Jessica talks about 'Sapphires' role

From left, Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman and Miranda Tapsell in a scene from the movie The Sapphires.
From left, Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman and Miranda Tapsell in a scene from the movie The Sapphires. Contributed - Image.net

SHE can't wipe the smile off her face. Sitting opposite me dressed in black pants and a sheer top she is positivity beaming.

And why shouldn't she be. Things are pretty damn good in the life of Jessica Mauboy.

In a few short months she has been courted by Simon Cowell, auditioned for Broadway, released a new single she feels proud of, and has caused industry heavyweights to take notice with her performance in the Australian film The Sapphires.

Since she first captured attention as the runner-up in the 2006 series of Australian Idol, Mauboy has been the young wholesome girl-next-door, one fifth of a girl band and an R'n'B sexpot but she says she finally feels like she has found her place and feels comfortable in her musical and creative skin.

Despite being on the cusp of global stardom thanks her role as Julie in the Sapphires, which received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, there is not a hint of diva attitude to be seen.

The film is inspired by the real-life story of four Indigenous girls from a remote Aboriginal mission who in 1968 discovered soul music and with the help of a down-on-his-luck musician Dave, took their singing and dancing girl group to the war zones of South Vietnam where they entertained marines while dodging bullets and discovering love.

It is poignant tale full of heart and humour which explores segregation and the stolen generation.

It was these issues that first attracted Mauboy to the role, which is her second film after 2009's Bran Nue Dae which also starred Deb Mailman.

While she hasn't been touched personally by the stolen generation she said it was an issue she felt was close to her heart.

"Playing some of the parts in the film, particularly the scene in the pub was just really emotional.

"I guess to feel like you don't belong and that sense of not belonging. But it is amazing because these girls fight.

"I think that is probably what stood out for me in Julie, was she was a fighter.

"She's determined and I think she allows her sisters to feel that as well and takes them on that journey."

A young mother in the film, Julie is feisty and fiery, full of determination to chase her dreams and a stubbornness to not let anyone or anything stand in her way.

In many ways there is a lot of Julie in Mauboy.

"I do see a lot of myself in Julie. Like me she is quiet but she is driven. And the fact she didn't take no for an answer.

"I can be stubborn. When I want to and when I need to, in my music world."

Before filming commenced Mauboy and her co-stars Deborah Mailman, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell sat down with the original Sapphires who inspired the film and soaked up their stories.

"It was really nice to get a sense of who they were and their personalities and just listen to their stories and get inspired," she explains.

Both inspiring and daunting, Maouboy felt her biggest obstacle with the film and her performance was getting the story right.

"I didn't want to fail. I wanted to tell the story and play the story right for the aunties.

"It made it overwhelming and a felt a bit of pressure but really exciting we get to tell their story."

The other challenge for the bubbly effervescent Mauboy was learning to cry on cue.

She describes a moment during a scene in outside a nightclub in Vietnam where her character was supposed to break-down overwhelmed by the danger of the place.

"I had to cry and I couldn't! It's not easy for someone to say action and you start crying!

"It was the end of the night and Wayne [director Wayne Blair] was like 'cry! You're not crying - why are you smiling' and I said 'I'm not smiling, this is my crying face!'

"There were a few times where they had to blow things into my eyes to get the tears flowing," she says with a bright laugh.

More movies are on the horizon for the 23-year-old but this time she would like to try something with less of a music base.

"I would love to play a really strong female role. Maybe a super-hero - someone quite fierce and intelligent.

"I think filming and reading scripts definitely stretches me. But I always say that I will always be married to music.

"It will forever be there and I know I can tap into writing a song and be inspired."

Her latest single, Gotcha, which features in the Sapphires and on its soundtrack, is a return to the Mauboy before the infamous 2010 sexed-up fist-pumping album, Get 'Em Girls, which featured a collaboration with Snoop Dogg.

She wrote the Gotcha straight after filming wrapped up and wanted write something that captured the groove and feel of the sixties.

"I'm really proud of this song, it's something really close to me and it's different to everything I have written.

"Lyrically I'm really proud of it, and vocally it's definitely were I need to be," she said.

She is currently working on her third album and is looking forward to writing songs of a similar vein.

Last month, after seeing a trailer of the film, music mogul Simon Cowell requested a meeting with the young star, something that still feels surreal to Mauboy.

"It was massive. He's one of the most powerful men in the world musically.

"He wanted to know more about the film and he was really impressed.

"I don't know what it all means.

Music is always a bit of twist you never know what's going to happen or who is going to call.

"Right now I'm just trying to find what it is a love and do that."

The Sapphires is in cinemas now.


Jess's Journey

  • 4th August 1989: Jessica Mauboy is born to an Indonesian father and Indigenous mother and raised in Darwin
  • 2006: She is runner-up to Damien Leith in the fourth season of Australian Idol and signs a record deal.
  • 2007: Releases her debut album, Journey featuring covers from her time on Idol. Becomes a member of the Young Divas
  • 2008: Released her first studio album, Been Waiting, and has her first number-one hit with Burn
  • 2009: Earns seven nominations at the ARIAs for the album and wins Highest Selling Single for Running Back
  • 2010: Stars in her first film, Bran Nue Day and releases her second album, Get 'Em Girls
  • 2011: Stars in Underbelly Razor
  • 2012: Stars in The Sapphires

Topics:  cannes film festival jessica mauboy the sapphires

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