Disney casts unknown 17-year-old actor as Moana in live-action movie

Catherine Laga‘aia has been cast as the eponymous heroine in Disney’s live-action remake of Moana.

Laga‘aia is a 17-year-old Australian actor of Samoan heritage with just one previous screen credit on her resume (2023’s The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart series).

She will star opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who reprises his role from the 2016 animated movie as the demigod Maui.

“I’m really excited to embrace this character because Moana is one of my favorites,” said Laga‘aia in the announcement. “My grandfather comes from Fa‘aala, Palauli, in Savai‘i. And my grandmother is from Leulumoega Tuai on the main island of ‘Upolu in Samoa. I’m honored to have an opportunity to celebrate Samoa and all Pacific Island peoples, and to represent young girls who look like me.”

Laga‘aia’s father is Jay Laga‘aia, the New Zealand-born actor who played Captain Typho in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.

The veteran actor also took to social media to announce the news, writing on Instagram: “My family and I are so pleased to share this news with the rest of the world. My daughter Katie can finally share the news that she will be taking on the role of Moana in the live action Disney movie along side Dwayne Johnson and Lin Manuel Miranda.”

Moana is set to begin production this summer ahead of its planned release on 10 July 2026. The film is directed by Thomas Kail, (Hamilton on Broadway and Disney+, Grease Live and We Were the Lucky Ones).

“I am thrilled to have met Catherine, Rena, Frankie and John through this casting process,” said Kail. “I am humbled by this opportunity, and I cannot wait to all be on set together. And there’s no better pair to be in a canoe with than Catherine and Dwayne — actually, trio: Heihei is ready, too.”

17-year-old Catherine Laga‘aia from Sydney, Australia is of Samoan heritage (Disney)
17-year-old Catherine Laga‘aia from Sydney, Australia is of Samoan heritage (Disney)

Moana tells the story of an adventurous teen who sets sail on a dangerous mission to save her people. Along her journey, she meets Maui (voiced by Johnson) who guides her on her quest.

Last year, Auli’i Cravalho, the 23-year-old actor who voiced the titular character of the 2016 film, was praised for her “respectful” decision to sit out of the film’s forthcoming remake.

“When I was cast as Moana at 14, it wonderfully changed my life and started my career. In this live-action retelling, I will not be reprising the role,” she shared in an Instagram video at the time.

“I believe it is absolutely vital that casting accurately represents the characters and stories we want to tell.”

Cravalho will still have a hand in the remake serving as an executive producer and is set to mentor Laga‘aia. She will also reprise her voice role in the animated Moana 2, which will arrive in cinemas on 27 November.