HitFix Interview: Jillian Harris talks about her toughest revamp on 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'
The former 'Bachelorette' still has one more job she wants to do
Liane Bonin Starr @HitFixLiane | Thursday, Oct 20, 2011 2:34 PM
"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" isn't just focused on home remodels -- on Oct. 21, the show will be moving to a new night and time (8:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.) with expanded two-hour episodes. But that's no problem for designer (and former "Bachelorette") Jillian Harris. "I'm just super excited about this move to Friday night," she said in a phone interview. "I don't think there's any great family TV on Friday night, and this is going to be a great move for us." I talked to Harris about her other big move from "The Bachelorette" to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," how she got the job and the one makeover she still wants to do.
Do you have a special episode to kick off this big move to Friday nights?
I couldn't think of a better family than the Keefers to help up make this transition. Brian, one of the boys, had an accident while he was just horsing around, right before his 21st birthday, and is now a quadriplegic. The whole family so fun loving and when you spend time with them, you feel like they're part of your family, so it was a joy to work with them. We provided Brian with an aqua therapy pool on the show, which is a big deal for him. He was only able to go to aqua therapy once or twice a year before this. I can't wait to catch up with these guys and see how they're doing now.
"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" is known for its tearjerkers, but is there one in particular that's gotten under your skin?
The one coming up in December about a little boy called Carl Walker. I haven't had the chance to meet him, but I feel like I met him. But I'll never have a chance to meet him, because he took his life because of bullying. The quest to end bullying has been huge lately, but it's stories like this that break my heart. I do get emotional talking about it. You talk about the Keefer family on the show that's coming up, and you're moving that bus at the end of the show and you feel so happy. But when you think about the Walkers, you move the bus at the end of the show and you're happy but you're instantly sad, because someone isn't there. I wish we didn't have to build them a new house, because we wouldn't have been doing it if Carl hadn't killed himself. This is something that's so preventable. He didn't get cancer or get into a car accident, but he took his own life because of something that happens every day. The heart is a sensitive little thing. That was one of the hardest episodes.
How does "The Bachelorette" transition to a show like "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"?
Actually, "Extreme Makeover" is the more natural fit. I'm a small town girl, and I grew up in construction and in an auto body shop. I really grew up on sites and around construction zones, plus one of my favorite things to do is camp and rough it. The bigger stretch for me was "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." Before that show, I'd never been to Los Angeles or New York and I'd never been in a helicopter or a limo. It was like taking a vacation. Unfortunately, that's how everyone knows me. But really I wouldn't even compare the two. It's like comparing being a doctor to going grocery shopping. I've had the privilege of experiencing "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," but it's really not me. I gave all my dresses to charity when I got home, and I just went on a camping trip for three days and that was, for me, heaven.
So how exactly does a bachelorette make the transition to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"?
I was incredibly blessed. I'd actually made an audition tape to be a designer on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" before I did it for "The Bachelor." As a joke I was going to apply for "The Bachelor." But I thought, maybe I shouldn't apply for this job. I know I won't find love, or if I do I'll just get my heart broken. But everyone says I need to be on TV, I don't see it. So I still have the "Extreme Makeover" audition tape on my hard drive. No one's ever seen it. Anyway, they called me [for "The Bachelor"] and one thing led to another. But I was really nervous that I was ruining my career as a designer. I was thinking, how am I going to get myself out of this one? But then it happened the way it happened, and at the end I felt like I was part of the ABC family. Rob Mills said to me, what do you want to do now? How about a reality show? And I said, "No, nothing." I said the only thing I would want to do would have to involve philanthropy or design. And they said, well, would you do a guest appearance on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"? And I was like, of course I would! And after that they said there was an opportunity for me to guest star on the show. I had to fight for it, I guess, but I'm just so blessed.
The show has covered all sorts of tough subjects through the families you help, but is there one you'd like to tackle which hasn't come up yet?
My mom suffered with some really serious depression and manic depression for a while. We are so lucky we stuck together as a family and fought so hard that we were able to stick by her side and really help her, and today she's 100 percent better. Because of that time in my life, I've spent a lot of time studying mental illness. Many people who are on the streets have had serious battles with mental illness, but not a lot of attention has been paid to it and people don't want to talk about it because there's a lot of shame attached to it. I would love to find a family who has struggled with this, because mental illness is like any other illness out there, like cancer or anything else. It's serious and it's real.
What's the most grueling part of the show -- the construction work or the emotions that are brought up in doing it?
The toughest part for me is honestly the last day, when we move the bus. It goes from such a high to such a low, because I'm not easy ro leave. I'm attached to the family, the community, the people and I want to start all over even though it's so intense and so exhausting. You know the Sunday blues? I get the post "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" blues.
Liane Bonin Starr is an author, screenwriter and former writer for EW.com. Her byline has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Variety and a lot of other places. Her last book was called "a scandalously catty, guilty pleasure" by Jane magazine. Expect the same from Starr Raving.
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