But also like the real-life Sapphires, they developed a love for the music coming out of Detroit and Memphis, Tenn., in the late '60s. The women, with Mauboy in the lead, tackle such classics as Linda Lyndell's "What a Man," the upbeat Gladys Knight arrangement of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and a few songs added for the movie, including the Staple Singers' anachronistic "I'll Take You There" from 1972.
Blair said Mauboy did all of her singing, while the other three lead actresses — Deborah Mailman, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell — sang some parts and not others.
"Every time they sang a cappella, it was all the girls' voices," Blair said. "When the songs were harder, the harmonies we got somewhere else."
Mauboy, who co-starred in the Australian musical "Bran Nue Dae" (2009), said she was able to get acting tips from her fellow Sapphires, and "vice versa I would teach (them) some scales and getting ready for the performance and vocally not straining yourself."
Both Mauboy and Blair live in Australia but are looking into projects in the U.S.: The singer working on her third album with some Los Angeles producers; the director pitching his next films. But Blair said he also has appreciated working in Australia and has a potential project based there as well.
"In our country there's government support for indigenous filmmakers," he said. "We get more support and encouragement to make our own stories."
Blair and Mauboy expressed gratitude that "The Sapphires" has enabled them to see so much of the world, including Chicago for the first time.
"We're just loving everything about your city," Blair said. "I want to go see 'The Bean.'"
As for how the finished movie matches up to his initial expectations, Blair said that after talking about it for the past nine months, he no longer can remember.
"I knew we wanted Australia to see it," he said. "I knew we wanted a film (that) you walked out the cinema going, 'Heck, it's great to be alive.' And I knew we wanted the world to see it. I knew we wanted to get it to America, and now we're here."