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Role in ‘The Sapphires’ hits home for Australian pop star Jessica Mauboy

Deborah Mailman as Gail JessicMauboy as Julie MirandTapsell as CynthiShari Sebbens as Kay THE SAPPHIRES Phoby LisTomasetti/ The WeinsteCompany

Deborah Mailman as Gail, Jessica Mauboy as Julie, Miranda Tapsell as Cynthia, Shari Sebbens as Kay in THE SAPPHIRES, Photo by Lisa Tomasetti/ The Weinstein Company

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Updated: April 25, 2013 6:20AM

Australian pop sensation Jessica Mauboy usually doesn’t tell this story. “My mother is aboriginal,” she says in a quiet voice. “One of my aunties was part of the stolen generation in Australia.”

“Stolen” means that, as a child, her aunt was subjected to a village raid by the Australian government, kidnapped and given to a childless white family.

“After many decades, she was just recently reunited with my mom … and my poor auntie was looking for us for many, many years,” Mauboy says.

That brings her to her new movie “The Sapphires,” directed by Wayne Blair. It’s set in 1968, when four Australian aboriginal girls, one stolen, reunite to form a singing group and are sent to entertain the U.S. troops in Vietnam with the help of their drunk manager (Chris O’Dowd).

“It’s amazing that this film is actually inspiring people to look for their families,” Mauboy says, “which is above and beyond what we expected.”

Mauboy, 23, a native of Darwin, Australia, and an “X Factor” alum, plays aboriginal Julie, who might be destined to top the charts.

1 So it was legal until 1970 for the Australian government to confiscate aboriginal children and give them away to white families?

Blair: Yes, it was government policy to just come in and steal the whitest-looking aboriginal children. It was the norm. The idea was to take them and send them to institutions to learn to be whiter and then put them into better homes. It was to reward people who did not have children. A lot of those kids ended up in boys’ and girls’ homes and were never returned to their families.

2 How difficult was it to cast actresses who could sing, dance and act?

Blair: The talent was there and I don’t regret one decision. There was a degree of difficulty in finding someone who could sing and act, but we did. I also knew that the girls had to look like kids who had been raised in a family for 25 years. You needed this online chemistry between the girls.

Mauboy: Straight after the release of my second album, I met Wayne and he introduced me to his project “The Sapphires.” I’ve always been a singer, but I wanted to act. For this movie, I sent in a video audition. A year passed between when I auditioned for this movie and when I got word I had the film. I wanted it so badly because I fell in love with the story knowing it was based on true events.

3 Did you identify with Julie?

Mauboy: In some ways, I feel like we are very much alike in that we fight for what we love. Julie is told by her mother not to leave home to sing, but she won’t take no for an answer. That helped me find the character and bring out her emotions.

4 This started as a movie for the Australian market. What was it like when Harvey Weinstein picked it up to distribute in other countries?

Blair: Once he saw the film, he bought it in 27 hours. He called me personally a day later when I was standing in a hotel parking lot at midnight in this small town in the northern territory. I hear over this crackling phone line, “It’s Harvey and I’m calling from London. I just bought your film and we’re going to release it to the world.” I couldn’t speak. I just said, “Yeah, Harvey. Thank you. That’s really good.”

5 This movie talks about the prejudice faced by the aboriginal people. Jessica, did your mom talk to you about it?

Mauboy: She definitely faced a lot of prejudice, but she was not one to talk about it. She wasn’t specific. She really knew how to keep to herself, but informed us that it was around. I’ve felt that prejudice too. But my mom always kind of made it better, happier and brighter for us. It was about living your best life. If we were struggling or in any kind of pain, we were always told to laugh it off. In Australia, it’s always about adding humor to life.

Big Picture News Inc.

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