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Singer-Actress Jessica Mauboy talks The Sapphires

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Jessica Mauboy talks The Sapphires
By Wilson Morales

March 20, 2013

Opening this week in theaters is the award-winning and sensational musical film, The Sapphires, which stars Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, and Tori Kittles.

Directed by Wayne Blair, and inspired by a true story, “The Sapphires” follows four vivacious, young and talented Australian Aboriginal girls from a remote mission as they learn about love, friendship and war when their all girl group The Sapphires entertains the U.S. troops in Vietnam in 1968. Cynthia (Tapsell), Gail (Mailman), Julie (Mauboy) and Kay (Sebbens) are discovered by Dave (O’Dowd), a good-humored talent scout with a kind heart, very little rhythm but a great knowledge of soul music. As their manager, Dave books the sisters their first true gig, giving them their first taste of stardom, and travels them to Vietnam to sing for the American troops.

For Mauboy, a singer-songwriter who’s done well on the Australian music charts and was a runner-up on the fourth season of Australian Idol, this is her second film after appearing in a smaller role in 2010’s Bran Nue Dae. Not only was she captivating in her role as the younger sister Julie in Sapphires, she won the AACTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Blackfilm.com recently caught up with Mauboy as she talked about the film’s journey from Australia to the United States, her character, and working with the cast.

How excited are you that the film will be showing in the United States after its success back home in Australia?

Jessica Mauboy: I think it was a dream to premiere the film in Australia so to be here at this point, where it will be shown in America is above and beyond a dream come true. Not only for me and the girls (Deborah Mailman, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell), but for everyone back home, to be able to tell this story and hopefully be inspired to tell many more that people are unknown about in Australia, The Sapphires can inspire that. I think that’s why it relates globally. It’s such a celebrated about family and drive and having a dream, and finding yourself as a person and your place in the world. This film does that within all those elements connecting to the rest of the globe with people. It’s been on a tour where people want to see it. We started off at the Cannes film festival and we got a standing ovation by global journalists and it was crazy. As a young recording artist, I wasn’t aware of that environment. It was really daunting for me and very overwhelming. The fact that I have been touring with the film all of last year was very powerful for me, especially being an indigenous Australian young woman.

How would you describe your character Julie? What motivates her to join the group on tour?

JM: I think the things that are going through Julie’s mind and what is happening within her community and within her culture, and having her son and wanting the best in providing for him, and for her family as well, she’s a young woman who sees everything that’s going and wants to fight for her community’s voice. She wants to keep her culture alive. All things are happening within everything that’s happening in her mind. I think she has this vision of her voice. She has the voice and that quality that will go far but she has to do it with her sisters. Her sisters are her backbone. She knows that she can’t do that journey by herself without them.

Having done ‘Bran Nue Dae,’ having challenging was it knowing you had a bigger role in this film?

JM: It was certainly weird. Forever, I’ve always dreamt of being a recording singer-songwriter artist. I never thought I would be in films or working directly with a director of a film and creating and building a character. It was a different world that was unknown to me. Although I had work on Bran Nue Dae previously with Deborah Mailman and getting that opportunity as my first feature film, it also gave me a little bit of confident and made me daring to want to do something like it again. That opportunity came up with The Sapphires. It took about two years to say yes to the project. I was working as a recording artist in Australia. I had just released my first album and that was my break. I really found a place as an artist, and as a young woman within the Australian music industry. I think a lot of indigenous artists who want to venture out in the music industry, there have been stages where it’s been hard to break in, and that for me was huge. It was a huge stepping stone; to be an Aborigine Australian. It was meant to be. The lord was blessing me right then and it was time for the aborigine people to be voiced and it was time for me to do something bigger and that was The Sapphires.

How was working with the cast?

JM: It was a treat. I had worked with Deborah (Mailman) on Bran Nue Dae so knowing I would be working with her again was great. I didn’t know it was going to be a big film. It was a small budget and I knew we had a little bit of money. I knew it was going to be powerful for our community in Australia to know about this true event that happened. Everyone had their hearts in this film and Deborah was in the original stage play and I never got to see it. I know Miranda did and the rest of us had known of it. Wayne (Blair) was one of the leads of the play. The first production was in 2005 and then came two more productions of it that escalated into another one. I guess they got the courage to write it as a film and make it bigger and better than it had been. Being able to work with Deborah and I’m a big fan. She’s such an inspiration to everyone in Australia. She’s a leading Aboriginal woman and I felt so empowered. In working with Miranda and Shari, they made me step up, knowing that it was their first film that they had ever done. They had done a lot of theater work. It was me emotional to sit back and watch these black faces do something about it and that was creating this film. Chris (O’Dowd) brought another flavor to the film with his wittiness and his quirkiness. He has this real spunk to him and his personality makes him quite sexy and manly. He’s so goofy and he really became personal with the film and it was really nice that he fell in love with it. With his humor and our humor, it made it what it was and it felt great.

How aware were you of the Motown music and what song in particular did you like?

JM: My mother and father were very broad with their music, so we listened to everything from country to soul. Growing up, I can remember singing Charlie Pride, Patsy Cline. I have older sisters and listened to hip hop and R & B. I went through a phase where I really loved opera and to the point where I fell in love with my own voice, and I found my own voice and tone. That was inspired by big voices like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. Having all that behind me made it easier for me to sing the Motown music because it allowed my emotions to come out. In terms of that music, it was good music and free flow groove. You hear soul and it’s its own category. I remember going into the studio and seeing the list of songs and saying, “What? I have to sing all these songs?“ It was very daunting but I knew I had to step up vocally and throw the ego, which I didn’t have in the beginning, but being respected of the songs, of the lyrics, and the melody, and not moving too far away. I wanted to stick with what the melody was saying within the music and I didn’t want to go overboard and vocally go crazy and show off. I wanted to be connected with the song. Having filmed part of the film made it a bit easier to know the background story, and take that and play Julie in the booth and sing it from her heart and where she’s coming from.

What’s next?

JM: Throughout last year and touring with the film, I have been working on my third studio album. I working on that and hopefully the film can introduce me in America as a solo artist and maybe be able to release my music here. That’s generally the plan.


  1. Highly recommended. Saw it, loved it.