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O'Dowd talks about the journey of making, promoting 'Sapphires'

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International   |   Jan. 8, 2014 at 5:25 PM   |   Comments

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NEW YORK, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Northern Irish actor Chris O'Dowd says he had no idea his 1960s-set, music-themed movie "The Sapphires" would have the extraordinary life it has.

Directed by Wayne Blair, the film was penned by Keith Thompson and Tony Briggs. It is based on Briggs' play, which, in turn, was inspired by the experiences Briggs' mother had as a young indigenous Australian singer performing with her sister and cousins. The women are portrayed in the movie by Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell.

O'Dowd plays the Irish talent scout who helps the singers find their strengths and transform their images, ultimately leading to them taking a job performing for U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War.

"The Sapphires" screened at the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival and was a huge hit when it opened in Australia. It has played all over the world since and is now available on DVD.

"When I took the film on I really thought it was going to be a little independent Australian film," O'Dowd told reporters in New York before the film's U.S. theatrical release last spring. "Wayne offered me the part a week after 'Bridesmaids' came out and I kind of thought it would be fun to go off and do something quite small and something very small.

"If I had known it was going to be successful, I would have turned it down," laughed O'Dowd, who faithfully promoted the movie for about a year, despite his busy schedule.

"I just wanted to go and chill out and you ruined it. Thanks for that," O'Dowd teased Blair, who was sitting beside him during the interview.

The director said O'Dowd was a consummate professional, crisscrossing the globe so he could work on both "The Sapphires" and "This is 40," productions with shooting schedules that overlapped.

"You were in LA and you would come over to us to shoot," Blair recalled. "We shot this film in six weeks and not only did we shoot this film in our country of Victoria, but we also were in Sydney for a couple of weeks, we were on the outskirts of Sydney. Then we went to Saigon, so we were in four or five different locations in six weeks and you were in LA. I don't know how we did it, but the producers of 'This is 40' and our film were like, 'Let's make it work for Chris and everyone involved.' It was a good thing from the start."

O'Dowd emphasized the movie doesn't break new ground "in the idea of a musical film," but said its setting -- which takes place in the years after the Australian government commonly removed Aboriginal children from their homes and placed them with white families, ostensibly to prevent the youngsters from becoming victims of neglect or abandonment without having to prove they were specifically at risk -- is "very fresh."

"This is a very site-specific struggle that we're dealing with and the 'stolen generation' is not something people know about, so it's getting that out there," O'Dowd said.

"Sometimes films about oppression or suppression can be quite maudlin and quite dour and sometimes you need a little sugar with the medicine and I like to think of myself as a little sugar," quipped O'Dowd.

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