Interview: Jillian Michaels is not here to shout at you

Jillian Michaels

"The Biggest Loser" trainer Jillian Michaels sits for a portrait in her home Feb. 2, 2013 in Malibu. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

What’s it like to go out to eat with Jillian Michaels, the drill sergeant-like trainer on NBC’s weight loss reality TV series “The Biggest Loser” — known for getting in the faces of the show’s overweight contestants?

Not as scary as you would think, Michaels assures.

“People that know me know I’m very good about doing my own thing and minding my own business,” said Michaels over the phone last month while in Seattle for her Maximize Your Life tour. The tour will make a stop Friday at the Auditorium Theatre in the Loop. “If you don’t solicit me for help, I’ll leave you alone. There are millions of people who do want help. I’m not going to waste my time convincing people who aren’t receptive.”

Michaels, however, made an exception in January when she appeared on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”

The 39-year-old Michaels scrutinized host Jay Leno’s poor eating habits and listed what he had eaten the previous four days, the information coming courtesy of his worried staff. No matter how hard Michaels pressed, the stubborn Leno made it clear he wasn’t going to change his diet. It was a conversation not that different from the one many of us have tried to have with our own parents, only Leno was put on the spot on national TV.

“I love Jay,” Michaels said. “He’s such a mensch and has been wonderful to me. But he eats (poorly) and he knows it. I have that kind of relationship with him where we like to give each other (grief). He didn’t want to hear it, but with Jay, I can get away with pushing him.”

Since appearing on the original season of “The Biggest Loser” in 2004, Michaels has gone on to release several DVDs and best-selling books and endorse diet supplements. She also hosted the short-lived “Biggest Loser” spinoff “Losing It with Jillian” in 2010 and briefly co-hosted the syndicated daytime talk show “The Doctors” in 2011.

Michaels clearly has benefited from her reputation for intensity, which she said is almost cartoon-like because of its exaggerated nature, but insisted there’s more to her than just the screaming persona people see on TV.

“It gets edited to look like that,” Michaels said. “It, unfortunately, is what it is and makes for good TV. But you have to understand I’m with contestants all the time, and you might see five minutes of it. It’s not an inaccurate picture, just an incomplete picture. When you think of ‘Biggest Loser,’ you think of it as a TV show. But people are coming to lose weight. I take that very seriously. I wish I didn’t have to (scream), but I do what I do because it’s necessary. For me, there’s no other way to do the job. It requires tough love so the contestants will stop acting like victims.”

The Maximize Your Life tour marks the first time Michaels has hit the road on her own to speak to audiences about healthy living. Michaels claimed it’s the first of her many business ventures that hasn’t been met with criticism.

“I didn’t expect the reception to be so kind,” Michael said. “When I do things, all the haters come out and say why it’s bad and why I’m bad. I guess because it’s an intimate, small thing for myself and fans, it’s really pure. I thought it would be met with criticism like everything else I do, but it’s been really lovely.”

Michaels has helped many people reach their goals — including reigning “Biggest Loser” winner and Mundelein High School alum Danni Allen, who lost 121 pounds on the show — but what goals has Michaels set for herself at this point in her career?

“It’s no secret I would like to do a talk show,” Michaels said. “I want to do what I’ve been doing on this tour every day. I want that direct connection with the audience. And I want to talk about more than just fitness, but also about being happy and laughing together. I haven’t had success (with this goal) so far, but hopefully one day I will.”

lgomez@tribune.com

Jillian Michaels
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress Parkway
Tickets: $36-$55, $150 VIP package at ticketmaster.com

CHICAGO

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