Ology Exclusive: Interview with Leigh Anne Tuohy of 'Extreme Makover: Home Edition'

April 28th, 2011

ology.com

By: Sharon Tharp
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I don’t know about any of you, but I couldn’t get through The Blind Side with dry eyes. Hell, it won Sandra Bullock the Oscar! And just about every other award last year. Anyway, I know I’m a softie and all, but the same goes with an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Every Sunday night, the team puts together a brand new house for a deserving family. It really is unbelievable and tear-inducing to watch, even for those who don’t consider themselves skeptics.

Ology had the chance to chat with new team designer Leigh Anne Tuohy and even she was shocked and inspired by the whole home transformation process. She let us in on some behind the scenes stuff, talked about her favorite episodes and gushed about how humbled she is to be part of the team. And yes, she’s just as sweet and charming as you’d think! Read our interview with Leigh Anne below.

Be sure to tune into new episodes of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition every Sunday night at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Hi Leanne, how are you? Thank you so much for talking to me today.

Oh, I’m so glad to do it. No problem.

You have such a cute accent, I wasn’t expecting it!

Isn’t it adorable?

Haha Yes! Ok, so let’s talk about the show. What made you want to do it?

Well you know, I did the season finale with three kids and it was so inspiring and moving for me. I’ve seen the show. And like with everything, you go, “Really? They can’t do that.” I’ve been a designer for 30 years. I know what it is to build a house. I’ve done hundreds of them for clients. And yeah, they really do what they say they do. There’s no smoke and mirrors. They level the house and nine days later, the people walk in. Their family pictures are framed on the table. Their towels are in the linen closet. The food’s in the refrigerator. I was just amazed. And they really are changing one life at a time, which is really what our message is. So when they asked me to be a permanent fixture, I jumped at the opportunity.

Wow, that’s great. I’ve seen the show and it’s really hard to watch an episode without crying.

Even the good ones that aren’t tearjerkers, you still find yourself teary-eyed because you’re so happy for what’s went on.

Exactly. Do you find yourself having trouble keeping your composure sometimes?

You know, I’m not a crier at all. And it’s not every episode I cry in, but more than I ever thought I would. And it’s really interesting to me, because, I know who I am. And all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh, those are tears.” You know? But it’s an extremely moving show that we do. And it’s kind of like The Blind Side. People always cry at the end. Michael is always like, “I don’t know why they cry. It has a happy ending.” And it’s kind of like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. It has a happy ending. So they’re always tears of joy.

Very true. You’ve done interior design for a long time, but what was the hardest part for you going in?

The hardest part for me was not acting like you’re in headlights because I was in awe of everything. And they kept going, “Dude, act like you’ve been here before.” I’m like, “No. You don’t understand how cool that is. That takes me six months in real life to do.” To just to act like everything is normal and that you could do something in an hour that normally takes time. And of course, I come back to the real world and I’m working on a job, and I go, “Don’t tell me you can’t do this because we do this on Extreme Home Makeover.” All my contractors are like, “Oh dear God, when is she going to get off that show?”

Haha. That’s great. Was everyone welcoming when you came on?

Oh, yeah. It’s the nicest group of people. There wasn’t ever a time, not one moment that I felt unwanted, unloved or like an outsider. Literally. I don’t know if they are scared of me or what. They all were just so kind and I feel like I have all these new friends and family members. And the season’s obviously wrapped now and I’ve been out in L.A. a couple times to do different things, and we all go eat together, and it’s just great. It’s like I have all these new friends who are just the most wonderful, loving people. So it’s been a wonderful experience.

That’s great. Obviously, people have seen part of your life on screen. Do people treat you any differently because of that? Or assume things about you?

You know, life is different now. I would never have imagined that my life would have been like it is now. And certainly the magnitude of anyone really famous. We’ve had a little taste of it and it’s interesting. But I do believe, honestly, as Americans, we all want to grab onto something that’s a feel good, do the right thing, be the right kind of person, take the high road. I mean that’s who we are by nature. And I just think that people went to The Blind Side and they related to it. They watched the movie and said, “That’s me up there. I did that. I can do that or I want to do that.” And they kind of just relate to our family. We’re just grassroots. We’re not special people. The Blind Side could be told about a million people. It happened to be our names in it. But people kind of claim us as their own and that’s fine. But it has certainly made life different than we had knew previously before the movie [came] out.

Has Extreme Makeover: Home Edition changed your outlook on anything?

No, because that was kind of my outlook to begin with, which is why I wanted to do the show. Because Extreme Makeover goes into these communities and they change the life of the family, but they also change the life of the entire community. You know, they’ll leave their footprint on the community. We may sod every first house of a street, because we walk on their yard one time. Or we may give the local football team all their uniforms. There are things that you don’t see on the show that we do. And the generosity expands upon just the family that we’re helping. And I keep telling them we need to do a behind-the-scenes show because there are so many wonderful relationships and incidents that go on that you don’t even see in the short hour on TV on Sunday night. And those are the things that compel me and energize me to want to continue on doing what we’re doing, because their message is in our wheelhouse. We do believe you can change one life at a time and you educate and you make a difference. And that’s what going to take this country to a different level. That’s exactly what Extreme Makeover: Home Edition does.

Is there a family or an episode that sticks out for you? One that’s really memorable that we can expect?

You know, all the episodes have been memorable to me. The two that are probably the most memorable are the first one I did with the Williams family in Georgia. He played college football, he was a high school coach and won state championships and he has ALS. And I do a lot of work with NFL and NBA players. And a lot of our guys came to participate in the show. I think for them, to see this man that at one time was a strapping man, a big time football player like they are now, and to realize how quickly life changes and how impactful something like that can be on you. We all left there very moved.

And this season we did a ‘no texting and driving’ episode with the Brown family in Wellman, Texas. And here is this beautiful… Alex Brown lost her life while texting and driving. And, I have teenagers. My kids text and drive. I’ve texted while driving. We don’t anymore. Alex sent a simple text, “Be there in a minute” and she lost her life because of it. And we’re all guilty of texting and driving, and so many of the messages—you know, we’re doing shows now that have a message to them—and that one has really been very impactful to me. I continue to literally Tweet or talk daily about you know, “You need to not text while you’re driving. You need to stop doing that.” So those shows have been very impactful, but every show we do I’ve taken something away from it.

You’ve done so much stuff in your life. Is there anything you still want to achieve or do?

No. I’m at a wonderful spot in my life. If I can continue what we’re doing right now, because we really feel like that we’re moving the needle. And obviously I get a bigger platform with Extreme Makeover and that’s been wonderful and we speak two or three times a week around the country. And we’re involved in great organizations. We’re involved with some Senators right now trying to get legislation changed for childcare and adoption. And we really feel like every city in this county has a ‘Michael Oher’ and all they need is hope and opportunity. So we’re really out there right now, trying to go talk to these people and all these organizations that are making a difference just to say, “Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.” And so, I like where I feel like God has us right now. I would hope that we have the ability to keep on this path that I really feel that we’re making a difference and we’ll pulling people in that are helping us make a difference.

That’s great!

I know. It’s a great show and I’m very honored and humbled to be a part of it.

Well thank you so much for talking with us!

Thank you.