This interview was completed before the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.
Sweet Magnolias is headed back to Serenity — and the cast gave Us a glimpse at what to expect from their characters in season 3.
“We’re depicting real life. We see that journey,” Justin Bruening, 43, who plays Cal Maddox on the Netflix series, exclusively told Us Weekly. “People are changing, they’re evolving. Some for the better, some for the worse, some in between but we’re all [changing].”
Based on the bestselling books of the same name by Sherryl Woods, Sweet Magnolias became an instant hit after it premiered in May 2020. The romantic drama centers around childhood best friends Maddie Townsend (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), Helen Decatur (Heather Headley) and Dana Sue Sullivan (Brooke Elliott) as their lasting bond guides them through parenthood, romance and adulthood in their small South Carolina town.
Season 2 answered many fans’ burning questions before dropping even more bombshell surprises. Season 3, meanwhile, premieres on Thursday, July 20, and will pick up on the heels of season 2’s biggest cliffhangers. While Maddie focuses her attention on Cal after his blowout fight at Dana Sue’s restaurant — and helps oldest son Ty (Carson Rowland) find his path – Helen faces a huge decision about her romantic life. Dana Sue, meanwhile, will continue to work on her relationships with her previously estranged husband, Ronnie (Brandon Quinn), and their daughter, Annie (Anneliese Judge).
Despite any challenges thrown their way, friendship and margarita night will remain the utmost priority for the Magnolias — and the actresses who play them.
“[Margarita nights are] probably our favorite scenes, or at least my favorite scenes,” Garcia Swisher, 43, told Us. “We have a lot of fun. The first margarita night [in season 1] for me was very, very important and monumental. I looked at [our director] Norman Buckley and I said, ‘If we can capture what just went on here, I think we have a really special show on our hands.’”
Keep scrolling for a sneak peek at what to expect from Sweet Magnolias season 3:
JoAnna Garcia Swisher (Maddie Townsend)
Garcia Swisher told Us that season 3 starts with a “bang” for her character as she — and the other Magnolias — try and “pick up the pieces” from Cal’s altercation with Stu on the season 2 finale.
“I think it sets off a real tone for her this season of, like, a lot of uncertainty, but a lot of trying to figure things out and how that applies to every single relationship in her life — including the Magnolias,” she hinted, noting that while “this season, you’re going to see a lot of self-realization, a lot of uncertainty” for Maddie, her story ultimately “ends in a very hopeful place.”
Heather Headley (Helen Decatur)
While season 2 ended with Ryan (Michael Shenefelt) proposing to Helen, Headley, 48, revealed that season 3 is all about her character figuring out what comes next.
“Helen has to make some choices along the way. And I think this season is all about the choice she makes, that journey that she goes through with the choice and how that kind of blows up a little bit,” she said. “And how that not only just blows up in her personal and romantic life, but how that had consequences in the girls’ lives.”
Headley noted that season 3 will push Helen toward “her mom (played by legendary Janet Hubert) and her family,” giving viewers “a little bit” more insight into her family and where she comes from — and end with Helen focused on “loving” and “recommitting” to the community of Serenity.
“And then whatever happens after that happens,” she teased. “We’ll see. So I think that’s where she is. She starts with a question mark and, and ends [with a] period.”
Brooke Elliott (Dana Sue Sullivan)
Elliott, 48, hinted that season 3 will bring a lot of different aspects of Dana Sue’s personality to the forefront as she continues to work with Ronnie on their relationship. The husband-wife duo has become a fan-favorite romance on the series, something Elliott attributes to both “being a team” with Quinn, 45, and “the magic of the universe” putting them onscreen together.
“Then there are things that happen in the season that present challenges in that way of whether [Ronnie and Dana Sue] can [make it] or not. And I think that’s really fun,” she continued, noting that Quinn is a “real gift” to work with. “They’ve got some situations that present difficulty from the past coming back to the current moment. But I think one of the best things that I really love for Dana Sue this season is that you get other colors of her, you get other sides of her, you get some flirtiness, you get some fun, you get some playful. And I think for the audience, it’s gonna be really fun as they get to know a fuller Dana Sue. A more complete, understanding of who she is and where she’s going.”
Justin Bruening (Cal Maddox)
Season 2 of Sweet Magnolias left Cal in the wake of his showdown with Stu at Sullivan’s — and Bruening told Us that things will be an uphill battle for the character from there.
“I think you can expect some very interesting things from Cal. I think he’s not gonna be the same Cal that we saw last season. He’s definitely trying to find himself,” he shared. “I would say that he’s let his demons out. They’ve haunted him for a long time. I used to say that he came to Serenity for some reason that I never really knew, but I always speculated that he was running from something and hiding from something. And those demons that he was hiding from found his forwarding address and showed up at his doorstep.”
Bruening added that Cal will be “forced to deal with his past” and “all of the things that he was running from” which is “a lot” for him to “handle all at once.”
He continued: “He definitely let something out that had been bottled inside that had been locked away. And it scares him. And there are other reasons that he’s scared of it too, that we will discover in this upcoming season. The first two seasons we sort of unloaded Maddie’s baggage, her suitcases and now we get to unload Cal’s — because he’s got a whole duffle bag of stuff that he’s just been keeping in his closet.”
Carson Rowland (Ty Townsend)
Rowland, 25, told Us that Ty’s story is largely about “growth” this season — something the actor said became “pretty personal” to him while filming — and he hopes audiences will be able to relate to the coming-of-age story line.
“Ty’s story this season and even last season specifically, is all about growth. He’s a child kind of transitioning into a man and figuring out where he needs to go,” he explained. “It’s really interesting to see this kid kind of figure himself out and like kind of gain his sea legs with the world and trying to recuperate from losing baseball and going to college. And that’s a main plot through this season, him trying to figure out what he loves and what he’s passionate about.”
Plans for Ty’s romantic future remain to be seen — but Rowland has an idea of why his character’s blurry friendship — and sometimes romantic — dynamic with Annie (Judge) is such a favorite among viewers.
“It’s this like star-crossed lovers effect, right? They grew up together and Annie has feelings for Ty and Ty doesn’t see her,” he said. “And then it switches in season 2, and then what happens in season 3? Well, I guess we’ll have to figure it out and watch, but it’s this dynamic of friendship, of knowing this person so deeply as a friend and then becoming something more together is so sweet.”
Sweet Magnolias season 3 starts streaming on Netflix Thursday, July 20.