The 1989 classic — also starring Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Daryl Hannah and a young Julia Roberts — is now playing in select theaters

By Nigel Smith
May 19, 2019 09:00 AM

The legendary Southern sisterhood is still strong with the women of Steel Magnolias.

30 years after its debut in theaters, Shirley MacLaine tells PEOPLE her fellow all-star cast of women — Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field and Daryl Hannah — still keep in touch to this day.

“We check in with each other,” she says. “Not all the time, but we know what we’re doing.”

Steel Magnolias, based on the 1987 play of the same name, explored the relationships and sisterhood of a group of women in a small Southern community. MacLaine, 85, played Louisa “Ouiser” Boudreaux, the grouchy one of the group with a hardened heart of gold.

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the film is returning to select theaters May 19, 21 and 22, courtesy of TCM’s Big Screen Classics series.

In a cast full of Hollywood A-listers, MacLaine recalls being most “impressed” with country superstar Parton.

Steel Magnolias

“She was the only one who didn’t complain about the heat,” the actress says, laughing. “And she was the one wearing the 10 inch heels and the waist cincher of 18 inches. And she never complained about a thing. And a wig that was huge!”

Dolly Parton at the Steel Magnolias premiere in 1989
Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

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As for who she was closest to on set, MacLaine says Dukakis. “First off, all our scenes were almost all together,” she explains. “Julia was going through what she was going through in her young life. And Dolly, I think, was writing songs up in her bedroom in her house, or something.”

Roberts, a relative newcomer at the time, scored the film’s sole Oscar nomination. The young actress was filming her breakout romantic comedy Mystic Pizza (1988) when she nabbed the heartbreaking role of Shelby Eatenton Latcherie in Steel Magnolias. Her devastating performance landed her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. (She would later go on to win Best Actress for Erin Brockovich in 2001.)

Julia Roberts at the Steel Magnolias premiere in 1989
S. Granitz/WireImage

As MacLaine tells PEOPLE, she knew from the second she met her, that Roberts would go on to become a star.

“We were rehearsing on a sound stage, I can’t remember where, and she walks in,” MacLaine remembers. “And the way she walked into the room and sat down and said hello… I got up from the table and called my agent before we even started to rehearse. I said, ‘There’s a woman here and she’s going to be a huge star. You should handle her,’ I told him. She was amazing. The energy that she had just walking into the sound stage.”