Interview: An All New "Steel Magnolias" Comes to Lifetime

By Jamie Ruby

Steel MagnoliasThis weekend marks the debut of the new Steel Magnolias on Lifetime. The new adaptation of the iconic play and film, which is executive produced by Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, and Queen Latifah, premieres Sunday night. Latifah also stars in the film as M'Lynn, along with Phylicia Rashad, Adepero Oduye, Condola Rashad, Jill Scott, and Alfre Woodard

Latifah, Zadan, and Meron, who previously worked together on Chicago and Hairspray, recently talked to the press about the new movie.

Lifetime Conference Call
Steel Magnolias
Queen Latifah, Craig Zadan, and Neil Meron

September 24, 2012

SCIFI VISION: So the first question is for Queen Latifah. Can you talk about what you’ve done to prepare for this role since obviously we’ve seen the original version before?

Steel MagnoliasCRAIG ZADAN: You haven’t seen it before.

SCIFI VISION: Well, you know, I’ve seen the original before.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Yeah. Jump in boys. Help me out because that’s...

NEIL MERON: Well just to answer for Queen Latifah, I think [she] prepared for it as any actress prepares for a role as if doing it fresh and creating the character that was on the page.

CRAIG ZADAN: Absolutely.

SCIFI VISION: Can you talk about how this version is going to be different than the original?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Boys, I think you can definitely approach that.

CRAIG ZADAN: We approached it as though it was a new piece of writing and we’re not doing anything to copy the original production because the original play was amazing and the original movie was amazing.

And we wanted to do something that was brand new and we wanted to do something that would be done our way with our cast and our production. And it’s using the material as the basis of that. And the same way as if you work in the theater, you do what they call revivals.

And it may have been done originally, the play earlier on and then it’s done later on with other casts. And each production is relevant because they’re done with different directors, different producers, different actors.

So we feel like what we’ve done is fresh and different from the original and yet as relevant as the original.

SCIFI VISION: And will we get to hear any of your music on the soundtrack, Queen Latifah?

QUEEN LATIFAH: I wish. It wasn’t really about the music. It was more about performances. If you were to hear my music you might as well hear (Bill)’s music and hear Phylicia sing and you would want to hear Alfre sing because that would be the best worst thing you’ve ever heard, which would be awesome. She’d probably be singing some attempted Tootsie Roll music whether it be jelly roll because that’s what she likes.

But no, I think the music is going to be really beautiful and really apropos to what we’re trying, really apply to the material. But we could make a musical out of it. We’ve been talking about it.

NEIL MERON: Oh yeah.

QUEEN LATIFAH: How much do you want to cry or less you should get.

QUESTION: Given M’Lynn’s journey throughout the story, how much support did you receive from the other actresses in order to play her effectively?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Well first of all, when you’re working with veteran actors I - first of all, I received a great amount of support. But I also tried to give a great amount of support because we had a lot of young actors who are extremely talented who you should watch in the years to come.

I think we did a great job in casting this movie. Well, Kenny did a great job and we supported Kenny. But I think we got a great cast who can do a great job.

I think we got a great cast and the thing about the support of it is of course I got a great amount of support from our veteran actors. You know, in Afemo and Phylicia and Alfre, who I know all of them and they’ve always been supportive.

But I think we got a lot of inspiration and also support from the actors who have come after us and I think it was very, very much a - it was almost like a whirlpool of acting talent, love, support, pushing, challenging, because it’s not all about just a love fest.

It’s about challenging each other and really expecting you to do your job at the end of the day. We all have to show up and do our job regardless of our life circumstances or situations. We don’t have to do it with an attitude or whatever but maybe we do that day.

Everyone understands that life happens and we have to create a whole other life where our life doesn’t even exist. You know, our real life doesn’t exist, these characters exist. And that is our life. And that’s who we are.

And so I got a great amount of support and on the off times there was great conversation. Of course, how can you have Clair Huxtable and not pick her brain? But she’s super - she’s super - this is the world’s mom. She was the Michelle Obama before Michelle Obama. How can you have her around and not pick her brain a little bit? But she is not Clair Huxtable. She is Phylicia Rashad and she’s a different person and she has so many more cool points than Clair ever even had.

She’s got all that and then some. And it’s so much more. And so it was really about us all bonding together to make sure we got the job done, to make sure we really delivered for Kenny, delivered for Neil and Craig and most importantly, delivered for you, the viewer.

That you could feel an experience that felt as real as it possibly could because this material, it’s great in itself. And so everyone had to show up and do their best job and get off of your real life and get into this life.

And so I think it was pretty awesome. You know, ups and downs - the crew had to deliver. The support didn’t just come from the cast, it came from the crew. It came from everyone from the security guard at the gate or the person turning on the heat. The grips, the lighting, our DP, everyone. So the support was everywhere to accomplish something in such a short amount of time but to make a great piece of work.

QUESTION: You’ve previously talked about your grandmother and that she had diabetes. I was wondering if that made this film a little bit more personal for you since your character’s daughter in the show had the condition and that that was what she died from.

QUEEN LATIFAH: No. It did in a sense but my grandmother is so cool that you would never know. Shelby is trying to do more than she can ever - Shelby is really more like me in real life. She’s going to put her mind to something and go for it. I don’t care if she has to rappel from a five-story building or shoot some guns or ride a motorcycle or drive NASCAR or just be a mama with five kids, instead of three or two and a dog. No.

My grandmother, she has a life that’s very stable and she already raised seven kids so she’s like, “I’m good, I’m cool.” No. Diabetes didn’t really play a part in that.

What it did do though is because I know diabetes is just one disease but when you have a family as big as mine there are many things that affect my family members in many different ways. So it could be high blood pressure, it could be cholesterol, it could be obesity, it could be sleep deprivation, or sleep apnea. It could be so many different things so an illness is an illness. And especially if it affects younger kids.

If you’re prematurely born or if you have things happening when you’re a baby being born. If you have to learn how to walk right or if there’s something wrong with, your gait or physical things that are happening. Illnesses affect your family and they impact you because you want to do the best you can to help your family member become more healthy. As well as my family members want me to be healthy. So it doesn’t have to be diabetes specifically.

But when there’s something that impacts a family member or friend that is difficult for them, you want to do what you can to help. And sometimes you can’t do anything and it makes you feel like you’re helpless. So those emotions, they cross a big barometer.

But I think those things cross a - they’re a big, broad stroke when it comes to someone who you care about or even who you don’t even know. It could be a dog who doesn’t have food.

When it comes to someone who is feeling not at 100% or who doesn’t have control over their health, you care about that. And if you have compassion in your heart you just care. So I didn’t have to have a relative with diabetes. I’ve had several, but I think the most important thing is really caring about them more so than just oh, they’ve got a disease and, you know...

NEIL MERON: Yeah, but what you’re saying is that it just lends itself to the universal nature of what the film is about is that...

QUEEN LATIFAH: Absolutely.

NEIL MERON: ...we come together when people are needy. When people need you pull together as a community and you help.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Exactly. Yes. When there’s a need you show up. And it doesn’t matter what that need is. But if there’s a need you show up.

QUESTION: And for Craig and Neil, you did mention the universal themes of this. Can you talk a little bit about what you think those are? Because you were able to recast this - not recast this but cast this particular version of the story with an African-American cast as opposed to we had already seen it with a white cast.

NEIL 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 women roles are written as well as these roles. And we want to show off our great actresses.

CRAIG ZADAN: Also in terms of casting, I think that you have to understand that we were looking at it again based on what’s on the page, not on what’s been done previously. So, when you see I - I’ll pick a name.

When you see Jill Scott’s performance it does not make you think of Dolly Parton remotely. Jill 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. They created the roles and we cast the roles based on finding great actresses to play those great parts.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Because let’s be serious, none of us have an eagle ride in an amusement park, okay? I wish we did.

NEIL MERON: And none of you played a flying nun.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Hey. Come on. You got to be a flying nun - they need to get their Sally on.

NEIL MERON: That’s right.

QUEEN LATIFAH: You know, we’ve still got a little work to do.


QUESTION: Queen, I’d just like to take a moment to say thank you so much for being such a fantastically strong female role model for so many women.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Oh, you’re very welcome. I’m trying my best.

QUESTION: Well we appreciate it. And I wanted to ask you about the down time that you all had together. We talked a little bit about this incredible cast and I wanted to hear a little bit about the down time that you got to spend with each other.

Did you all go out to dinner or spend home at nights together, making dinner with each other?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Well, we shot this movie in 18 days. So there’s not a lot of down time when you’re shooting basically a feature film in 18 days. So a lot of our down time was just hanging around the set and then getting touched up.

I think some of the best of our down time was just being in the hair and makeup trailer together just playing music and watching videos, because Adepero and Condola were always on the iPad and we, she’s always playing Ms. Pac-Man on her iPad and I’m always playing house music.

You might as well go to XM Studio 54. I’m taking them to the club, you know? And Alfre is telling us the stories of things and crying because her kids are moving onto college and running out the house and - but it’s very serene.

Our down time sometimes was just little conversation. And every once in a while we would give pause because we actually appreciate the fact that we were doing this film - the fact that we were all together, that we felt like we had come to a place that was so important.

And we would sometimes just have appreciation. Jill had her birthday barely into shooting, like maybe four days - two or four days into the first couple of days of shooting and we celebrated her with a cake and stuff.

But we were shooting at this church and we were shooting a serious scene because they were either wedding scenes or cemetery scenes, funeral scenes. And we had a cake for her and we took a moment and we just looked at each other. And we thought, “Wow, this is pretty amazing.” We all admired each other so much.

But we all encourage each other as well and we thought about things and we talked about Jill’s son and Phylicia and I talked about kids, her parent experience and all that kind of stuff, just regular, simple conversation.

But then you’ve got to count on Alfre to always be the one that’s going to break up the monotony. So Alfre would always - I mean, this is monotonous conversation, just regular conversations. Alfre would gather us together and say, “This is a serious moment, I need to talk to you.” 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.

And I’m like, this woman is crazy, so it’s fun, lighthearted stuff. We didn’t really have time to get all into where are we going to eat tonight?

It’s not the typical movie because we had to function on all pistons - we were firing on all pistons and really trying to go there. But then she’d break it up and then we’d just laugh because we thought it was something serious and then we’d laugh and go right back into our serious work. So it was that kind of thing.

Steel MagnoliasQUESTION: And Craig and Neil, if you could talk a little bit about partnering with Lifetime TV for the movie. How did Lifetime come to land such a great remake of the film and the play?

CRAIG ZADAN: Well, basically we had the idea of doing this production of Steel Magnolias. And we spoke to Queen Latifah about it and she got excited about it. And 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 decided that we had done really fun and exciting and quality work together as a team. So we wanted to be together again and then we went to Lifetime and we said 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? Don’t even talk to us about it. Just start shooting.’

Just schedule it, put it together, go. Go. Go make the movie. And it turns out that this story and this piece is Nancy Dubuc’s absolute favorite play and original movie. And she thought that it would make a great new version for a new generation with this cast.

QUESTION: The movie is going to be really important for all people that watch Lifetime but especially to the African American audience. And I was wondering if you ever experienced any kind of push back from the film.

Because when some films are cast with minority actors but are usually traditionally Caucasian roles, there’s sometimes a bit of a thing with some people. So have you had any negative response or is it mostly just positive?

NEIL MERON: If there is push back we’re not aware of it. And I think more than most films we’ve done, especially when - and I don’t - I think Queen Latifah experiences this. When we go out and we talk to people they’re so excited about seeing this film because it means so much to them.

And especially that they’re getting this new version is very, very impactful. So no, I don’t think we’ve experienced any push back at all.

I agree.

QUESTION: You’ve been talking a lot about how the film is universal. How do you think the Lifetime audience will receive this film in general?

QUEEN LATIFAH: I think they’re going to lose their minds just based on the fact that my assistant – who works super hard, 24/7 – is a faithful, faithful Lifetime viewer, like you can’t pull her off the couch on the weekends. You know exactly where she is. She’s at home. It’s so uncanny because it’s so not her exterior. It so doesn’t seem like her but if you want to find my assistant on the weekends she’s on the couch watching all the Lifetime movies all weekend long - or any days off that we have, weekends or it can be any days. But she’s watching Lifetime.

And I think, for Lifetime viewers, the die hard Lifetime viewers are going to absolutely love it.

I think though that there’s a new audience for Lifetime viewers, typically non-Lifetime viewers to take a look at something that’s really special and find the network and find what’s happening there and find real emotional connections to what you’re watching rather than just some quick hit and go, but something that really resonates with you.

So I think people are going to really love it.

QUESTION: Queen Latifah, why did you decide to become involved in this project as an executive producer and what was your specific role aside from acting?

QUEEN LATIFAH: I got involved with this project because Neil and Craig called me. I worked with them and I trust them and if they love it and they’re going to work - I know how hard they work and how much they’ll put into it, I wanted to be a part of it.

And my role, I think, outside of being an actor was really to help facilitate - helping to create a great cast and then also to really create a great tone on the set. To make sure that everyone was taken care of whether it was cast or crew.

You have to take care of your crew and if there were things that needed to be dealt with that were critical, I was there on the ground to be able to see it in maybe a different aspect than Neil and Craig were so I could relay that to them or relay things to Kenny Leon.

My role is not to be the boss on the ground, so to speak, or the director, to wear everyone else’s hat but really to be someone who sees things from the gaps that need to be filled in my respect or from conversations that I hear of things that need to be taken care of.

And that’s what I do. Then I take that hat off and I give it back to them so that I can be an actor. So it’s not to like I’m running the joint. It’s a team thing. And that’s where I come from when it comes to wearing these two hats.

And of course to make sure that everyone knows about this film, about how great it is and what we did, what we’ve made and what we want you to share, the experience that we want you to share in Steel Magnolias. That’s my part.

So I have - it’s not a very clear, one-line version of what I actually do but that’s primarily what you would see. The rest is way behind the scenes that you can’t get access to, bro. So back up.

QUESTION: Neil and Craig, what do you guys like about working together? You guys have collaborated a lot with Storyline Entertainment, so what makes you a successful team?

NEIL MERON: I think we share a similar vision and when our opinions differ I think it only makes the work even stronger because there’s a lot of respect and it’s great to know that we have this mutual trust that one can not be present and still feel that the mutual vision is being executed in the same way that either one of us would do.

And it’s fun. We love what we do and we love the projects we work on. And hopefully it comes through in the finished product.

CRAIG ZADAN: I think that the other answer is that Neil and I share a desire for great quality in our work. And if we are offered projects or we look at projects or consider projects that don’t have that quality then we don’t do them.

So our first priority that we share is that the movie or the TV show or the Broadway show or whatever it is, they have the highest possible quality, which is why we would never go to Queen Latifah with anything without that quality.

We would be embarrassed if we went to Queen Latifah and said would you do this with us and we weren’t 100% sure that it was going to be potentially really good. So I think that Neil and I share that...

QUEEN LATIFAH: And that’s why I would take that job without even having read the script first, all of that...

CRAIG ZADAN: That’s right.

NEIL MERON: That’s true.

QUEEN LATIFAH: No cast. No crew. I believe all of them. Put it like that.

NEIL MERON: Queen Latifah actually did the same thing with Hairspray. We had a lunch with her and she says, “I’m in.” And she hadn’t read the script. She just believed that we were going to make the best movie we can. And hopefully we haven’t let her down.

QUEEN LATIFAH: No. You’ve never let me down. And if I could speak to them, that’s what people believe. They believe that they will do their - I think it’s that high quality. They’ll beat each other up behind the scenes to the point where when they get to us they know okay, we’re locked in.

They’ve got their eyes on the prize. It’s tunnel vision. We’re going to make this a success in every possible way. It comes from the heart. There’s passion. They’ll not sleep at night. They will make sure that it’s right and make sure everyone is taken care of.

And that’s important for someone who wants to just - you sign on sight unseen? Well yeah, when you know who you’re dealing with. And these guys are the best.

CRAIG ZADAN: Oh, thank you.

NEIL MERON: And we love actors by the way. We love actors.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Sometimes...

CRAIG ZADAN: We love Queen.

QUEEN LATIFAH: ...Neil needs a better pair of sneakers and... ((Crosstalk))

QUEEN LATIFAH: good as mine.

NEIL MERON: Hey. You want my shoes.

QUEEN LATIFAH: He always - he be trying to battle me. He be trying to battle me but my kicks look fresher than his sometimes.

NEIL MERON: Well, mine is...

QUEEN LATIFAH: And if his is fresher than mine I’m going to call somebody.

NEIL MERON: Dana, mine is style. It’s all style.

QUEEN LATIFAH: I know. You’ve got (unintelligible).

NEIL MERON: Very expensive scuff marks.

QUEEN LATIFAH: High quality scuff marks.

NEIL MERON: Yeah, that’s it.

QUESTION: Queen Latifah, we’ve heard you talking about adoption. Do you have any plans in place to adopt?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Do I have any plans in place? Are you trying to get the scoop, girl? You can’t get that. Trust me. When you see me with the baby you’re going to know I’ve got the baby. And it’s going to be my baby. It will maybe be a niece or nephew but you can blame the baby on me.

Honestly, I’ve always wanted to adopt, since I was a child. I saw an ABC special and I’ve always wanted to adopt since I was a kid. And I love Eight is Enough, which you probably don’t even know that show.

But it’s just - I know, right?

It’s like having a bunch - I’ve always loved the idea of having like a house full of people. You’re the parents, where everybody can come and if something goes wrong they can crash there and you just make sure you call their parents to say your kid is here.

That’s just kind of how I envisioned things. And I know I’m running a little late. Okay. I know. But I’ve had a couple of things to do. But I’m the parent to many people whether you realize it or not. It just doesn’t look like it from the outside world.

Steel MagnoliasBut I would absolutely adopt. And that’s something that I definitely see in the future just because why not? It doesn’t have to be a baby but kids need a home. So hopefully that will be a possible thing.

But I can’t speak on anything particularly right [now.].

CRAIG ZADAN: As far as we’re concerned she adopted us a long time ago.


CRAIG ZADAN: And we’re the luckiest kids...

QUEEN LATIFAH: Do you know how old my kids are?

CRAIG ZADAN: the world. We’re her kids and we’re the luckiest kids in the world.


QUESTION: You guys have done several revivals, both musicals and plays. Which one is easier to adapt?

NEIL MERON: Adapt what, for film?

QUESTION: For film or television, because you also did A Raisin in the Sun for television. And then you’ve done several movies. But which is easier - is it easier to redo the musical or the play?

NEIL MERON: I think they’re equally challenging because what they’re doing is basically translating one medium to another. And each one has its own language, so you have to find the language that allows the original version to exist in another medium.

So I think there are challenges with everything. I would say it’s kind of a wash, plays and musicals. You have to give them each the same amount of attention and thought about the medium that they’re going to be translated to.

QUESTION: Going back to Steel Magnolias, can you talk about the casting and how you got so many great actresses to be part of the movie?

CRAIG ZADAN: Well I think that we got such great actresses because Queen Latifah said yes. And once we had Queen Latifah onboard everybody wanted to be part of the movie.

QUEEN LATIFAH: So you know how much money they owe me, right?

CRAIG ZADAN: A lot. A lot.

NEIL MERON: A lot of money.


CRAIG ZADAN: No, so everybody wanted to be part of the project and so we would decide with Queen Latifah who we wanted to go to. We all worked together as producers and we went to certain actresses and luckily everybody said yes because everybody was really excited about being part of it.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Now back to this adoption thing. No, I’m just playing. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Queen Latifah, I love that you choose positive and inspiring work. What is your personal criteria for choosing which projects to do?

QUEEN LATIFAH: First of all, it’s the quality of the material and also it’s who’s involved, who’s a part of what we’re going to do. And then it’s also, I like to service the full audience of America at least. So I try to do things that are maybe just real artistic.

They don’t have the most money but it’s a great piece of work. Then there’s big, fun comedies, big animated movies for kids, I want to do things for my nieces and nephews. So it’s always been kind of a full circle moment for how I choose material. But I think a lot of it is based upon what the material is and then who’s involved, and who is it going to service. Because ultimately we’re trying to deliver something entertaining to an audience.

So as long as it can entertain the audience, if it makes me laugh, if it makes my nephew laugh or my niece laugh then I think it’s good. If it makes someone laugh or cry then those things are good.

I definitely service my African American audience but I also want to service other audiences of different cultures. So if there are other cultural things that can be involved in it, I like to make it diverse because I grew up in New York and New Jersey and so I’m used to growing up around different cultures.

So if there’s something that can be involved in that sense, I always want to give a little something there. So it varies, but ultimately those are the main things.

As long as we service the audience, we give people the entertaining night, that’s how I choose things.

QUEEN LATIFAH: I always have a woman thing in there. Somewhere.

QUESTION: Since all three of you produced this, what were the biggest challenges to overcome to produce this new version of Steel Magnolias?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Location. Location. Location.

NEIL MERON: Well, location, but, I actually didn’t think about this or 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 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.

It’s true. We never said. “Oh, they did this before like this.” No, we didn’t. You honor the material you have.

QUESTION: Queen Latifah, I thought the chemistry that you had with Condola Rashad was really authentic and I know you mentioned that you had very little time to shoot this movie. So what sort of things did you do to create the mother/daughter dynamic?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Well, I just met Condola. And we just kicked it. You know? We’re not our characters in real life. Let’s be clear about that. I’m not a mama and she’s a very healthy young woman. So it’s not like we were in real life our characters.

So we just met as La and Condola. And we shared bonds over music. She can sing amazingly and we played music for each other. We played the records we love. And we listened to a lot of diverse groups and we talked and we talked about what our visions were for things. But she’s extremely, extremely well practiced, well versed. I knew she would show up for the job.

So it wasn’t even about that. It was getting to know each other. And she’s a really, really cool girl. We didn’t talk too much fashion because we’re in different eras a little bit, not too much. We cross each other’s paths in a lot of different ways. And we talked about the material, we talked about the scenes, we talked about how we felt about our hair or our makeup that day. We just talked girl stuff. And we just bonded like that.

And that took literally a day or two. And it all fell into place. And she would be like, “Mama” and I would be like, “Hey, baby.” I would check on her because I automatically felt like a nurturing spirit towards her.

So I would check on her every day when I saw her. And when she’d see me, even if we were 50 yards apart across somewhere, she’d be like, “Mama” and I would be like, “Baby.” We just were endeared to one another. We were like she reminded me of a younger me.

And so she really felt like she could be my daughter. And I’m pretty sure she felt like I could be her mom even though we know who her mom is. So we felt that kindred spirit and a fighter spirit and an adventurous spirit.

And so we connected on the attributes that we share together even though we’re not related in that way. And we also encouraged each other in certain ways and inspired each other in certain ways and all those things happen in very simple conversations. And I felt protective of her.

And so if she wanted to try something I was like, “Okay, go there but don’t go there.” If it was a club in Atlanta I’m like, “Okay, this spot is popping tonight but don’t go to that spot because you might need security.”

It was very simple, just simple conversations about normal things that really adhered us to one another very quickly that made us also trust one another very quickly. And to this day I trust her, she trusts me. I think we have a bond that will withstand it - I think it translated through the movie. When it came to professional things it was like, “Okay, now we’re business, now let’s go to work.”

Those were the personal things that gave us an underlying connection to really fulfill what was expected of us on that screen through these characters.

QUESTION: I’m curious if you guys have a favorite scene or a favorite moment on set.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Can we say it?

CRAIG ZADAN: Go ahead.

NEIL MERON: Go ahead.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Kenny Leon walks around with a little box that says “F**k You.” And he won’t say it himself but he has a box that says it. And it sounds just great.

I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter how tired you are, how many hours we worked, when he presses this button it just breaks the mood. You’re having a serious conversation and it’s like, “What? Well that helped me out.”

NEIL MERON: Oh yeah.

Steel MagnoliasQUEEN LATIFAH: That’s not my favorite moment but that was one of the...

NEIL MERON: Not to sound to Pollyannaish but it was one of the most joyful sets that I’ve ever experienced because there was such harmony and such a dedication to the work and such good spirits and great material that it was a pleasure showing up every day.

QUESTION: When I saw the cast list I made this horrible presumption when I saw Phylicia Rashad and her daughter that they would play mother and daughter. Was that a really bad presumption? Or did you guys go about casting in terms of putting Queen Latifah as the mom instead of Phylicia?

NEIL MERON: I think we chose the best actress for each role. You think about - they’re actors. They’re actors first.

QUESTION: The length of the original movie in 1989 was 123 minutes long. I watched the two movies back to back and yours clocked in at 90 minutes, which I guess was for Lifetime purposes. Did you guys have to trim down a lot of scenes or was there anything truly difficult that you had to cut out from the 1989 version?

CRAIG ZADAN: You always have to adapt for television when a feature film can run any length of time because you can play in a movie theater whatever the time the movie runs. But on television you have a set amount of time and you have to fit the movie into that timeframe, including the act breaks.

So it was adapted, we hopefully did it artistically so that you felt like you got the complete vision of the material.

QUESTION: So obviously this is a brand new vision, a brand new imagining of this story people love. It’s not the first time that you’ve reimagined a classic and I would love to know your thoughts on balancing the opportunities and the obligations of reimagining something like this and also something like the Oscars, which is in your future.


CRAIG ZADAN: Oh yeah. That...

QUEEN LATIFAH: I’m excited. Sorry, I’m a little excited.

CRAIG ZADAN: Let’s see. Well first of all, each project is different. So you look at each project in a different way and we looked at this as a wonderful classic piece of material that we wanted to adapt with this cast.

And that was the priority and each time you go into a different project you look at it in a different style, a different set of eyes, a different purpose. And so it’s very hard to compare them because they’re so different and we felt like we were treating this with respect and the way we wanted to make this movie, the way we looked at this movie. So that’s what I have to say about that.

As far as the Oscars are concerned we’re just getting started. So we’re very honored and proud that the Academy asked us to produce the show. We’re thrilled and we’re just at the very, very, very beginning stages of planning what it might be and putting ideas together.

So people say you’re not going to tell us and the truth is we’re not going to tell because we don’t know yet because we’ve only had the job a couple of weeks and it’s brand new for us. So we’re moving along and hopefully we’ll have information in a month but we don’t have anymore information right now.

QUESTION: Are there things about Oscars past that you would love to - you’re doing your own thing, but that have inspired you? Moments that you would love to have people feel the same way about things you do?

NEIL MERON: Not to be evasive but 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.

QUESTION: Steel Magnolias is not a musical although you teased us by saying you’ve thought perhaps of making a musical out of it, which I’d love to hear more about.

But it sounds like the three of you, no matter what you’re doing, music in some ways seems to inform your process. Would you say that that’s true and in what ways?

NEIL MERON: Well, Latifah’s never heard me sing.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Well you’ve got a line of a bunch of bloggers. Let’s go for it.

NEIL MERON: Boom. No, no, no. Not today.

QUEEN LATIFAH: I say you start with a wee doo doo doo.

NEIL MERON: Not today. Not even the wobble.

QUEEN LATIFAH: No. That’s all right. I can say for myself music definitely informs my emotions. And I can literally play a song that will get me where I need to be emotionally. I don’t have to think about the tragic things that happened in my life or the greatest things that happened in my life.

I can just play a song that reflects that. And I think that’s a good gift to have. Because a lot of actors have to really dig deep and go into deep parts to their lives and I don’t have to do that.

I can just play a song and it’s great or it’s not so great or it feels some sort of way that makes me engage immediately. Maybe it’s the harmony on that song. Maybe it’s the strings or maybe it’s the horn, or maybe it’s a jazz song. Maybe it’s a hip hop song.

Maybe I’ve got to go hard. Maybe I’ve got to go light and it’s a hip hop song. But either way it can connect you immediately and it makes it feel - it actually shortens the time to get into that emotion, an emotional connection that you need to really portray whatever you need to do.

So I’m actually looking forward to - and I’ve lauded Neil and Craig already because I’m like, “Thank God they got you guys.”

Finally. You got the right group - you got the right guys because if there’s an emotional connection - otherwise I don’t enjoy - I think we all work really hard to do what we do. We have a lot of people to thank for what we do and where we’ve gotten.

But I think to inspire the viewer we have to share what we went through to get there. And that’s not about just linking 30 people. It’s about the moment sometimes. And you have to inform that moment for the viewer and that’s what will keep them coming.

So I’m looking forward to what they’re going to do. I know I’m putting pressure on them right now. But I think if anybody can come through it’ll be them. It will definitely be them.

QUESTION: Were you guys serious about imagining it as a musical and what leads you to think certain projects could even work as a musical?

CRAIG ZADAN: No. I don’t. Personally, I think that what it is, is fantastic and we’re proud of it and I personally don’t see it as a musical. So I see it as we’ve done our version of Steel Magnolias and that’s as far as we want to go because we think it’s terrific and we’re proud of it and we love it.

And that’s it. So there is no musical.

QUESTION: You talked about talking to Phylicia Rashad, a/k/a to many people Clair Huxtable, and her cool points. I would love it if you could say a little more about the interaction that you two got to have.

You both have that sitcom experience and I’d love to know more about the cool points and what the sitcom on your resume brought for you.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Clair Huxtable aside, Phylicia always reminded me of my mom. And she still does. She has a very calming voice. She knows how to talk to you in very subtle, soothing, calming ways. But she knows how to give you that look that lets you know we’re about to go to the bathroom and you’re about to get a butt whooping when you mess up. So she’s very - she’s funny. She’s amazing.

Honestly, she really reminds me of my mom so I felt like I had my mom on the set, my mom around me all the time because when she ever wanted to say something to me or if I wanted to say something to her or even with Condola, it wasn’t like, “Okay, you do it like this and you do it like that and you do it like this.”

The groundwork was already laid and they gave each other so much space I felt like I was seeing my mom and myself. When you put so much into your child and then you let them out into the world, then you have to release them but they always come home. And they always need your voice.

And so for me it was almost like having my mom’s voice, watching her interact with Condola, and there were certain things that I requested like, “Is there something there that you all do that can make these characters seem even closer?”

And there was a special thing that you’ll have to look at and find, but it was really just having conversations with her and talking to her about certain things that she’s gone through during her career. But these are very calm conversations.

And I can be very hyperactive if I need to be but I can be very calm when I need to be.

And it’s nice to hear someone who you can talk to who’s been through the gauntlet that you’ve been through, who’s run that gauntlet and can suggest things and also celebrate things that you’ve achieved. Because I don’t look at my career and say hey, I did this, I did that, I did this.

I’m looking at the next thing generally. So I don’t really have time to celebrate all that. I’m already off to the next 50 things that we’re trying to do.

So it’s nice to talk to someone who has that same mentality but they really can pause and…give you some words of wisdom and say hey, you’re doing good here. Maybe you should check out this here.

Maybe I suggest this here and it’s nice because you trust this person because you know they’ve been through it. They’ve gone through it and they’re doing it and they’re celebrating life. They’re not like the game’s over. No. The game’s only beginning. We’ve got many, many more years.

So I really enjoyed working with her. I always respected her. It was an interesting dichotomy to be with Alfre and her, with Phylicia and then to be with all of these younger up and coming and then Jill who’s my peer and musically she’s definitely my peer. But acting-wise she’s my peer as well and we’re around the same age group. And she’s been doing her thing and then to see Adepero and Condola coming up and doing their thing, it was watching the groups and then watching these boys and then Afemo who’s like the core that connects everyone because he’s just rock steady through the whole thing.

So he’s definitely on a higher level than me as well. I worked with him when I was younger, in my 20s or whatever. But he was too. But it’s interesting to watch all of these things evolve.

With that being said, she is amazing. She has a great way of keeping eyes on everything but keeping a certain distance and managing things but not being overbearing or micromanaging everything you do. So it was pretty awesome.

QUESTION: Craig and Neil, I think you may have alluded to this but did you want to do this project because you’ve worked with Latifah in the past and thought this is another fabulous opportunity to work together?

NEIL MERON: We were attracted to the material and the first person we thought of was Queen Latifah.

QUESTION: How much freedom did any of you have to make changes to the movie or to the script? I know that the wobble was added in and texting. Shelby texting her fiance was added in. So I’m just wondering how much freedom.

NEIL MERON: We did have freedom to make changes but what we ultimately wanted to do was to honor the material that it was based on. So we tried to respect that as much as we could while updating it and making the changes that were appropriate to setting the movie now, such as texting and Facebook and also the big change was now it’s possible for women to give birth with diabetes.

So we had to make sure that there were other complications involved that made pregnancy risky. So we consulted with doctors and then explored the idea of diabetes with a kidney ailment which seemed to be very, very, very, very serious.

QUESTION: [Have you] gotten any feedback from any of the original cast of the first movie? I know this isn’t remake but have you gotten any feedback from Dolly Parton?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Well did you ride that eagle?


QUEEN LATIFAH: That new ride in her - did you? You did?

QUESTION: Yes ma’am. Listen, I grew up in Tennessee. So Dollywood is one of my favorite places.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Can we digress for a minute and talk about that new ride with the - did you ride that ride?

QUESTION: No, I have not ridden it yet.

QUEEN LATIFAH: That roller coaster?

QUESTION: No. I have ridden the indoor roller coaster though.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Well she got the new one that came out this summer. I’ve got to get down there and ride that thing.

And she can burn a pot. She cooks.


QUEEN LATIFAH: She cooks every day. Okay. All right. So now okay, let me back up off that though because you just sent me into a whole other world. So listen, I want some Dolly Parton cooking. I definitely want some of her - some chicken gumbo, you know?

QUESTION: Some biscuits and gravy.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Some dumplings. Oh yeah. I want some dumplings and some fudge and I want to get on that ride.

Okay. Now well the movie hasn’t even come out so how - we haven’t gotten any - I don’t think any of us, from what I understand, have gotten any feedback.



QUEEN LATIFAH: But I don’t think...

CRAIG ZADAN: Because nobody’s seen it.

Steel MagnoliasQUEEN LATIFAH: No, no one’s even seen the film. And honestly, knowing a few of them I don’t think they’re looking for us to knock them off the block. Do you know what I mean? It’d be great, but that’s not the attitude that we’re approaching this with. This is a whole different scenario. And so we’re not calling all of them like. “Okay, what do you think?” Because you can’t - that’s a whole separate scenario.

Had more people seen the stage productions of it they would probably say “Did you call this person and that?” But you’re not. You saw the film so you’re saying what do you think about it? I don’t think they’re thinking that.

I think anyone who watches - I’m an avid television watcher. I love watching movies. I’m a great movie watcher. I’m only doing this because I love watching movies and I love watching TV. I love getting in the mirror with my brush and making up scenes and stuff. This is the kid in me that made me this person, just loving this medium.

But no, I don’t think anyone is looking at this and saying well did she do as good a job as me? Absolutely not. No one is doing that. I think if anything they just want to watch some good TV, and this is going to be on Lifetime and it’s going to be great. And so I think anyone would just watch it and if they don’t think it’s great they won’t. But I think pretty much people will.

CRAIG ZADAN: We just hope that people watch the movie and we’re very proud of it. And we hope that this being the third project that Queen Latifah has done with us we can’t wait for the fourth.

QUEEN LATIFAH: For sure. I like it. I just hope that people tune in and watch it and experience something unique. There is so much to watch out there but I think this is extremely special and I think it will be something that will live in people’s hearts for years to come. So I hope everyone tunes in to watch.

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