Jenna Perusich On Hosting The Great Giveback With Melissa McCarthy - Exclusive Interview

If there's one thing the world could always use more of, it's kindness. It can be as simple as holding a door open for someone or smiling at a stranger, but the HGTV series "The Great Giveback with Melissa McCarthy and Jenna Perusich" takes kindness a step further by designing and renovating the home of someone who truly deserves it.

The idea for "The Great Giveback" all started in 2020, after cousins Melissa McCarthy and Jenna Perusich appeared on the Property Brothers' series "Celebrity IOU." There, these cousins surprised Perusich's parents by renovating their entire living space while they were away, leaving everyone in tears by the end of the episode.

Anyone who watches "Celebrity IOU" is sure to walk away feeling inspired — and being a part of the series was what left McCarthy and Perusich feeling inspired to do more. It was then that "The Great Giveback" was born, and we have an ultimate behind-the-scenes look at the series from one of the hosts herself.

In an exclusive interview with The List, Perusich shared what it's really like working with the Property Brothers, the impactful moment she'll never forget from shooting "The Great Giveback," and the brilliant idea she and McCarthy have for a spin-off series.

Here's how The Great Giveback came together

You and Melissa McCarthy have been renovating houses together long before "The Great Giveback" even came into fruition. How did you initially get interested in home renovation and interior design?

Her and I both have such a similar story... it's something that we've always been doing. It's been like [this] since we were little, we were the — Not together, but I don't think, personally, I was that one that would play dolls so I could build their house [laughs] and decorate that way.

As I got older, I started getting more involved with my family and friends and being that voice and having an eye for it and really having a passion for it. I moved out to Los Angeles, and when me and Melissa reconnected, we both found this as a natural bond, a natural passion. Some call it a passion, some call it an obsession.

We started working together on — Melissa is able to have several homes, and then I would take over and project manage those and work with her, and we would work on redesigning those, and then it extended out to, "Okay, so and so is redoing a room or redoing a house," and we'd extend ourselves that way. We have become this team that's been doing this behind the scenes for a while.

When we got to do my parents' house ... with "Celebrity IOU," it was an amazing experience. No one was quite expecting us to be like, "Great, let's do it. Where's the mood board? Here's the swatches I found." [Laughs] We definitely went all in with that.

That's where the basis of "The Great Giveback" came from, that experience and working with Drew and Jonathan [Scott, the Property Brothers] and seeing the difference it can make in someone's life, doing their home, all of that.

Why she and Melissa McCarthy wanted to work together

Do you remember the first renovation that you and Melissa McCarthy did together?

She was working on her house, and we — it [started out on a much smaller scale]. It's like shopping and I moved here, so working on my apartment and realizing we have similar eyes.

When we really started working on major kinds of renovation, it was so seamless. It doesn't seem like working. One of us would look at something, and the other has the same idea, or we inspire each other and kind of surprise each other. It does not feel like work when we're doing it. It feels like a total expression of fun and creativity and inspiration. It is our happy place.

Growing up as aspiring actors, did you and Melissa always hope to have a TV show together?

Melissa and I, our parents are brother and sister: her dad and my mom. My mom is the last of 10, and Melissa's dad is the third of 10, so our childhoods were separate. By the time I was born, Melissa was moving to New York. We would see each other in passing, but I was little.

She had pursued her thing, and I was in college studying theater. Right when I was getting out of college is when she was on the "Bridesmaids" trajectory. After college, when I moved, I had never — [renovating] was always something I did. It wasn't like, "Oh, I should do this in addition. Design should be my day job." I never had that thought, and I don't think she did either.

It wasn't really until we both got to ... the magic of us coming together. It was like, "Oh wait, this is actually something," as opposed to, "Yeah, we're good at it. We like it." It was like, "The two of us together, we see things in a fun way. We really like doing this and not only for ourselves, but for other people."

So I don't think it was anything we ever aspired to do, but it just felt completely right.

It fell into place following "Celebrity IOU."

Exactly. It really did. We talk about this all the time. Though we grew up separate, there is such a genetic connection between the two of us. [Laughs] We are so strikingly similar at times, and it can be awesome, and it can be a lot for other people, but that's where the fun comes in.

The best tip she picked up from the Property Brothers

What is it like working with the Property Brothers?

I couldn't wish to work with anyone better. That's also — I love this: They're a family connection. We're a family connection. We always talk about [how] we need to do a brother/cousin, brother/cousin challenge. Split us up.

They're so lovely. They're the nicest gentle giants you'll ever meet. What was so apparent from when we first started working together: they care, and they are professional, and they have an eye, and they have an expectation that this is done really well, because this is someone's home. We're working on people's homes, so they need to be finished properly. This isn't like slap sticking anything together. 

They have an attention to detail and to care that is unparalleled. Seeing them work from that place and execute that and how everything because of that dedication and care is done so well, [they were] the best leaders to guide us into this world and gave us something that we wanted. It got a base from where we also wanted to work.

Is there any home renovation advice or knowledge that you picked up from working with them?

It is the age old, "Measure twice. Cut once." Be prepared. Take the time to be prepared correctly. and the proof is in the smallest details. They notice how an edging is on a piece of millwork, how something's lining up, how a beam is lining up in the corner. They notice those tiny little details, and that is really what makes the wow factor come to be when every little detail is polished.

What is your personal favorite part of the renovation process?

It's starting to [become obvious] in the show a little bit. I do love some demo[lition]. I do love taking a sledgehammer to a wall and ripping that bad boy down. I like getting dirty and sweaty. I like getting in the middle of it, and it's cathartic. It feels good, but there's also this really cool magic of bringing it down to the blank slate. Could something exist? Will it be better when this wall's down? Then you physically do it yourself, and you get to see, "Yeah. It already looks better. It already is lending itself for the change."

I love the demo, because it leads to everything else.

A behind-the-scenes look at shooting a home renovation series

You've been doing home renovations for years, but how is the renovation process different when there are cameras around?

It isn't that different than if you're seeing it in real time. There's the episode with our lovely Shelli and Dawanna. It was Episode [3]. She was our police officer ... and we lost the bedding. That was a very real in-the-moment thing of, the bedding did not come, or it was lost, or it was misplaced, and the homeowners were outside doing interviews.

The heat was on, and I had to go run out, and ran to five different stores, trying to find this bedding. I come back. I'm in a flop sweat. I totally forget I'm filming, and I'm in the heat. I watched footage later. I was like, "Oh, my God. I'm a nightmare."

The pressure was on. Especially, the difference with the filming is, the pressure's on, [because] we are doing this for people who are deserving. There's that other level of, "We got to do this right. This isn't just for us and for fun. This is for someone who's going to come home and use this space to recharge and give a little care to themselves when they're constantly giving to other people." If anything, the cameras are reinforcing [the fact that] this is for other people. We got to do a good job.

I love, from the [start], Melissa and I ... wanted to show the truth. It's not all rainbows and butterflies when you're designing. We're told no. There's mistakes. Things get lost. Things don't show up. You have to make a pivot, and those stressful situations often lead to the best results.

Usually, it's the mistake or the problem we have to work around that makes us think in a new way. That brings a surprise or challenge, like a new way of doing something, to the table. Those are usually our favorite parts, and that's another reason having the cameras there is fun, because other people get to see it. It's not always so polished.

The biggest challenge of hosting The Great Giveback

Doing something new and going in a new direction seems fun, because you would've never imagined it turning out like that, and it could be even better.

Exactly! You have a thought, and you're like, "Okay. I know how to do this. I know how I can do this. Wait. Oh, that can't happen?" Melissa goes, "Oh, well this is another way to do this."

It's really fun, because I know the next episode is with our lovely mama. There was a major [idea]. We had a whole plan, and then that whole plan got told, "No." We had to pivot, and we ended up loving what we did, what we were able to do even more. It was like, "Oh. How could we even think about doing this the other way? This works so much better." That's fun, and I love showing that, because you don't always see that.

What has been the most challenging aspect of doing a show like "The Great Giveback"?

Wanting to do everything and everything, and more than that, and not being able to. There's always a limit. There's always a shipping restraint, or something's not in stock, or we can't get it in time, or the budget isn't there. There's always some kind of constraint.

It's for the loveliest, most amazing people. You meet them, and you read about them. First we read about them, and watched their videos, and we meet them, and it makes us just want to give and give and go above and beyond for them. So having to cap it at some point is the absolute hardest part.

What it's like working with Melissa McCarthy

How is working with Melissa McCarthy on this show different from working on a film or a TV show together that's more scripted?

I don't think it really is that different. Her and I are both like, regardless of what it is, we like to do our homework. We come prepared. We carry around little binders [during] the entire process that have every home we were doing, who those homeowners were, what we wanted to do, and our mood board constantly with us.

We are really similar, and also, there was an ease, and she is so funny, and that was present every day filming and working together, and it's impossible not to have fun with her. What she brings to the table on a scripted set is the same exact energy and heart that she brings on an unscripted set.

What was the best part about working with her on "The Great Giveback"?

[Melissa] and I have fun together. We enjoy being together. We are best of friends. We are like sisters, so we enjoy getting to spend time together.

We both enjoy this world. We love every little bit of it. Her and I could sit there and talk about grout colors for three hours and enjoy every single minute of it. [It's great] being able to do that and get to work together.

[We] also push ourselves outside of our own realms, because we made an effort to not design these spaces in our point of view. We wanted to do what the homeowners or the renters or whoever was living in that space, what they liked, what they needed. [We would end up saying], "Okay." It was a new challenge to be like, "These people love X, Y, and Z. How do we do that? Here's a fun way of doing that from our perspective," but not like, "Well, in this space we really want to do coastal. Let's experience that." No. It was really a fun challenge of getting to stretch our own limits and learn new things together.

The moment she'll never forget from this season

Is there a moment from this season that has been the most impactful on you?

There have been so many. I really wanted to show a renter. That was so important to me. I myself am a renter, and I'm in my 30s, and I'm doing okay, and I have a partner in my life and whatnot, but I can't own a home yet. That's the reality. I'd like to. I'm working toward it.

I felt it was important to show someone like me who is in this place in their life. We ended up finding this amazing guy, Ryan, who performs on his time off at a senior living facility. He is such a ball of light and love and has so much passion and dreams, and he's in his 20s and was renting. We got to go in and do his space, and it was so amazing to give back to him, but also fun and challenging to work in a space that he rents, because we had other limitations there, things that I was used to, and other people weren't used to.

There was something in knowing he is someone working towards — He's out in LA. He moved to LA to follow a dream, and we're giving him that home base that is going to help support that passion and that hustle and everything he came out here to do. There was something really close to home with that particular episode. [It was the] same with Melissa, because Melissa was that 20-year-old moving to LA, too.

It was a cool experience. He has the most fabulous style that was super in line with Melissa and I. [We believe that] if you want to go funky, we will go funky, and we've got to go funky. I'll leave it at that. [Laughs]

The lasting impact she hopes The Great Giveback has on the world

Is there anything else that you and Melissa McCarthy would love to work together on in the future?

Anything and everything that we could do together, we would do together. We hope to keep being able to do this, because we love it. Yes, we love the home renovations. That's so up our alley, but what we love so much about "The Great Giveback" is the opportunity to shine a little light on the good. We always say to each other (and we've said this kind of throughout this process), "It's easy for the dark to be loud." It's easy. The dark and the bad in the world has the microphone. It has the loudest voice, but the good is out there and it might be quieter, but it's still there.

To have this opportunity to shine a little light on that, to bring it into people's world, and give them a little moment of reminding, "Hey, there's good out there. You can be good," maybe it's opening up a door for someone, because you're a little inspired. Good goes a long way, and there's a ripple effect there.

"The Great Giveback" is such an amalgamation of, yes, design aesthetics. It's fun, vintage shopping, but also, people are good, and we want to keep showing that and giving back to them.

New episodes of "The Great Giveback with Melissa McCarthy and Jenna Perusich" air Monday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET on HGTV.

This interview has been edited for clarity.