptance, perhaps, and being true to yourself and being honest and having honest conversations between you and a crush or you and a first love, they were all not hidden necessarily, but beautifully woven in with humor. And I think that humor, especially for the queer community, is healing and to be able to read the script and be like, “Oh, queer characters are making fun of each other,” that’s also something that I have within my own friend group and it’s really fun.

So to show a film that is sex positive, is diverse, is inclusive, we know that media and representation in media is important, but truly what we see in film and media affects how people are treated in real life. I felt that, and I hope that the people who watch our film also feel that.

AIPT: You all have really good chemistry across the board in that movie. Was it natural or did you have to work at it?

Cravalho: I think we found a lot of it, to be honest. We worked through the pandemic, so we didn’t have a lot of pre-production to get together or to have workshops necessarily. But I also credit a lot of our fantastic performances – thank you so much – to our director Sammi Cohen.

I loved talking with her because she knew every single character so well, and knew exactly where the characters’ emotional arcs were landing and also got many options for myself, like AJ, how much do I play of returning the crush with Paige? Or how much do I play into the art of it all and enjoying her art? Does that give it away at the end of the film? Stuff like that.

Yeah, it was really fun to play around, but I really credit Sammi and everyone’s comedic timing. Some people got comedic timing, some people don’t. This cast has had comedic timing down pat.

AIPT: Crush is live action, but you’ve also done a lot of voice acting too. Which do you prefer?

Cravalho: You just put me on the spot like that?

AIPT: Just like that.

Cravalho: Oh, which do I prefer? They’re completely different. I think that voice acting is a character. You need to see my excitement through my voice. I’m pretty good at that. But with acting, it’s always a challenge for me, to be honest, consistently a challenge, whereas voice acting, I think, I take direction and then I run with it and it’s pretty simple.

But for acting, it’s almost about doing less. I got this really great note from a director, Brett Haley, once of like, “If you think it, we will see it.” And so it’s more so about doing less but getting really specific with the thought process of like, “What would my character be thinking right now?” And then the mastery of it is doing it over and over and over again with the many takes of the scene.

But yeah, I think I prefer live action acting, because it’s always going to be a challenge for me. And with every new character, I learn something new, like I did with AJ. I try skateboarding. I try different things because that’s what my character would do. Auli’i doesn’t skateboard anymore because she doesn’t like falling. But through AJ, I got to try it and it was beneficial.

AIPT: And my last question, I’m going to put you on the spot again. Crush has lots of puns. Which was your favorite?

Cravalho: Oh, which was my favorite? Maybe, “Want to taco about it?” As a wrap gift we got… Oh wait, you can’t see the back of my… Hold on. Can you see it? Can I pop it off? Hold on. This is going to be great. (Removes laptop cover.) “Quit stalling.” (The scene takes place in a bathroom.) I also have “I poop on racists”, but that wasn’t in the movie.

Crush premieres on Hulu April 29

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