When you’re remaking a movie as classic and beloved as the tearjerker “Steel Magnolias,” you have to walk a fine line between paying tribute to the film and merely imitating the original performances. It was easy for Alfre Woodard to make her part all her own, though, considering she hadn’t seen “Steel Magnolias.”
It’s Woodard’s dirty little secret, which actually works to her advantage. She explains, “You want to pay homage to the first wife, but you don’t want to ask your
husband, ‘How did the first wife kiss you?’ So having it just
in 2012 in a visual language that they can understand will make fans
hold on to the original even more, because it becomes part of a
Producer and star Queen Latifah (matriarch M’Lynn, originally played by Sally Field) had seen “Steel Magnolias,” but made it a point not to re-watch before starting production. “For me it was important not to revisit that film, and that’s just because we want to embody these characters ourselves. So to revist what they did, which was amazing, was just impossible.”
For the most part, the Lifetime remake is very faithful to the original film. Aside from a few lines about Beyonce and iPhones (true indicators of our times, naturally), the only major change came in the medical problems that M’Lynn’s daughter, Shelby (Condola Rashad, originated by Julia Roberts), faces.
Explains producer Craig Zadan, “We updated one thing, which was the diabetes part of it. In the original movie, [Shelby] merely had diabetes. They’ve come such a long way with medical care that we went to specialists and talked to them about what could work in this movie, setting it in contemporary time. The doctors told us that a kidney complication with the diabetes would make it very dangerous to have the child. So that’s the one thing we really changed.”
Ultimately, Woodard says the “Steel Magnolias” story is timeless because it really focuses on the relationship between women. “We are this far along telling the story of how women … [have] an organic bond. I think that’s why we get crazy with each other, and the world wants to tell the story that women are catty with each other. But it’s such a strong, organic bond that’s older than all of us — it’s ancient. That energy is so kinetic … that energy recognizes each other. That is a place you go when you hurt, when you need to be caught, when you need to be understood, when you need to be angry. Whatever it is, women have that. My daughter, who’s 21, knows that energy. My niece, who is 3, knows that energy. It is a universal and classic story that’s about something that’s ancient.”
“Steel Magnolias” airs Sunday, Oct. 7 at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.