Nearly 23 years after its release on the big screen, the iconic Southern drama “Steel Magnolias” is getting a made-for-TV reboot with Queen Latifah and an all-black cast.
Latifah, who also serves as an executive producer on the film, which airs Sunday on Lifetime, steps into the role of M’Lynn, the matriarch made famous by Sally Field.
“I wasn’t intimidated at all,” Latifah told “Good Morning America” earlier this week about remaking the tearjerker and fan favorite. “I was really excited, especially when we got the cast that we did.”
“It’s such a great story about friendship and family and relationships and being with each other through the ups and downs,” she said.
Joining Latifah on screen are Alfre Woodard as the cranky Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine’s role), Phylicia Rashad as her sidekick Clairee (Olympia Dukakis’ role) and Rashad’s real-life daughter Condola Rashad as M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby, the role originated by Julia Roberts. Jill Scott plays Truvy (Dolly Parton’s role), the owner of the salon where the women come together, and her assistant Annelle, originally played by Daryl Hannah, is portrayed by “Pariah” star Adepero Oduye.
“You’re in awe,” Latifah told GMA about working with the others. “The energy on the set was just great.”
Latifah joined with executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, her collaborators on “Chicago” and “Hairspray,” to update the classic tale for a new generation. The three of them recently discussed in a conference call why they wanted to do a remake, what it was like taking on these iconic roles and what’s ahead.
Why A Remake
Meron: I think that our point of view is that we think “Steel Magnolias” is a timeless and universal piece and it just works in whatever community you set it in that you don’t even have to underline it. It just works. And I think that that really defines what classic material it is. And part of the reason why we also wanted to do it is because, you know, no women roles are written as well as these roles. And we want to show off our great actresses.
Life on the Set
Latifah: Alfre would gather us together and say “This is a serious moment, I need to talk to you. We need –” and she’d pull the whole cast, the whole crew and then she’d say, “This is what I want to say. Jelly roll. Jelly roll.” And she’d just break into this dance. … I think some of the best of our down time was just being in the makeup trailer — hair and makeup trailer together just playing music and, you know, just kind of watching videos. … Our down time sometimes was just a little conversation. And every once in a while we would just give pause because we actually appreciated the fact that we were doing this film which, you know, was — the fact that we were all together.
Taking on Iconic Roles
Meron: I don’t think any of us did think about challenges to overcome. I think it was just the challenge to make the best movie we could. And, you know, I don’t think any of us really looked at the past. We just looked at what we had. And what we had is something that we loved and so we just made the best version of that.
Zadan: When you see Jill Scott’s performance it does not make you think of Dolly Parton remotely. Scott is doing her performance as an actress for that role as written on the page. And she’s not trying to do Dolly Parton. She’s not trying to recreate Dolly Parton. And I’d say the same thing goes for everybody in the cast. … We feel like what we’ve done is fresh and different from the original and yet as relevant as the original.
Making the Movie for Lifetime
Zadan: We decided to reunite because prior to this of course Neil and I had the greatest experience of our lives doing “Chicago” with Latifah. And then we had the second best experience of our lives doing “Hairspray” with Queen Latifah. And then we thought, Wait a minute, two is not enough. We need a third. And now we feel that we need a fourth. … So we wanted to be together again and then we went to Lifetime and we said, You know, we have this team, are you interested in this movie? And without a second’s delay they said to us, When can you start shooting?”
Working with Phylicia Rashad
Latifah: She’s super — this is the world’s mom. I mean she was the Michelle Obama before Michelle Obama. … Clair Huxtable aside, Phylicia always reminded me of my mom. And she still does. She has like a very calming voice. She knows how to talk to you in very subtle, soothing, calming ways. … so I kind of felt like I had my mom on the set. [Watching her with Condola] I kind of felt like I was seeing my mom and myself.
On to the Oscars (Meron and Zadan are producing the 2013 telecast)
Meron: We’re just at the very, very, very beginning stages of planning what it might be and putting ideas together. … The one thing that we love about the Oscars and the most powerful moments of the Oscars are the emotions. And if anything, we would like to have an Oscar ceremony that is emotional.