In Netflix’s new film, All Together Now, Amber Appleton is a musically gifted high schooler with a heart of gold, as she spends her days giving all she can to others, while working towards realizing her potential. However, what her friends and peers don’t know is that she is homeless and is living on a bus with her mother. When the circumstances surrounding her hidden life take a turn for the worst, Amber must learn to accept help from others.
Auli’i Cavalho plays Amber in the film. She actually auditioned for a role in director Brett Haley’s previous film, All the Bright Places. While he didn’t think she was quite the right fit, he kept her in mind for future reference.
When she first read the script, she was immediately drawn to her character. As she elaborated in an interview via Zoom, “She really just has a lot of challenges that should hold her back, and they certainly lie heavily on her, but what I loved about our film is that her challenges do not interfere with her success and her future, and she also has such an amazing passion for the arts and still has great dreams for higher education and going to the college of her dreams, Carnegie Mellon.
“So, a lot of things drew me to this project, and the fact that Amber was such a multi-faceted character was certainly a major draw.”
All Together Now is based on the 2010 young adult novel, Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick. While Cravalho skimmed the book here and there, she otherwise did not read it prior to filming. Haley explained to her early on how the Amber that’s being created for the film is one that was to be found onset.
“I’m very careful of the notes I take on my own character because I’m very specific, and I also relate characters so deeply to myself,” she said. “I use a lot of substitution and real-life experiences to get myself to the emotion my character is. I mostly worked with [Haley] actually on character work.”
All Together Now is Cravalho’s first live-action feature film and first film as the lead since voicing the title character of the Disney film, Moana. The experiences of working on these two films greatly differentiated from one another for her.
“Working with my voice just came naturally,” she explained. “I have sung in my school choir and my church choir when I was growing up. So, working on a live-action film kind of felt like the proper next step. I worked on Moana when I was fourteen and it came out when I was sixteen. I’m nineteen and I’m grateful that the roles I’ve received kind of grown along with me. This definitely touches upon some darker and more intense topics — topics that are grounded in realism and real life. So, I’m really excited to put that onscreen.”
This was also Cravalho’s first experience of working with an animal onset. Tin-Tin, a Chihuahua, plays Bobby Big Boy in the film; Amber’s faithful, compact-sized companion who’s by her side through thick and thin. Despite smelling like a wet dog for a majority of the shoot from filming in rainy Portland, Cravalho otherwise had a fun time with her fuzzy co-star.
“Tin-Tin is a smart pup,” she remarked. “I don’t know how they teach their dog to speak and walk on cue. I can barely do that as a human! He was really well trained.”
Cravalho considered it to be a blessing to have worked with a wide range of seasoned actors, including Justina Machado, Judy Reyes, Fred Armisen, and Carol Burnett. She also developed a tight friendship with her fellow younger co-stars like Rhenzy Feliz, Taylor Richardson, Anthony Jacques Jr., and Gerald Isaac Waters. She saw it as an additional blessing to be part of a cast that was non-neurotypical and differently abled.
Much like her previous works, Cravalho does sing in this film, in an original song penned by Keegan DeWitt, “Feels Like Home.” The song serves as sort of a bridge for Amber between her late father (her past) and Carnegie Mellon (her future).
“I think that was really beautiful,” Cravalho commented. “It was a collaborative process between [Haley], [DeWitt], and I of finding what felt like the perfect song — if that makes sense — for Amber to sing, and being able to perform that in a beautiful venue in the film as well as being able to connect with Ty (Feliz), that was a really special moment. So, I hope they like that.”
With All Together Now arriving on Netflix during the COVID-19 crisis, Cravalho considers the film to be quite timely and believes that audiences will be able to relate to its themes. “I worked with people to make a film that centered around asking for help when you need it. Then the pandemic hit and I didn’t use the advice that my character got,” she said. “I’m blessed to have such amazing people in my life. We all are, but to be transparent in that way and to be vulnerable and asking for help is an entirely different beast. I think this film really centers on hope and knowingly that when the going gets tough, you don’t have to bear the weight of life alone, and I think a lot of people can relate to that right now.”
Even if audiences can’t relate to the themes in the film or are in doubt, Cravalho re-emphasized the presence of Tin-Tin. “We have a dog in this film! He’s adorable!”
All Together Now will be released on Netflix on Friday, August 28.