Disney’s Moana is the Number 1 movie in theatres right now. It’s no surprise with the music that Lin-Manuel Miranda helped create and voice talent that includes Dwayne Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho and the lovely Nicole Scherzinger, who voices Sina. We had a chance to sit down with the former Pussycat Doll during her whirlwind press events for Moana and chat about her involvement in the Moana project.
Nicole was so excited to be in a room of all women interviewers. As a women, that’s exciting to receive a comment like that from another female doing good work in the world.
Nicole felt that she had to be a part of Moana.
Nicole: I didn’t want to be a part of the project. I felt I had to be a part of the project, and that’s because I’m from Hawaiian descent, so I knew that the movie was gonna be about the Polynesian people. And, I don’t think Disney ever really did a film like that. I know they touched upon it in Lilo and Stitch, but I know like people from my family were like, ‘No, that’s like the fake kind.’ Plus I didn’t wanna go back home and hear from family and hear, ‘How come you’re not in Moana?’
Yeah, first of all, I’m too old, okay. So because of that and it’s the story of our people. Where we come from. And I’m just so proud that Disney did right by us. By the Polynesian people. And stayed true to our culture, where we come from, our power, our people, our lifeline, and just told a beautiful story about a young girl.
It wasn’t a love story, it was a heroine story about a young girl’s journey, which we can all relate to, you know, discovering who we really are and what we’re meant for. What our purpose and our destiny is, and that’s a beautiful story, and then I have the honor of playing Moana’s mother, Sina. And they’re trying to give me, with some of her lines—it’s very simple but it’s very telling in the lines. And they’re trying to give me the backstory.
And I was like, ‘Please, I lived this, I lived with my mother and my tutu, which means grandmother in Hawaiian.’ In our culture, the men are the head of the household, but the women are the backbone. They are everything. They are the strength. They keep it together. And in my family, my tutu, her mother had 21 births, and then 18 children that survived.
And so that’s just from my tutu. And then my mother, she had 10 kids and then so on and so on. So my tutu already has like 75 grandchildren and great-grandchildren combined. So we have a really, really big family at home.
And it’s great for girls and boys to look up to someone like Moana, you know. How strong-willed she is, and it’s such a positive story. It’s so beautiful. Yeah, so it’s awesome. You get to see a little bit of where we come from.
You know how families grow, and they get married, and some migrate to different parts of the world. Or I have a lot of family here in America, Hawaii is part of the U.S. But mainly most of them are on the Island. You know when people come from an island, they usually stay on the Island. A lot of them haven’t even been outside of the Island. So, yeah, so I’m pretty much related to all of Oahu. My mother had me at a very young age.
She was pregnant with me when she was 17 and had me when she was 18. And she raised me on her own. And then my tutu and papa, that’s from grandmother and grandfather, they helped raise me as well. And then my mother met my father, which is why I got the last name Scherzinger. My adopted last name. And so she had to move to the states for my tutu and papa—my papa was in the Marines—to help raise me. And then when I said as soon as I grew up and was able to afford it, I would move my mom back home.
So, as soon as I was making some dollars, I moved my mom back home and so my mom and dad are in Hawaii again next to my tutu and papa ‘cause they have to have their kids around them.
On voice acting compared to theatre and dancing
Nicole: I was born like just saying, I wanted to be Whitney Houston. The Greatest Love of All that made me realize that I wanted to sing. And so from a little girl I always performed live, and I was fortunate enough to go to a performing arts school. And did a lot of theater, and a lot of musical theatre.
The stage is my favorite place to be, really musical theatre is. I just finished doing ‘Cats’ a year ago in the West, and I was supposed to be doing it on Broadway. And I wanna go back to the theatre when the time is right. But I do love being in the recording studio, as well I love touring. Doing this movie was such a new experience for me because I’ve never been an animated character.
When you’re acting, you’re acting to not the other actor or the character, you’re acting with another just person giving you the lines. And so you have to just imagine everything. To be so creative in your head. And they show you these like sketched out drawings of your character in the scene. And everything looks like penciled in, right? And you just have to kinda close your eyes and put yourself there and kind of be extra animated. And I thought it was hilarious because they had cameras all throughout the whole recording studio because it makes sense.
When you’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh, that fish really looks like Will Smith. How did they do that?’ Because they see all the different expressions of your face and try to incorporate it into the character to bring it to life as you.
You know, I don’t take anything for granted, especially where I come from, with what I do. Anything I see. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve seen the most beautiful things. I’ve done such amazing things. I’ve performed, you know, within this past month I’ve performed with Andrea Bocelli several times.
I’ve performed with my dear friend, one of my closest friends, Prince, his band for his memorial concert in Minneapolis. So the most amazing funk musicians and singers ever. And then working on a new project with these people that is something I never thought I would do. And it’s just like, it’s such a blessing. No matter what you do in life, you cannot ever take any of it for granted. You know, even coming back to X Factor and dealing with Simon Cowell, I just have to like, ‘Just be thankful, Nicole.’
And it just helps you really appreciate it. I was just doing Access Hollywood and they’re like, ‘Wow, it’s so nice to see that you’re excited about the movie.’ And I was like,’Yeah.’ Some people come in and they’re not that excited. She said, ‘I could tell you’ve lit up.’ And I’m like, ‘You have to be. I mean you have to be just so grateful for everything, especially with the state of the world and everything right now.’
On her input as Sina’s character
Nicole: It was interesting because in the script they had a couple different readings, like different ways they wanted to get the story across. Especially the part where she’s trying to explain to her daughter that you can’t go beyond the reef. Trying to explain because your father’s been there, and he’s had a great loss and he’s just trying to protect you. But I definitely—I think artists do—I draw from personal connection.
And I think she says a line. She says, ‘Moana, sometimes who you are or who you want to be it just it’s not meant to be.’ And I drew from that experience, and I drew from my mother. I know that, oh my gosh, I can’t cry. I’m sorry. A moment here, and like I’m very emotional. I haven’t slept. Just flew in from London and I’m like thinking about my family. But I know that my mom and my tutu and all the women in my family have sacrificed everything for their children.
They’re just selfless. And it’s not to be like, ‘Hey, I’m selfless.’ That’s just who the women in my family are. And when I listened, when I thought of that line I really thought of my mother and my tutu and how sometimes who you are or who you wish you could be, I’m sure they had their own dreams. And their own aspirations. And I know my mother didn’t mean to have me at such a young age. And fell in love and the guy actually left her, you know?
And, I mean, if you think about it, it’s pretty much Auli’i’s age. She’s turning 16, and you want these things. ‘Cause I was a little bit- I was like how do I turn this into a positive? ‘Cause she was saying it’s not meant to be. And I felt that it was a bit negative, you know, ‘cause we’re always like, ‘No, you can do it. You can achieve it.’ Which is why she actually lets her go in the end. So it was like, ‘How can I make this make sense to me?’ And it was just kinda like speaking from experience. Sometimes you have to look past yourself.
We have made sacrifices for the better. Or what we think is for the better. Right? But then I think in the end she does know that she trusts Moana and allows her to go and find her destiny.
She was supportive. I felt like she left a little bit of an opening, so in the end, when that choice finally was made, Moana made that choice, her mom was like, ‘Okay.’
That’s why moms are so great, right? ‘Cause my mother, she’s, oh my gosh, you guys, seriously. I’m like 70 years old, and my mom still treats me like I’m little Nicolelsky. She calls me Nicolelsky. ‘What was that in the interview? What are you posting on Instagram? Are you working? What is this twerking?’ I was like, ‘Mom, it’s an art. I actually had to learn that, Mom. Great dancers taught me that. I worked on that, Mom.’
So that’s what moms do. They create that structure and they teach you. My mother always told me growing up, ‘Nicole, I just never want you to compromise yourself.’ But then at the end, they have to just have faith and trust that they raised you the right way. I come from a very spiritual background. My grandfather, my papa, is a Bishop. And so I grew up, in the church and everything. So, we just have a strong belief system. So, just to have trust and have faith that you gotta let ‘em go and have wings and do their thing.
She doesn’t think she is where she should be yet
Nicole: The honest answer to that is no. When I was a little girl, I came from nothing, but for some reason I felt like I was meant to be Whitney Houston. I wanted to be—not meant to be, ‘cause no one can replicate her ever, or touch her. But I knew I was meant to sing and to be a voice. And it’s interesting, my life has taken different paths.
I don’t regret anything, and I’m very grateful for everything. But last year, it was in December. And I finished my year and I was reflecting, and I was like, ‘How do I feel about this year? It’s the first year I ever really put music out. What am I doing? Am I gonna make a new album? How can I compete with all these 20-year-olds everybody’s got the Max Martin singles. What am I doing?
I really thought about it. And I was like, ‘I’m really tired of people telling me sing everything.’ And that’s very confusing. And you do everything. That’s really confusing for people. And I’m like, ‘Why can’t I do my own thing?’ So I decided last year that I was gonna create my own show, and do my own album that comes out of it. And it’s, I don’t wanna talk about it too much, ‘cause I’d rather do it.
And it’s gonna take a lot of time. But to answer your question, I believe we’re all made for a purpose. A great purpose. And I haven’t got there yet. I came up with this because in interviews people are usually like, ‘Wow, you’ve done so much. You know, what is there left to do?’ And I’m like, ‘That’s funny, ‘cause I feel like I’m just scratching at the surface and I’m just using a fraction of my potential.’
So I’ve got everything left to do. And so it’s taking that time. It’s carving that time out now for myself to create what I feel like I was made to create. And I can’t die with this in me. So I have something that I wanna create, a project, and I wanna share, and that will be my legacy that I wanna leave behind. So I’m working on it. And I’m getting there. God has His own timing. It’s really taken me a lot. I was watching on Access Hollywood before this, before I started speaking. Gwen Stefani, they were asking her questions. And they were like, ‘Wow, she’s really so open now.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, when you really live through stuff and experience life, and experience love, and experience heartache and all those things, you really change as a woman. You really grow as a woman. You grow more confident. You really start to discover who you are.’ You know, even though Moana is 16 in the film and is discovering, I’m sure you guys feel like if we really look deep within, we’re still discovering who we are.
But we’re still like, ‘Who am I? What do I really want? I’m worth this.’ You know, I’ve gotta keep my integrity, my dignity, and this is my self-worth. And I think it’s a constant struggle. That’s what I wanna build this project around. Is my story. And I feel like all women, and all people can relate still, that inner journey, that struggle and that battle of learning and knowing your own self-worth, as a woman.
And going after what want, and just be happy with yourself. Every way, it’s so easy to say you can’t really be happy with someone until you’re happy with yourself. But how hard is that? Right?
I’m very grateful for where I am. Everything happens. You have to look at it and be like this is what led me to be here, let me run and grow from this. But this is where I really see myself and this is where God made me. So let me get myself on track and focus and get it together. ‘Cause no one else is gonna do it for me. I have the vision and I’m going there.
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