Craig Zadan and Neil Meron aren’t afraid to reimagine a classic, whether they’re turning a stage hit into an award-winning movie (Chicago, Hairspray), or taking on the Academy Awards (perhaps you heard a little something about their surprise choice for host).
Now, they’ve created a new vision of Steel Magnolias, which will premiere this weekend on Lifetime. The project reunited them with Queen Latifah (indelible as Mama in Chicago and Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray). “We decided that we had done really fun and exciting and quality work together as a team,” Zadan said. “So we wanted to be together again and then we went to Lifetime and … without a second’s delay they said to us, ‘When can you start shooting?’ ”
The adaptation of the beloved film and stage play features an all-star cast of amazing women: Latifah (who’s also an executive producer), Phylicia Rashad, Adepero Oduye, Condola Rashad, Jill Scott and Alfre Woodard. And they shot it in 18 days. “Every once in a while we would pause and appreciate the fact that we were doing this film,” Latifah said. “We felt like we had come to a place that was so important.”
Some other excerpts from their recent conversation with reporters, which happened before the Seth MacFarlane-as-Oscar-host news:
Stephanie Reid-Simons: I would just love to know your thoughts on balancing the opportunities and obligations of producing something like Steel Magnolias — and also something like the Oscars.
Craig Zadan: Well first of all, you know, each project is different. So you look at each project in a different way. We looked at this (Steel Magnolias) as a wonderful classic piece of material that we wanted to adapt with this cast. That was the priority. Each time you go into a different project you look at it in a different style, a different set of eyes, a different purpose.
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. … We don’t have any more information right now.
Stephanie Reid-Simons: Are there things about Oscars past that have inspired you? Moments that you would love for people to recall, or to experience in a new way?
Neil 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 emotion.
Queen Latifah: You know, I’m so 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.
Stephanie Reid-Simons: You talked about working with Phylicia Rashad, aka (to many people) Clair Huxtable, and all her cool points. I’d love to hear more about that. You both have sitcoms on your resume — did that add to your interactions?
Queen Latifah: 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 … 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.
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 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 really, you know, give you some words of wisdom and say hey, you’re doing good here.