This week, The Weinstein Company and HP hosted a fabulous bash to celebrate its latest film "The Sapphires," which will hit theaters next Friday, March 22. The premiere was held at the elegant Paris Theater on Wednesday evening and our adventures with the cast continued on Thursday where we sat down with them for interviews. The heartwarming Australian film directed by Wayne Blair and written Tony Briggs tells the true story of four Aboriginal women who performed soul music for the African American troops in Vietnam in 1968. The musical first premiered at Cannes Film Festival and has been screened at some of the most prestigious festivals around the world. It ended up being a huge hit in Australia and garnered several awards.
Chris O'Dowd is hilarious in the film as the band's manager and Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell are wonderful as members of "The Sapphires." Mailman is one of the most well-respected actresses in Australia and Mauboy is one of the most famous singers in the country. She was a runner-up on Australian Idol and has had several hits including songs with Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Flo Rida and she has toured with Beyonce and Chris Brown. Mauboy looked glam in an edgy white Galanni number on the red carpet.
Check out our interviews with the cast.
Q: Tell us about your character.
Deborah Mailman: I played Gail, who’s the eldest sister and she's basically the Mama Bear. She's bossy, she's stubborn, she doesn't really allow these girls to live their lives. She sort of controls it a bit. So her journey is releasing all that sort of control and being able to let her sisters grow up and live their own lives.
Miranda Tapsell: My character has had a broken heart, so she tries to mend it by trying to find the right man for her. But she realizes, “Oh, hang on! I don't need a man. I don't need a man to tell me how good looking I am, or what an intelligent woman I am. I need to fall in love within myself.” So that's Cynthia’s journey.
Q: Can you tell us about your family?
Deborah Mailman: My father’s a cowboy, so I grew up with horses. He was a stockman, he was a rodeo driver. My mother’s Maori. She's from New Zealand, so she's indigenous to New Zealand so I'm part Aboriginal and I'm part Maori. So there are two strong bloods in me.
Q: This is based on a true story. How did you prepare for your role?
Deborah Mailman: Well, I actually was in the original stage production in 2005 and so way back then I knew how amazing the story was. So we got to meet the original Sapphires – Lois Peeler, Naomi Mayers, Laurel Robinson and Beverley Briggs. And through them we sat down and we had cups of tea and we actually asked them about what it was like for them to be Aboriginal women back in ’68 to go to Vietnam and sing for the troops. So a lot of our research was just sitting and listening to these incredible stories that these women had. But also for us as actors, I mean we try and find our own entry into it. What's wonderful about the script is that each woman is so distinct and so we found our own processes in shaping those characters.
Miranda Tapsell: It was so close to home for us. We all have Aboriginal mothers, so we all know what it's like. We all identify with that. But also we learned all about the atrocities of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, the way African Americans were treated at the time, so it was such an interesting time, such an exciting time because change was happening.
Q: You're such a big R&B star in Australia, so how was it making the transition over to film?
Jessica Mauboy: It's definitely a massive transition going into music and then having that opportunity of doing a film was definitely a little bit nerve-wracking, but I wanted to kind of keep my options open and try. The film was definitely something that I really wanted to be able to be a part of and was really important to Australia and the community, especially. So, you know, it was definitely something hearty and I needed to feel that, to be a part of it.
Q: So what was your favorite song from the movie that you’ve done?
Chris O'Dowd: "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" is pretty great but I love "Ngarra Burra Ferra," which is an Aboriginal song that the girls sing a capella. It's incredible.
Q: What was the highlight of playing this character?
Chris O'Dowd: Just watching the girls sing is really something I'll never forget. They're incredible and it's a gorgeous film.
Q: And what was it like collaborating with director Wayne Blair?
Chris O'Dowd: He's great. He allows you to go and have fun and improvise and make stuff up and do stupid things and that was a treat.
Q: What was your favorite scene in the film?
Chris O'Dowd: I like the ones where I get to teach the girls how to sing "blacker." I quite enjoyed that one.
Q: How did you accomplish that?
Chris O'Dowd: I just got rid of the country and western sh*t, which moved them on to a bit of exploring their own souls, go down there, oppression-suppression route rather than their “toeing the line” route.
Q: What was your preparation like for the film?
Chris O'Dowd: I had to learn the piano a bit and I had to learn how to drink like a man, which was something that I never managed before.
Tony Briggs: It’s my mother’s story, what my mother told me, my mother’s experiences, and she shared with me a lot of yarns, as we say, over the years. And I was very curious to know what it was that she did when she was younger. She told me she used to sing in this group with her cousins, called themselves "The Sapphires." She told me she went to Vietnam, they were shot at by soldiers and all kinds of things, you know. And I said to her, “How come it didn't happen for you as a Sapphire in a really big way?” She said, “Well these things were broken up. This happened, you know.” I said, “Imagine what would have happened if we came together, or we did this thing, you know, if you actually went all the way you wanted to go?” And she said, “I don't know.” She was very laid back about it. I said, “Well, let me put it together and let's see what happens.” So here we are.
And I wanted it to be fun because you know, I've been an actor for over 20 years and when I first came up with the idea to write this story, I’d just come off a stage play called "Stolen" and we have what we referred to as the “stolen generation” where children were removed from their families and handed out to other families for a whole string of reasons. But you know the ripple effect that that has had on generation after generation has been enormous. So I did this stage play and I came out of it quite heavy, with a frown on my face, although I'd already known about it.
And there were a lot of stories like that being told, of that part of our history in theater and film and television, in Australia at that time. And for me personally, it's vital to tell those stories "Rabbit-Proof Fence" is a prime example of one - it's a perfect example. There's quite a few of them. And I just wanted to show another side, a lighter side, to who we are and to kind of bring out our sense of humor a lot more, which has never really been seen, especially in this country.
Very little is known about the Aboriginal people in America. I know I was here probably about 15 years ago...and one person who I had not met before said to me “Wow!” He said, ”Are you from Australia?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I knew there were Aborigines there, but I didn't know there were brothers.” I said, “Well, I'm an Aboriginal brother. I’m your brother. So, you know, I understand where you're coming from and I also understand that you're being fed certain information, but it's not getting out there." And that's actually a moment that really drove me to create something, to do something either as an actor, a producer, a writer, director.
Q: Was your mother pleased with the film?
Tony Briggs: Yes, she’s seen it more times than me. She’s seen it 13 times although she's not seen this version of the film with a different cut, slightly, very, very slight. But yeah, she's not seen the cut. She's very happy with it.
Q: Did your mother collaborate with you on the script?
Tony Briggs: A little bit, yeah. Like I said, I extrapolated a little bit on some of her stories from a creative point of view. You know, artistically I had to take a license. But you know, for the most part, it is what you see.
Q: And what's the next project that you can share with us?
Tony Briggs: I'm developing another feature film at the moment and a television series which we're about to shoot at the end of this year back in Australia. It's about sports.
Q: How did you come to direct "The Sapphires."
Wayne Blair: [Tony Briggs] wanted me to do the film. We're good friends. We did the stage show and it was a success. And he just asked me, as anyone does, just a simple sort of deal between two friends, really.
Q: And so what was it like translating this project from stage to film?
Wayne Blair: I mean those guys did most of the work, but you know I was in the room with these guys and we just worked hard on just fleshing out the story a little bit more. We changed a number of the songs, we made this English guy Irish, we bled a little bit of that "Stolen Generation” story into it.
Q: Jessica Mauboy is a huge singer in Australia. Can you tell me about how you cast her and why she was perfect for the role? She ended up winning several awards for her performance, too.
Wayne Blair: She's won of a number of awards, actually. She's won more awards being in this film, than being a rock star. She's been great. She just auditioned like everyone else. The four girls auditioned about four or five times, but the producers and myself, we were always on Jessica Mauboy to see if she’d come to the party. And she came to the party, so it's been great. Those four girls are brilliant. They're just the best four girls. You’ll see them out there tonight. They'll be having a few drinks, they'll be dancing the dance or they'll be singing karaoke. They'll be brilliant…they're crazily beautiful!
Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
Wayne Blair: It's just great to be here in New York. It's sort of the mecca of the film industry of the world, this place. So we've got a film out here being released by Harvey and Bob...and to be at this point right now is brilliant!
The after-party was held at Hudson Common, a gorgeous lounge restaurant in the Hudson Hotel. The highlight of the evening was when Jessica Mauboy performed the best songs from the film's soundtrack. She is incredible live and looked fierce in a sparkly knee-length dress. She kicked off her set with "Whatta Man" and then "Who's Lovin' You," and then she invited her Sapphire sisters onstage to perform "Land of a Thousand Dances," which got the crowd dancing, next she sang "I heard It Through The Grapevine," and last but not least she invited Chris O'Dowd on stage to perform "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" with her.
After the set, "The Sapphire" ladies mingled with guests and danced into the wee hours of Thursday morning and were so excited to bring their film to New York.
You can check out clips from the intimate surprise concert here:
- Jessica Mauboy performs "Whatta Man" at "The Sapphires" NY premiere after-party.
- Jessica Mauboy performs "Who's Lovin' You" at "The Sapphires" NY premiere after-party.
- "The Sapphires" perform "Land of a Thousand Dances" at their NY Premiere after-party.
- Jessica Mauboy performs "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" at "The Sapphires" NY Premiere.
- Chris O'Dowd & Jessica Mauboy perform Suger Pie Honey Bunch.
"The Sapphires" hits theaters next Friday, March 22.