Monday, April 25, 2011

Leigh Anne Tuohy Keeps Giving on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

 Photo by ABC/Bob D’Amico

Last year Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for playing a southern mother who adopted an inner city youth. Her role in The Blind Side was inspired by the true-life story of Leigh Anne Tuohy and Michael Oher. And this season the interior designer from Memphis is not only continuing to champion the cause of adoption in the U.S., but she’s a member of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team. In a recent exclusive interview she talked with us about being on the show and whether or not the families pick up on her The Blind Side connection.

Tuohy and her family originally appeared on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition last season, which led to the show’s producers asking her join the cast. She noted, I was able to do six or seven episodes this year. Obviously we have a crazy schedule still and I’m hoping to do more next year. But it absolutely was just a perfect fit for our platform and our message.”

The opportunity combines two of Tuohy’s greatest skills – her 30 years of experience as a designer and her immeasurably generous heart. But that giving spirit leads to her greatest challenge on the makeover series. She acknowledged, “To know that we do have the capacity to change a life and help so many and I just want to keep the snowball rolling and make it bigger and bigger. And we are on a time limit and you’re dealing with real deal stuff here. You sand a hardwood floor and it takes 24 hours, but I’m jumping ahead always. So that’s always a challenge to me.”

But Tuohy is impressed at how the series impacts the entire community, not just the family that is the focus of an episode. She explained, “The volunteers leave there inspired to go make a difference. So it just has such an outreaching effect.”

That constant ability to impact change is what drives Leigh Anne to push forward. She revealed, “I think sometimes that you get jaded because of what you do every day and I’m not jaded yet. And every day to me is always I wake up on the set going, ‘I can’t wait to see how we change a life today.’ And it’s just always energizing to me every single day.”

And despite being the inspiration for an Oscar-winning role, she does her work on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in relative anonymity – at least for a while. She confessed, “That’s one thing Extreme doesn’t do. They don’t go in and toot our horns. And they don’t tell people who I am. So consequently the first couple of days, people always think I’m either [co-stars] Tracy [Hutson] or Paige [Hemmis], which is a great compliment to me.”

But she admitted that this soon changes. “Then they kind of have a [point], ‘Well, she doesn’t answer to those names. Well who is that?’ And it’s usually about day four that they’ve figured out that I’m Leigh Anne Tuohy from The Blind Side. And then it’s like a whole different deal. Then there are signs up that say, ‘You’re our hero.’ And it’s so funny. I’m always like, ‘Why don’t we just go in and when you’re doing introductions say, ‘This is our newest cast member Leigh Anne Tuohy of The Blind Side.’ But that’s not how we do it, and that’s is fine. But it’s just so funny when all of a sudden the light bulb goes off.”

It’s not surprising that people ultimately recognize Leigh Anne. As she remarked, Extreme Makeover is right up The Blind Side fans’ alleys. “So many people, obviously, have seen the movie and we really think that people just relate to it. It’s America. It’s the grassroots of the country, that relate to The Blind Side. That’s the same people that really love and relate to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

And people who loved Bullock as Tuohy will be happy to realize that what they saw in The Blind Side is pretty much what they’ll get from her on Extreme Makeover. Tuohy concluded that in terms of the movie version, “There’s not much different from me. They hung around us for two years making that movie. Sandy studied everything from the kind of underwear I wore to she wore my same fingernail polish. I know people find that hard to believe but it was eerily authentic. My kids left the theater and went, ‘Oh dear God, there’s two of them running around.’ So there’s not a whole lot of difference.”

But the Tuohy’s aren’t resting on their Blind Side laurels. Leigh Anne made it clear that her family is always moving forward. “Obviously our lives have continued to evolve in the last two years because we are seeing that adoption is up and we’re trying to change foster care laws. And there’s just a lot of things that we’re doing. Our entire family has evolved in this whole process. I think we’ve been very good stewards of this message and want to continue to be that because we really believe that there’s Michael Oher’s in every city of this country.”

Catch Leigh Anne Tuohy and the rest of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. Central on ABC.

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