Lifetime’s “Steel Magnolias” puts a new twist on the classic film

By John Crook

Steel Magnolias on Lifetime

The jury may be out as to whether the world really needed a remake of Steel Magnolias, the hit Robert Harling stage comedy that became an all-star 1989 film with Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine and Dolly Parton, among others.

We now have one, however, thanks to Lifetime. And it’s a beauty.

With Harling’s blessing, Sally Robinson has discreetly updated his play and screenplay for this remake, in which all of the principal characters are played by black actresses, led by Queen Latifah in Field’s former role of M’Lynn. Steel Magnolias on Lifetime premieres Sunday, Oct. 7, at 9pm ET/PT.

The actress was among the first calls executive producer Craig Zadan made when he and business partner Neil Meron started casting this remake, and that was all she needed to jump onboard. “I trust Craig and Neil so much, because I did Chicago and Hairspray with them, two big movies for my career,” Latifah explains. “But really more than that, I know their work ethic. I know when they invest in something, how passionate they are about it. You don’t get to work with people like that all the time. I am happy to have that chance for a third time, and I’ve also been wanting to work with [director] Kenny Leon for a while.

“Obviously we have tailored some of the words, but the basic premise and the idea of the movie is still the same,” Latifah continues. “It’s still about the relationships between this group of women, these families, but it’s just with a different flavor, and it’s modern. We want to achieve the same emotional connection that [the original cast] was able to achieve. We’re just putting a different spin on it.”

The new TV movie casts veteran actresses Alfre Woodard and Phylicia Rashad as bantering best friends Ouiser and Clairee, along with Jill Scott as beauty shop owner Truvy and newcomer Adepero Oduye as Annelle.

Another relatively new face, former Tony award nominee Condola Rashad (Phylicia’s daughter), is cast as M’Lynn’s headstrong daughter Shelby, a role that helped propel Julia Roberts to superstardom in the earlier film.

Rashad admits the Roberts connection initially caused some intimidation, but she got over it pretty quickly.

“It gets to the point where it’s like, ‘Listen, now this is being given to you,’ and I realized that I had to take hold of that moment and make it mine,” she says. “The original will always be there and always be a great film, and [Julia] did just amazing with it, and now the universe would have it that it’s my turn to play that role. This is going to be a different take because there’s a different person playing the role, but I have to believe that what I have to offer will be on the same level.

“Shelby has something that I’ve always had, although not to the same extent, a similar connection with my mother, in terms of ‘I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.’ We often butt heads that way,” she adds, laughing.

Photo: ©2012 A&E Television Networks, LLC. Credit: Annette Brown