Jillian Michaels is infamous for screaming at people on the treadmill, but even a fitness tyrant has days off. Her new reality show “Just Jillian” shows she’s also a mom, partner and everyday human being.
The show, which airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on E!, follows Michaels as she attempts to juggle her personal and professional life with her partner Heidi Rhoades and their two children, Lukensia and Phoenix. Michaels takes care of her children and runs her career all while dealing with pressure from her partner to get married.
We spoke with Michaels about her softer side, why aggression is her training technique and how photography safaris could be her secret calling.
WASHINGTON BLADE: “Just Jillian” definitely puts you in a different light than we’re used to seeing on “The Biggest Loser.” Were you worried about losing your tough image?
JILLIAN MICHAELS: The interesting thing about this show is it’s just me. It’s not a cartoon character. Sometimes I’m an idiot, sometimes I’m an asshole and sometimes I’m a good friend and a good partner and good mom, just like everybody else. We all have our better moments and our worse moments. I think that’s what’s going to be really interesting for people is that I am human just like everybody else. And we’re all kind of on this journey trying to build a better life and trying to be the best partner, boss, co-worker, parent. It’s filled with comedies of errors and that’s what I think is interesting. So as much as I appreciate the platform “Biggest Loser” gave me, it was also very limiting because it doesn’t show me as who I am as a whole person. That’s kind of why I think this will reshuffle the deck so to speak.
BLADE: Did you approach it with that goal?
MICHAELS: The reason I wanted to do it was simply because, for me, it was never about building a better body. I always saw health as the platform you build a better life on top of and fitness is just one tool you utilize to help you do that, to empower you, to redefine self image. But the bigger picture has always been: how do we get empowered, how to do we get inspired, how do we get motivated, how do we get educated to build a better life overall? That’s why I wanted to do the show because I thought, you know, what I want to just open it up and be transparent and be honest and let people go on these journeys with me. And along the way hopefully you’ll laugh, hopefully you’ll cry. It’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll be entertained because we’re a cast of lunatics. I don’t think the intention was ever, “Gosh, I want people to like me more.” There are two kinds of people when it comes to me. There are the people that think I’m an idiot and just hate me and I’m this monster. And then there are the people that kind of idealize me and think I’m this great person who has my shit together and is this great inspiration. Neither one of those things are true. So I think I’ll lose some fans for sure, but I think I may gain some. At the end of the day, all I can do is be true to who I am and be proud of what we produced and see what happens.
BLADE: On the show you’re a mom, a romantic partner, a business partner, a celebrity. How do you juggle all these different people you have to be at once?
MICHAELS: I don’t. I try, but a lot of balls drop. There’s definitely an element of that in the show because I think so many of us are struggling with all those different things. And I know the answer, the answer obviously is to progress and to let go of the concept that anything could be perfect. And while I know that answer and I preach it often, I haven’t fully come to accept it in my own life. It definitely creates some turmoil along the way for me, for my loved ones. I don’t know the answer and that’s one of the things the show seeks to do. It seeks to find that answer. How do we find that balance and what does that balance look like in each of our lives? It’s a challenge and that’s what I’m hoping to figure out on the show. If we get an extra season maybe it’ll happen in season two.
BLADE: You’ve been candid about your parents’ divorce and your own weight loss journey and show the same vulnerability in the show. Do you ever get scared being so naked emotionally in the public eye?
MICHAELS: I really don’t. At the end of the day, I think transparency is critical. One of the reasons I have been so successful professionally is because the audience that I have managed to attract appreciates candor. And even if you don’t like me, you know, “Well I hate her but at least I know whatever she’s saying she really believes to be true.” You can take me at face value and I think that’s important in the world right now. There are very few people that are going to tell it to you straight, that are going to say it like they see it and are going to present an honest representation for the most part of who they are. So it is what it is. I’ve been under fire at so many different points in my life that I think at this point I’m forged in that fire. I’m pretty comfortable there.
BLADE: Were you nervous about putting your family in the public eye especially with a female partner?
MICHAELS: The only one I did have some reservations with was Heidi. I’m an executive producer on the show. I can control exactly how my kids are portrayed. I would never put them in a position where I couldn’t. As much as they’re on the show, they weren’t actually shooting the show very often. They might be on the show for five minutes, but they’re not actually shooting or working very often. It’s nice in my opinion when you see them because they really do bring that kind of levity and joie de vivre and that’s what they are in my life. They’re that magic spice in the soup. Heidi on the other hand, she’s very calm, very laid back, doesn’t like the spotlight. It’s been very funny to me to watch her adjust to all of this. But she’s doing a great job. It’s cute.
BLADE: You’re notorious for being hard on people to transform their bodies and lives. Are you just as hard on yourself?
MICHAELS: I would say I’m harder on myself because I’ve been given so many opportunities in life. There’s this great quote, “To whom much is given much is required.” In order to reconcile how unfair life is to so many people, I feel that those of us who have been given more opportunity and have been born into it like being born into America, granted to be born into a situation where education was accessible. When you’ve been given so much, you have to find a way to do something with that and have to give back and have to try to set a better example. I definitely do hold myself and those around me to a pretty high standard.
BLADE: What’s the biggest misconception about you?
MICHAELS: It’s so cliche, I hate to say this, but I do think that the people who say, “She’s this monster, she so awful,” of course that’s not true. When you look at “Biggest Loser,” it’s quite simple. It’s a life or death intervention that exists on a ticking clock. It’s a very specific kind of job that requires aggressive techniques to move people through a series of benchmarks they have to hit. It’s everything from a rock bottom moment where they feel that the way they’ve been living is more painful than the work and the fear associated with where they need to go. They need to be able to take responsibility for where they are at. And they need an achievement, they have to be successful in that gym because it’s the small achievements that gradually will allow you to redefine the way they see themselves and what they’re capable of doing. If they don’t hit those benchmarks before they leave, there is no shot in hell of them ever losing weight and being successful. So this person is 400 pounds and they may have five years to live, it’s a very dire situation. For those people who took it at face value and believe the cartoon character aspect, it’s absurd. It’s not true. I’m also not a saint either so I’m not the devil, I’m not a saint, I’m just a regular person.
BLADE: If you weren’t building your fitness empire what would you have liked to do?
MICHAELS: That’s a great question. I used to say I wish I could have been a doctor but I can’t stand the sight of blood, no way. Then I wish I could have been a rock star because I love music but I can’t sing, can’t play an instrument, can’t dance. But then recently, I’ve started to learn a little bit about the hospitality business, which would seem like why would anyone want to do that? But now that I know a little bit about it, it just seems like an amazing job. You can travel the world and meet all kinds of amazing people. I met this guy who was buying hunting lodges in Africa and turning them into photography safaris. I would love to do something like that. I’d love to be a citizen of the world. Maybe down the road.