On Monday, October 7, 2012, Lifetime will present a new adaptation of the iconic play, and hit movie, Steel Magnolias (9/8C). The cast includes Queen Latifah, Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott, Adepero Oduye and Condola Rashad.
Producers Queen Latifah, Craig Zadan and Neil Maron – who last worked together on the movie adaptation of Chicago, took an hour to talk about the whys and wherefores of bringing this story to television via Lifetime.
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Queen Latifah: Thank you.
So the first question is for Queen Latifah. Can you talk about kind of what you’ve done to prepare for this role since obviously it is, you know, one we’ve seen before?
Craig Zadan: You haven’t seen it before.
Latifah: I basically…
Well, you know, I’ve seen the original before.
Latifah: Yeah. Jump in boys. Help me out because that’s…
Neil Meron: Well just to answer for Queen Latifah is I think…
Zadan: That’s Neil by the way.
Meron: …Queen Latifah – this is Neil – prepared for it as any actress prepares for a role as if doing it fresh and creating the character that was on the page.
Okay. And then I also wanted to ask can you talk about how this version is going to be different than the original?
Latifah: Boys, I think you can definitely approach that.
Zadan: Yeah. I mean basically it’s…
Latifah: That’s Craig talking by the way.
Zadan: This is Craig. I’m sorry. Yeah, this is Craig. Yeah, 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, you know, it may have been done originally the play earlier, you know, 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.
Okay, great. And will we get to hear any of your music on the soundtrack Queen Latifah?
Latifah: I wish.
Latifah: I wish. No. I mean it wasn’t really about the music. It was really more about performances. I mean if you were to hear my music you might as well hear (Bill)’s music and hear, you know, Phylicia sing and you would want to hear Alfre sing because that would be – hold on one second.
Latifah: Yeah. You would want to hear Alfre sing because it would be the best worst thing you’ve ever heard which would be awesome. She’d probably be singing some, you know, attempted Tootsie Roll music whether it be jelly roll because that’s what she likes.
But no, I mean I think the music is going to be really beautiful and really apropos to what we’re trying, you know, really apply to the material. But I mean, you know, we could make a musical out of it. We’ve been talking about it.
Meron: Oh yeah.
My first question is for Queen Latifah. Given M’Lynn’s journey throughout the story how much support did you receive from the other actresses in order to play her effectively?
Latifah: Well first of all, I mean 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, you know, 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. Hello?
Zadan: We’re all here.
Latifah: I hope they’re still getting this.
Zadan: No, everyone’s here. Everyone’s here.
Latifah: But 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 a very, you know, very much a – it was almost like a whirlpool of acting talent, love, support, pushing, you know, 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, you know, at the end of the day. We all have to show up and do our job regardless of our life circumstances or situations. We just – we don’t have to do it with an attitude or whatever but, you know, maybe we do that day.
You know, but it really – 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 I mean how can you have Clair Huxtable and not pick her brain? But she’s super – she’s super – this is the world’s mom. I mean she was the Michelle Obama before Michelle Obama.
You know, so it’s like, you know, how can you have her around and not pick her brain a little bit? But she is not – she’s not Clair Huxtable. She is Phylicia Rashad and she’s a different person and she has so many – so much more cool points than Clair ever even had.
You know, she’s got all that and then some. And it’s so much more. And so I mean 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, you know, is so – it’s great in itself. And so everyone had to kind of show up and do their best job and get off of, you know, your real life and get into this life.
And so I think it was pretty awesome. I mean, you know, ups and downs – the crew had to deliver. You know, the support didn’t just come from the cast, it came from the crew. It came from everyone from the, you know, the person – the security guard at the gate or the person turning on the heat.
You know, the grips, the lighting, you know, our DP, everyone, you know? So the support was, you know, everywhere to accomplish something in such a short amount of time but to make a great piece of work.
Thank you. My first question is for Queen Latifah. 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 the character – your character’s daughter in the show had the condition and that that was, you know, what she died from.
Latifah: No. It did in a sense but my grandmother is so cool that you would never know. You know? Shelby is trying to do more than she can ever – I mean 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, you know, shoot some guns or ride a motorcycle or drive NASCAR or just be a mama with five kids, you know, 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, you know, 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, you know, 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, you know, sleep deprivation, you know, or sleep apnea. It could be so many different things so, you know, an illness is an illness. You know, and especially if it affects younger kids, you know.
If you’re prematurely born or if you have, you know, things happening when you’re like a baby being born. If you have to learn how to walk right or if there’s something wrong with, you know, your gait or, you know, just, you know, 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. Just – as well as my family members want me to be healthy. So you – 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 kind of helpless. So that emotion – those emotions, they cross a big barometer.
You know, boys, you can jump in at any time.
Latifah: But I think those things cross a – they’re a big, broad stroke when it comes to, you know, someone who you care about or even who you don’t even know. It could be a dog, you know, who doesn’t have food.
You know, when it comes to someone who is feeling not at 100% or who doesn’t have control over their health, you know, you want – 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. You know, I’ve had several, you know, 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…
Meron: Yeah, but what you’re saying is, you know, what you’re saying is that it just lends itself to the universal nature of what the film is about is that…
Meron: …we come together when people are needy. When people need you pull together as a community…
Meron: …and you help.
Latifah: Yes. When there’s a need you show up. And it doesn’t matter what that need is. But it – if there’s a need you show up.
And for Craig and Neil – thank you Queen Latifah. For Craig and Neil…
Latifah: You’re welcome.
…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, you know, 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.
Meron: Well I – this is Neil. 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, women roles are written as well as these roles. And we want to show off our great actresses.
Zadan: Also I mean in terms of – this is Craig. In terms of casting I think that you have to understand that, you know, we were looking at it again based on what’s on the page not on what’s been done previously. So, you know, I – 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. She – Jill…
Zadan: …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.
Latifah: Because let’s be serious, none of us have like an eagle ride in an amusement park okay? I wish we did.
Meron: And none of you played a flying nun.
Latifah: Hey. Come on. I mean you got to be a flying nun – they need to get their Sally on.
Meron: That’s right.
Latifah: You know, we’ve still got a little work to do.
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.
Latifah: Oh, you’re very welcome. I’m trying my best.
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. I mean did you all go out to dinner or, you know, spend home at nights together, you know, making dinner with each other?
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, you know, 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 makeup trailer – hair and makeup trailer together just playing music and, you know, just kind of watching videos or, you know, because Adepero and Condola were always on the iPad and we, you know, she’s always playing Ms. Pac-Man on her iPad and we – 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, you know, and Alfre is telling us the stories of things and crying because her kids are, you know, moving onto college and running out the house and – but it’s very serene.
Like it – our down time sometimes was just a little conversation. And every once in a while we would pause and just every once in a while we would just give pause because we actually appreciate the fact that we were doing this film which, you know, was – the fact that we were all together that, you know, we had – we felt like we had come to a place that was so important.
And we were appreciate – we would just sometimes just have appreciation. Jill’s birthday – Jill had her birthday like barely into shooting, like maybe four days – two or four days into the first, you know, couple of days of shooting and we had, you know, we celebrated her with a cake and stuff.
But, you know, we were shooting at this church and we were shooting kind of a serious scene because they were like either wedding scenes or kind of cemetery scenes, you know, like funeral scenes. And – but we had like a cake for her and we just kind of took a moment and we just kind of looked at each other. And we thought wow, you know, this is pretty amazing. Like we all admired each other so much.
But we all encourage each other as well and we thought about things and we talked about, you know, Jill’s son and I, you know, Phylicia and I talked about kids, you know, her, you know, parent experience and, you know, all that kind of stuff, just regular, simple conversation.
It wasn’t really – but then you’ve got to count on Alfre to be – to always be like the one that’s going to break up the monotony. So Alfre would always – I mean this is monotonous conversation, just regular conversations. But 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. And I’m like, you know, this woman is crazy like, so it’s kind of just like fun, lighthearted stuff. We didn’t really have time to get all into the, you know, should we go to – where are we going to eat tonight?
It was – it’s not the typical kind of 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 just break it up and then we’d just laugh because we thought it was something serious and then we’d just laugh and go right back into our serious work, you know? So it was kind of like that kind of thing.
And Craig and Neil if you could talk a little bit about partnering with Lifetime TV for the movie as well. How did Lifetime come to land such a great remake or – of the film and the play?
Meron: Craig, do you want to take it?
Zadan: Sure. This is Craig. 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. But we – 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, 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? You know, just like and me – don’t even talk to us about it. Just start shooting. Just like 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.
Before I ask a question I just have to tell Queen Latifah me and my sister are big fans of yours and we’ve watched, you know, you on Living Single and your rap career and your HSN clothing line and so we’re just really big fans of yours.
Latifah: Nice. Thank you.
And my question is well the movie is going to be I guess really important for all people that watch the – that watch Lifetime but especially for it 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 recast or not recast but cast with minority actors and – but are usually traditionally Caucasian roles there’s sometimes a bit of a thing with some people. So have you had any kind of negative response or is it mostly just positive?
Meron: This is Neil. And I – if there is push back we’re not aware of it. And I think more than most films we’ve done, you know, 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.
Latifah: I agree.
Great. And how do you think – well you’ve been talking a lot about how the film is universal. How do you think the audience – the Lifetime audience will receive this film in general?
Latifah: Well 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 and – or any days off that we have which, you know, weekends or it can be any days. But she’s watching Lifetime. And I think, you know, for Lifetime viewers, you know, the die hard Lifetime viewers are going to absolutely love it.
I think though that there’s a new audience for, you know, Lifetime viewers, you know, for non-Lifetime, typically non-Lifetime viewers to, you know, take a look at something that’s really special and find the network and find what’s happening there and find real, you know, emotional connections to what you’re watching rather than just some like quick hit and go but something that really resonates with you. So I think people are going to really love it.
My first question is for 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?
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 just 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 know, 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 the – maybe a different aspect than Neil and Craig were so I could, you know, relay that to them or relay things to Kenny Leon.
My role is not to be, you know, the boss on the ground so to speak or the director, you know, 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, you know, kind of act like I’m, you know, running the joint, you know? It’s a team thing. And that’s kind of where I come from when it comes to wearing these two hats.
And of course to make sure that everyone knows about this film, you know, about how great it is and what we did when we, you know, what we’ve made and what we want you to share, you know, what – the experience that we want you to share in Steel Magnolias. That’s my part. You know? So I have – it’s not like 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, you know, back up.
And then for Neil and Craig, what do you guys like about working together? You guys have collaborated a lot with story line entertainment so, you know, what makes you a successful team?
Meron: This is Neil. I think we share a similar vision and when our opinions differ I think it only makes the work even stronger because, you know, 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. You know, it’s – we just love – we love what we do and we love the projects we work on. And I – and hopefully it comes through in the finished product.
Zadan: I think also – this is Craig. This is Craig. I think that the other answer that – 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, you know, 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…
Latifah: And that’s why I would take that job without even having read the script first, all of that…
Zadan: That’s right.
Meron: That’s true.
Latifah: No cast. No crew. I believe…
Meron: Queen – yeah.
Latifah: …all of them. Put it like that.
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.
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 like okay, we’re locked in. They’ve got their eyes on the prize. It’s tunnel vision. We’re going to make this, you know, a success in every possible way. But it’s a – 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 I mean that’s important, you know, for someone who like wants to just – you sign on sight unseen? Well yeah, when you know who you’re dealing with. And these guys are the best.
Zadan: Oh, thank you.
Meron: And we love actors by the way. We love actors.
Zadan: We love Queen.
Latifah: …Neil needs a better pair of sneakers and…
Latifah: …as good as mine.
Meron: Hey. You want my shoes.
Latifah: He always – he be trying to battle me. He be trying to battle me but, you know, my kicks look fresher than his sometimes.
Meron: Well, mine is…
Latifah: And if his is fresher than mine I’m going to call somebody.
Meron: Dana mine is style. It’s all style.
Latifah: I know. You’ve got (unintelligible).
Meron: Very expensive scuff marks.
Latifah: High quality scuff marks.
Meron: Yeah, that’s it.
My question is for Queen Latifah. We’ve heard you talking about adoption. Do you have any plans in place to adopt?
Latifah: Do I have any plans in place?
Latifah: 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 – no, honestly I’ve always wanted to adopt since I was a child. You know, like I saw an ABC special and I’ve always wanted to adopt since I was a kid. You know, and I love Eight is Enough which you probably don’t even know that show. But, you know, it’s just – I know, right?
Latifah: It’s like having a bunch – I’ve always loved the idea of having like a house full of people. I mean 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.
You know, like that’s just kind of, you know, 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, you know, I’m the parent to many people whether you realize it or not. It just doesn’t look like it from the outside world. But I would absolutely adopt. You know, and that’s something that I definitely, you know, see in the future just because why not? I mean 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.
Zadan: As far as we’re concerned she adopted us a long time ago.
Zadan: And we’re the luckiest kids…
Latifah: Do you know how old my kids are?
Zadan: …in the world. We’re her kids and we’re the luckiest kids in the world.
Latifah: Thank you.
I want to say that Steel Magnolias, your version, I think is better than the original.
Meron: Well thank you.
Yeah. I mean it just – it blew me away this weekend. And so…
Zadan: Well thank you. That’s very sweet.
You guys have done several revivals both musicals and plays. Which one is easier to adapt?
Meron: Adapt what, for film?
Well for film or television because you also did Raisin in the Sun for television. And then, you know, you’ve obviously done several movies. But which is easier – is it easier to redo the musical or the play?
Meron: This is Neil. I think they’re equally challenging because what they’re doing is basically translating one medium to another. So you – 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.
And I wanted to thank you guys for Sing. I love that movie.
Meron: Oh, thanks. That was a long time ago.
It’s one of my favorites.
Meron: Oh my god.
Going back to Steel Magnolias, can you talk about the casting and how you got like so many great actresses to be part of this show – be part of the movie?
Meron: Craig do you want to…
Zadan: I’m sorry. How – I’m not sure that I understand – could you repeat it just one more time?
How did you get so many great actresses to be part of the movie? Like what, you know, did…
Zadan: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. There was clicking on the line. I couldn’t hear you. I apologize.
Oh, no worries. I…
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.
Latifah: So you know how much money they owe me right?
Zadan: A lot. A lot.
Meron: A lot of money.
Zadan: No, so we, you know, everybody wanted to be part of the project and so we would decide with Queen Latifah who we wanted to go to. And we went to certain – because, you know, 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.
Latifah: Now back to this adoption thing. No, I’m just playing. Go ahead.
This question is for Queen Latifah. I love that you choose positive and inspiring work. What is your personal criteria for choosing which projects to do?
Latifah: Well first of all it’s the quality of the material and also it’s who’s involved, you know, who’s a part of what we’re going to do. And then it’s also, you know, I like to kind of 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 like big, fun comedies, big animated movies for kids like I want to do things for my nieces and nephews. So I mean my – it’s always been a kind of a full circle moment for how I choose material.
But I think, you know, a lot of it is based upon, you know, what the material is and then who’s involved, you know, and who is it going to service. You know, 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 I think, you know, if it makes my, you know, my nephew laugh or my niece laugh then I think it’s good. You know, if it makes someone laugh or cry then those things are good.
I mean it’s a very varied, you know, I definitely service, you know, my African-American audience but I also want to service other audiences, you know, 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 a different, you know, different cultures.
So if there’s something that can, you know, kind of be involved in that sense I always want to, you know, give a little something there. So it varies, you know, but ultimately those are the main things. As long as we service the audience, we give people the entertaining night, you know, that’s kind of how I choose things.
Awesome. You’re making great choices. I’m a big fan.
Latifah: And of course I mean – go ahead.
Oh no. Go ahead.
Latifah: No, it’s just I always have like a woman thing in there.
That’s probably like why I’m such a big fan because I love your work.
Latifah: Thank you.
And then for all three of you, since all three of you produced this, what were the biggest challenges to overcome to produce this new version of Steel Magnolias?
Meron: You know what? This is Neil. I…
Latifah: Location. Location. Location.
Meron: Well location but, you know, 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, 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.
Meron: Well it’s true actually. I mean we never said oh, they did this before like this. No, we didn’t. You honor the material you have.
So my first question is actually for Queen Latifah. I’ve got to say, I thought the chemistry that you had with Condola Rashad was, you know, really authentic and I know you mentioned that you had kind of very little time to, you know, to shoot this movie. So what sort of things did you do to kind of create the mother/daughter dynamic?
Latifah: Well I just met Condola. You know, and we just kicked it. You know? She’s – we’re not our characters in real life. You know, let’s be clear about that. I’m not a mama, you know, and she’s a very healthy young woman. So it’s not like we were, you know, really in real life our characters.
So we just kind of met as La and Condola, you know? And we shared bonds over music. She can sing amazingly, you know, and we played music for each other. We played our – the records we love. And we listened to a lot of diverse groups and, you know, and we just like talked and we talked about, you know, what our visions were for things. But I mean she’s extremely, extremely well practiced, well versed. I knew she would show up for the job, you know.
So it wasn’t even like just about that. It was just kind of getting to know each other. And she’s a really, really cool girl. You know, we didn’t talk too much fashion, you know, because we’re in different eras a little bit, not too much. You know, we definitely cross – we cross each other paths in a lot of different ways. And, you know, 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 was like – and that took literally a day or two. And then – and it kind of just all fell into place. And, you know, and we – and she would be like Mama and I would be like hey baby. I would check on her because I just 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 like, you know, 50 yards apart across somewhere she’d be like Mama and I would be like baby. You know? We just kind of were endeared to one another. We were kind of like she reminded me of a younger me.
You know? And so she really felt like she could be my daughter, you know. And I’m pretty sure she kind of felt like I could be her mom even though we know who her mom is. You know, so it kind of – we kind of felt that kindred spirit and a fighter spirit and, you know, 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, you know, and inspired each other in certain ways and all those things happen in very simple conversations. And I felt protective of her.
You know, and so if she wanted to try something I was like okay, well go there but don’t go there. You know? If it was a club in Atlanta I’m like okay, well this spot is popping tonight but don’t go to that spot because you might need security, you know? It might be, you know, it was very simple, you know, 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, you know, 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. You know, those were the personal things that gave us like an underlying connection to really fulfill what was expected of us on that screen through these characters.
For sure. And I guess my next question is for all three of you. I’m just curious if you guys have a favorite scene or a favorite moment on set.
Latifah: Can we say it?
Zadan: Go ahead.
Meron: Go ahead.
Latifah: Kenny Leon has – he 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 like breaks the mood. Like you’re having a serious conversation and it’s like what? Well that helped me out.
Meron: Oh yeah.
Latifah: That’s not my favorite moment but that was one of the…
Meron: No, it, you know, not to sound too 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.
Hey. Thank you guys for coming to Atlanta. Thank you guys.
Meron: Sure. We love Atlanta.
Drop Dead Diva. Footloose. Yeah, you guys love it here.
Zadan: Yeah. We love Atlanta.
Meron: And Queen Latifah has another show there too.
That’s right. She was just there not too long ago with Dolly Parton of all people. But, you know…
Latifah: And my girl Regina King is shooting there right now.
That’s right. Well, you know, when I saw the cast list I made this horrible presumption when I say 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?
Meron: This is Neil. I think we chose the best actress for each role. You know, you think about – you – they’re actors. They’re actors first.
Yes. Yes. That’s true. And in terms of the length of the original movie in 1989 was 123 minutes long. Just sort of a back to back – 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 how did it go – what was – was there anything truly difficult that you had to cut out from the 1989 version?
Zadan: Well you always have to, you know, you always have to adapt for television when, you know, 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 and – including the act breaks. So, you know, it was adapted so that, you know, we hopefully did it artistically so that you felt like you got the complete vision of the material.
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 just love to know your thoughts on balancing the opportunities and maybe the obligations of reimagining something like this and also something like the Oscars which is in your future.
Latifah: Oh yeah.
Zadan: Oh yeah. That…
Latifah: I’m excited. Sorry, I’m a little excited.
Zadan: Let’s see. Well first of all, you know, each project is different. So you look at each project in a different way and we, you know, 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, you know, 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, you know, so it’s very hard to compare them because they’re so different and we felt like we were, you know, 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 it’s just – 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.
Are there things about Oscars past that you would love to – I mean you’re doing your own thing – you’re doing your – but that have inspired you? Moments that you would love to have people feel the same way about things you do?
Meron: I would say – and 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.
So obviously 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 no matter what you’re doing, 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?
Meron: Well Latifah’s never heard me sing.
Latifah: Well, you know, you’ve got a line of a bunch of bloggers. Let’s go for it.
Meron: Boom. No, no, no. Not today.
Latifah: I say you start with a wee doo doo doo.
Meron: Not today. Not even the wobble.
Latifah: No. That’s all right. Well 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, you know, 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. You know? Because, you know, 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 in – and – or it’s not so great or it’s – 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, you know, the horn, you know, or maybe it’s a jazz song. Maybe it’s a hip hop song. Maybe I’ve got to go hard. You know? 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 kind of 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.
Latifah: Finally. You know, you got the right group – you got the right guys because I mean if there’s an emotional connection – otherwise it’s just like, you know, I don’t enjoy – I mean 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, you know, to get there. And that’s not about just linking 30 people. It’s kind of about the moment sometimes. And you have to inform that moment for the viewer and that’s what will keep them coming.
You know, 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.
Were you guys serious about the idea of like let’s say Steel Magnolias on Lifetime is such a resonant, fantastic hit that people want more. Were you serious about imagining it as a musical and what leads you to think certain projects can – some projects could work…
…could even work as a musical?
Zadan: I don’t…
Zadan: I don’t. Personally – this is Craig, 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, you know, 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 sort of it. So there is no musical.
And so one last thing which is you talked about talking to Phylicia Rashad, a/k/a to many people, Clair Huxtable and her cool points. And I would just – I would love it if you could say a little more about the interaction that you two got to have. And you have kind of that similar – you both have that sitcom experience and other – I’d love to know more about the cool points and maybe what the sitcom on your resume, you know, brought for you.
Latifah: Well for me not only does – 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. 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, you know, when you mess up. So but she’s very – she’s funny. She’s amazing.
I mean honestly she really kind of reminds me of my mom so I kind of felt like I had my mom on the set, you know, 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, Condola got to do – it wasn’t like a – okay you do it like this and you do it like that and you do it like this. The ground work was already laid and they gave each other so much space I felt – I kind of 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, you know?
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, you know, certain things that I requested like okay, what – is there something here – 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, you know, certain things that she’s gone through during her career. But there – these are very calm conversations. And I’m not a, you know, I’m – 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, you know. 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, you know, it’s nice to like talk to someone who has that same sort of mentality but, you know, they really can pause and say hey, you know, (unintelligible) and really, you know, 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, you know, the game’s over. No. The game’s only beginning.
You know, 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 kind of my peer and musically she’s definitely my peer, you know? But acting wise she’s my peer as well and she – we’re around the same age group, you know. And she’s been doing her thing and then to see, you know, Adepero and Condola coming up and doing their thing it was kind of watching the groups and then watching these boys and then, you know, Afemo who’s this – he’s like the core that connects everyone because he’s just like rock steady through the whole thing. So he’s definitely on a higher level than me as well. I mean I worked with him when I was like younger in, you know, my 20s or whatever. But, you know, he was too. But it’s kind of interesting to watch all of these things evolve.
With that being said she is amazing. She has a great way of keeping, you know, keeping eyes on everything but keeping a certain distance and really managing things but not, you know, being overbearing or micromanaging everything you do. You know? So it was pretty awesome.
That is a lot of cool points. Thank you very much. And I’m sorry, Craig and Neil I think you may have kind of 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? Or was it…
Meron: We were attracted to the material and the first person we thought of was Queen Latifah.
This question is actually for Queen Latifah. I’m actually a huge…
Again. Actually it’s for all of you but I want to know…
Latifah: Boys, have my back.
I actually watched it yesterday. Me and my husband watched it yesterday and we loved it. And I wondered how much freedom did any of you have to actually make changes to the movie or to the script? I know that the wobble was added in and texting. You know, Shelby texting her fiance´ was added in. So I’m just wondering how much freedom.
Meron: This is Neil. 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 – give – 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.
Okay. And my other question is just if you’ve 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 because I’m from Tennessee and I’m a huge Dolly Parton fan. And I’m wondering if you’ve gotten any feedback from her.
Latifah: Well did you ride that eagle?
Latifah: That new ride in her – did you? You did?
Yes ma’am. Listen, I grew up in Tennessee. So Dollywood…
Latifah: Can we digress for a minute and…
…is one of my favorite places.
Latifah: …just talk about that new ride with the – did you ride that ride?
I have – no, I have not ridden it yet.
Latifah: That roller coaster?
Latifah: Oh man. See that’s…
I have ridden the indoor roller coaster though.
Latifah: Well she got the new one that came out this summer. I’ve got to get down there and ride that thing.
I haven’t been home yet. I’m going back at Thanksgiving. Yeah, you need to.
You need to.
Latifah: So Thanksgiving.
That’s – you know what?
Latifah: And she, you know, she can burn a pot. She cooks.
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?
Some biscuits and gravy.
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…
Latifah: …gotten any – I don’t think any of us from what I understand have gotten any feedback.
Latifah: But I don’t think…
Zadan: Because nobody’s seen it.
Latifah: I really – no, no one’s even seen the film. And…
Latifah: …honestly knowing a few of them I don’t think they’re looking for us to, you know, knock them off the block. Do you know what I mean? Like not…
Latifah: I mean it’d be great, you know, but that’s not the attitude that, you know, we’re approaching this with. This is a whole different scenario. And so we’re not calling all of them like okay, well what do you think about – because you can’t – that’s a whole separate scenario. I mean had more people seen the stage productions of it they would probably say did you call this person and that – but you’re not.
Latifah: You just – you saw the film…
Latifah: …so you’re saying should we call this – 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.
You know? I love getting in the mirror with my brush, you know, and making up scenes and stuff. I mean this is the kid in me that made me this person, you know, just loving what – this medium. But no, I don’t think anyone is looking at, you know, this and saying well did she do as good a job as me? Absolutely not, you know?
Latifah: No one is doing that. I think if anything…
Latifah: …anyone – they just want to watch some – a good TV, you know, and this is going to be on Lifetime and it’s going to be great. And so I think they’ll just – anyone would just watch it and if they don’t think it’s great they won’t. But I think pretty much people will.
Devon Sanceda: Thank you everyone for joining. We are all finished with this conference call. But Craig, Neil or Queen Latifah, is there anything you want to add before we disconnect?
Zadan: No. 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.
Meron: And (unintelligible).
Latifah: For sure. I like it. Well I just hope that people watch – 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.
Devon Sanceda: Thank you all. (Anthony) this – we are finished with the conference call. Queen, Craig and Neil you can disconnect. Thank you.
Zadan: Thank you so much.
Meron: Okay. Thank you everyone. Bye.
Zadan: Thank you.
Latifah: All right, guys.
Photos courtesy of Lifetime/Sony Television