Melissa McCarthy and Jenna Perusich Create Beautiful Homes and Stories in ‘The Great Giveback’
Kindness is so underrated.
There are a lot of amazing people doing some pretty extraordinary things for other people — you just don’t hear about it very often.
Cousins Melissa McCarthy and Jenna Perusich set out to change that in their new six-episode series The Great Giveback With Melissa McCarthy and Jenna Perusich, which airs on HGTV Mondays beginning June 13 at 9pm ET/PT. The series finds the house-obsessed ladies sharing stories of some kindhearted individuals who they surprise with a beautiful home transformation.
“I think right now you just need to be able to watch something that makes you feel really good and reminds you how good the simplest act of kindness can be,” Melissa tells us. “[You] will like spending time with these lovely people. I know we did.”
While most know Melissa from her Mike & Molly days or from her comedy hits Bridesmaids and Identity Thief, it’s uplifting to see the superstar share her other talents alongside her equally talented cousin. Last month, Melissa and Jenna took time out of their crazy schedules to chat with us about this labor of love, what they’re really good at and how they fell in love with flea-market shopping.
We first saw you two pair up on Celebrity IOU when you surprised Jenna’s parents with a home makeover. Was that what led you both to The Great Giveback? Tell us how it came about.
Melissa McCarthy: Doing Celebrity IOU was such a fantastic experience working with the fellas [Property Brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott]. Jenna and I, for years, we’re both rather house obsessed. It’s funny, my husband, Ben, is always like, “You two like rebuilding and destruction in equal parts. As soon as you get something done, you’re like, ‘Should we rip that down?’” So we’re always kind of looking at a new way to do a space. How do you change it? How do you make something a little more comfortable? How do you make it more bespoke to who you really are? And I think that’s where our love of vintage comes in, too. But it’s a natural extension of what we’ve done for friends and family for so many years. And then mixing that with being able to really shine the light on some incredible people who just do nothing but give of themselves, to give back to them, seemed like just a perfect marriage.
Jenna Perusich: Exactly. And really having such a personal connection to Celebrity IOU — those are my parents, that’s Missy’s [her nickname for Melissa] aunt and uncle. So we really got to see how changing someone’s home, the space they live in, it just affects every day. It can lighten the load emotionally, and physically. It brightens the day. I saw that firsthand with my parents. … When where you live feels good, you feel good. And so getting to extend that also into this project, that’s really what it’s all about.
So how humbling was it to learn about these individuals who you help and how generous they were?
Melissa: I have to say, maybe especially now more than ever, but I think Jenna and I both have always felt that the good in the world outweighs the bad, but it’s so hard to hear it. Getting to know these families and these people, it was such an incredible reminder that there’s so much good in the world, and there’s just more people out there than you can even imagine, that their daily routine is, “What can I do? How do I help? How do I make this better?” But you don’t hear about that on the news. You don’t see it, like you see all the negative stuff. So we just really wanted to shine the light on these amazing people and make everyone realize that we can all do a little something extra every day and it really has quite a ripple effect.
Jenna: It really is so rare you see a social media post that’s like, “This is a really nice moment” or “This person was really nice to me.” You don’t see that. That isn’t what gets the spotlight. Every person we met and worked with was good and giving and amazing, but in their own way. It wasn’t always the highest peak of giving, either. You can be giving and impactful by entertaining someone during a dark time or just being kind and being an ear to listen to someone else. It really is a great reminder. It made me open my eyes to, like, what can I do on a Tuesday at 3pm in a Starbucks line to just be a better person?
How often are you two in tears?
Melissa: There weren’t a lot of dry eyes on Great Giveback quite often. Happy tears, emotional, overwhelming tears. Jenna and I are both kind of quick to go.
Jenna: Oh yeah. I thought the two of us, we lead with our emotions, and together it is like an open nerve, 24/7. We feel everything to the fullest.
At what point in this process are you two introduced to the individuals getting the renovation? Is this a surprise?
Melissa: Our lovely producers go in and are initially talking to people and they just know that they’re being considered for a renovation, and that they’ve been nominated by someone who loves them. We really meet them almost at the very top of the process. They don’t know that we’re coming that day. They think they’re just kind of doing a little interview, hoping to be considered for a renovation. And then we show up with their keys and then we ambush them.
I imagine that reaction has to be fun?
Melissa: It was really fun. I think we were both nervous, especially in the beginning. It’s a funny thing to walk up to someone’s house and just kind of barge in and be like, “Hi, we’re here.” [In the past] anytime we’ve been redoing someone’s home, we know them very well. … With the show we get to meet them and really listen to what they need, and all of these people have just been so endearing and so inspiring and funny. Like everybody else, they’re juggling a million things in their lives. And it’s nice to see that we’re all kind of spinning the same plates. It makes me feel kind of like we’re all in it together.
How hands-on are you two in the actual renovation? Who is seriously good at what?
Melissa: Some would say too hands-on. I think Jenna and I were like, “We’re just used to doing it.” We’re incredibly hands-on. In this process, we were really interested in, if we hadn’t done things ourselves, we were like, “Well, great. This is where we learn to do it.” Like, we never plastered. I want to know how to plaster. Now I know how to plaster. We wanted to lay tiles. We’re both so into it, and we’re both very creative, but we’re also tactile. And we actually really like the doing of it. We have an amazing team and an amazing construction group and everything else. But we got in there, and I think people were shocked and probably confused by how much we were in there.
Jenna: We were hands-on 24/7. And also, we really care. We love it. We want to learn. One thing that was really important to us from the get-go was each space shouldn’t feel like how Melissa and I like to feel. It should feel like the people who live in that home. And so we wanted things to be different and specific and special, and every space to be the vibe of the owner or the person living in that home, because it’s all about them. It’s about making them feel good and inspired. And so that was really fun too, with really getting to think creatively and maybe outside of our own self at times.
Do you have a favorite renovation?
Jenna: Every single space has something specifically different that we really loved. For example, there was one space that had a new way of doing tiles we had never done, and we fell in love with it. Then there was a space that we did new things with plaster we had never done or seen, and we fell in love with it. Then there was the peel-and-stick wallpaper. So every space, there was just something that organically came about that we fell in love with for different reasons. So picking a favorite of them, it was like that’s picking your favorite child. We can’t. They’re different in a great way.
And what about the reveals?
Melissa: It’s so exciting, and it’s also so nerve-wracking. It is like everything’s riding on it. You just want them to be so happy, and it’s like nervous and crazy-feeling and exciting all at once. Because there is always the risk that they could come in and be like, “Oh wait, what?” And it’s like, “Oh, oh my gosh. Well, we can’t go back now.”
How did you two get into the flea market scene? Was that something you did as kids?
Melissa: [Who grew up in Plainfield, Illinois] I’ve been going to vintage stores and thrift shops since early high school. I just loved it. I didn’t have a lot of money for sure. But also I just thought it was a great way. When I was in high school, vintage was not cool, but I found it really cool. And I also loved the construction of vintage clothing. And then it’s like, you start to branch out and you’re like, “This $4 chair is amazing, if you just re-covered it.” So then I got into upholstery. There’s so many possibilities.
Jenna: I think we both had like a separate start because I grew up in Chicago and Miss was, I think, in New York by the time I was in high school. But separately, we were similar. In high school, I got really into vintage shopping. I took the train down to the North Side so I could pop into little shops, and it grew from liking the clothing to being like, “Yeah, that’s cool. It’s pretty interesting. Maybe I need to bring that light home.” And then when we’re both in Los Angeles together, it was like … love is a light word. We are obsessed with this! And we fuel each other’s flame.