Modern Family will be ending its 11-season run this spring, and star Jesse Tyler Ferguson has already lined up his next act: hosting HGTV’s reboot of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the heartwarming home improvement reality show which first aired on ABC from 2003 to 2012. While he may lack the carpentry skills of original host Ty Pennington, Ferguson is a warm, lighthearted addition, who tells Yahoo Entertainment he was drawn to the show’s “humanitarian element.” And with the show’s crew building dream homes for families in need of a happy ending — following loss, adoptions, military service and other life-changing experiences — he’ll be crying right alongside viewers overcome with emotion by the powerful stories and transformations.
We hope he’s stocked up on tissues. Ferguson is also bracing himself for a tearful goodbye as production on Modern Family wraps up for good in a matter of days. Here, he opens up to Yahoo Entertainment about the impact that playing happily married gay dad Mitchell Pritchett has had on him and the LGBTQ community, his work with Taylor Swift, and the other new role he’s taking on: first-time dad, alongside husband Justin Mikita.
Yahoo Entertainment: You’ve been on Modern Family for so long. What about this hosting role appealed to you as your next act?
Ferguson: My career has always surprised me. I thought I was just going to be a theater actor in New York, and then Modern Family happened. So I’ve learned to not question things that may come to me. Obviously, I don’t take everything that’s offered to me by any means, but I was a fan of the original series that was on ABC eight years ago. I loved the humanitarian element that the show had. I’m someone who loves to meet people, I love to do as much good as I can in the world, and the fact that I could actually have a job on television that would not only be aspirational to people, but would also give people new beginnings and fresh starts and better homes, was too good for me to pass up. I made a list of pros and cons and the pros far outweighed the cons.
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a very emotional show; even the promos are tearjerkers. How do you not cry during filming? Or do you?
Oh, I fully cry. I think one of the reasons I was given this opportunity is because I think they wanted to bring on a host that is good with people and is also going to not be afraid to cry in these situations. And you’re sort of a stand-in for the audience. Ty Pennington was such a fantastic carpenter, and he was very skilled .. and for me, there’s a fun fish-out-of-water element. I think they’re definitely going a different way by having me be the one who’s getting to reveal these homes to these people. It’s a whole different tone.
Are you handy at all?
I’m not terribly handy, no. I’ve learned a little bit doing the show. They’ve handed me some pretty heavy power tools and I’ve taken a crash course, and I’ve actually helped frame some houses, and I’ve used a table saw, and I’ve welded a little bit. So yeah, I certainly don’t think I should be left alone with any of these pieces of equipment, but I think I’m good with supervision.
Have you kept in touch with any of the families that have been featured on the show?
What I love about this run of the show is that social media now exists. I follow a lot of the families on Instagram and I get messages from them every once in a while. They’re all very excited about the show premiering. So it’s sort of fun to keep in touch with them. I was just in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival and I almost just popped over to one of the homes that we did. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if I just knocked on their door and surprised them?’ I didn’t have the time, but it was something I really considered doing. They’re families that are going to stick with me for the rest of my life.
You have your own extreme home makeover coming up: a baby. Have you been getting any design tips for the nursery from these crews?
Well, ironically, I have hired one of the designers to actually do my nursery: Breegan Jane. She’s one of our designers and she’s a mom of two. She sort of specializes in kid spaces, and I was like, who better to do this space than Breegan? We just had a meeting about it last week, so that’s another great perk that the job has given me. I have access to some pretty awesome designers.
You only have about a week left filming on Modern Family. How are you preparing for that final day?
I think we all have an idea of how it’s going to be in our heads, and it’s probably going to be nothing like that. In my head, I’m very calm and collected and I’m not sobbing on the floor. And I think that’s actually probably exactly what’s going to be happening. I’m going to be on the floor sobbing. It’s still very surreal. It’s sort of like when you get a dog, and you just know that you’re probably going to outlive the dog. And you have this deep love for that pet, and you know that the day is probably going to come when you have to say goodbye to that family member, really. It sort of feels like that. We knew that this was going to happen and it’s hard now that it’s actually here. I don’t think any of us are actually prepared for it.
Are there any mementoes that you’re taking from the set?
I’ve looked through Mitchell’s closet and I am taking a few things. It’s funny, we sort of dress similarly and I dress a lot like him in real life, so I have borrowed things from him in the past. So I thought, I might as well just see if there’s anything I can take home. I haven’t decided what I’m going to take from the set yet. Eric and I sort of have our eye on a few similar things so I have to wrestle him for them.
Your relationship on the show and advocacy off the set have really done a lot for the LGBTQ community. Can you talk about how the show brought conversations into mainstream America that weren’t there before?
When the show started, marriage equality was not legal in the United States across all 50 states. I think it was about eight states. The country was shifting and we were definitely in a moment where we were fighting for equal rights. And I think Modern Family brought sort of a pop culture touchstone to that conversation. I think, like, people who felt like they didn’t know a gay couple knew Cam and Mitchell. A lot of people, I think, developed a compassion toward the LGBTQ community through Cam and Mitchell, and I’m very proud of that. It’s quite something to be a part of that moment in history. I am gay in real life and I was fighting for marriage equality with my now-husband, and it was kind of crazy to be actually fighting for that same thing with my television husband as well. It was very powerful.
You were pretty instrumental in Taylor Swift’s allyship with the LGBTQ community last year, which her new documentary, Miss Americana, highlights. You and your husband were in her “You Need to Calm Down” music video, and you performed with her at the Stonewall Inn during Pride. Are you still in touch?
I hear from her once in a while. She’s incredibly busy. I just watched her documentary on Netflix, which I thought was so fantastic. I’m not super-close with her, just because I don’t have that access to her, but she’s been really, really lovely to Justin and I, and I was so moved and touched that she agreed to come to Stonewall and give that fun impromptu concert for the hundred people in the room. The thing that a lot of people would ask me about her is, is she really as great as she thinks she is? And my answer is yes, she is how she presents. She’s a pretty spectacular person and I love that she sort of stepped up and got to be a little more political. She’s really standing up for the LGBTQ community and I just really applaud her for all of the growth that she’s had the past few years.
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