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Interview: Wayne Blair of “The Sapphires”

posted by Nell Minow

Wayne Blair is an actor who starred in the live theatrical version of “The Sapphires,” the true story of three sisters and a cousin who became a successful girl group in 1960’s Australia.  He directed the feature film based on the play, which opens this week.  He spoke to me about bringing what he knows as an actor to directing a film and loving American country and western when he was growing up.  His next project, as writer, director, and actor, is an Australian miniseries called “Redfern Now,” the first series written, directed and produced by Indigenous Australians.

How were you selected to direct this film?

It was a stage show, a musical, a sold-out theater show in Australia, and I was an actor in that show, and friends with the writer.  He asked me if I wanted to direct the film.  I’d done a lot of short films. But this is my first feature film.

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How does being an actor help you as a director?

Your communication skills are much better.  You can cut to the chase.  You can see when an actor’s frustrated, when he’s firing on all cylinders.  You know what they need to hear and how they need to hear it.

You’re too young to have grown up with the music of the 60’s.  Were you familiar with these songs? 

I grew up with it in my family and sort of stayed with me.  I grew up more with more country and western, Merle Haggard and George Strait.  [singing] “All my exes live in Texas……” Like that!  When we finally got into soul we exaggerated it a little bit.

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What was it like to have the people who really lived the story looking over your shoulder?

They were involved but they gave a lot of trust over to us.  The co-writer is their son, and they were involved in the stage show.  They knew we weren’t going to tamper with it much.

How did you do the casting?

We were looking for four girls that were newcomers, some new talent.  We went looking all over Australia for girls who were not only great singers but great actors, and who could work with the family on the set.  These four girls were the best. I don’t say this lightly.  I was very fortunate, blessed in that sense.  Chris O’Dowd was the last added and we really lucked out.  I went to LA.  “Bridesmaids” had just opened and they said, “You should go see this new guy coming out of Ireland.” It was a no-brainer.

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What were you looking for on the costumes for the girls?

We just wanted something authentic.  We were looking at two different times, 1958 and 1968.  We were looking at four different women, making them look real but making them look great.  So it was a bit of a challenge.  But  Tess Schofield just did amazing things with the budget we had, just keeping it very, very real, in a certain moment and time.  We had our budget limitations and that was a great thing because you just make better choices.

Was the battle scene in Viet Nam the biggest challenge?

We shot this film in six weeks.  Every day was a challenge.  Shooting five people every day with two cameras — it takes it out of you.  Shooting a lot of cast every day, and key cast — everyone had their line in almost every scene.  But the battle, yes, that was a big challenge.

What’s the best advice you got about directing?

Just take it beat by beat, moment by moment, scene by scene, day by day.  Make sure you get one scene, don’t think of the next.  Make sure you get every moment that you’re after.

 

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