Jessica Szohr on Channeling Her Inner HGTV Host for ‘Designing Christmas’

Designing Christmas
Q&A
HGTV/Discovery+

There was a time when Jessica Szohr wanted to go to school for interior design. Plans changed just before her 18th birthday. She decided to extend her stay in Los Angeles and go all-in with acting. And, of course, along came Gossip Girl, which you could say did pretty well.

Today The Orville star is able to live vicariously through Stella, an interior designer she plays on Designing Christmas. The holiday film from Discovery+ and HGTV sees her as the co-host of a renovation show called Home Sweet Home alongside a contractor, Pablo (Marco Grazzin). When the owners of an upcoming Yuletide episode back out, Knowing how important the special is to the future of the show, Stella also agrees to offer up her family’s Victorian home. The property was also set to be the venue for Sella’s Christmas Eve wedding to Jack (Mykee Selkin).

If having to work under a tight filming schedule wasn’t enough, the feelings between Pablo and Stella become harder to deny. This turns everything upside down. Speaking of flipping, Hilary Farr of Love It or List It is along for the ride as Stella’s mentor Freddy. We chatted with Szohr ahead of the premiere and even do some reminiscing about Gossip Girl.

Designing Christmas - Jessica Szohr

HGTV/Discovery+

The movie really feels like you’re watching an HGTV renovation show. How was pulling that off?

Jessica Szohr: We were sent a link to renovation shows to show us how we should talk to the camera versus when we were doing the renovation in the house. Getting the vibe of how those shows shoot. It…I think that was a big part of going into it. That I had a strong backstory about Pablo and Stella’s relationship. From there, you have something to build off of.

How was it working with Marco, who has done his fair share of these Christmas movies?

He is a very easy person to talk to. He worked with some of the producers before. It was funny because I’m all about Christmas and love Christmas, and he doesn’t. It was funny because in the movies we call him The Grinch. Christmas is my favorite time of year, so when the script came to me and my agent called about it, I was obviously going to read it. I also love Canadians and love Canada to shoot. feel like the way it was written and the story was told was fun and interesting.

There is a sexist scene where Stella is not taken seriously as the project manager. What do you think of them including that?

She was being belittled. I like that they put it in there, and I like how she handled it. She wasn’t taking no for an answer. She was going to do what she needed to do. She knew what she needed to do.

How much of a resource was Hilary?

It’s totally wild because I’m playing what she does. Then she is coming in to act on a movie set, which is what I do. It’s two worlds coming together. There was one scene in the kitchen where I wasn’t sure if I’m saying something the right way. Any time you play something whether it’s a nurse or interior design, you want to make sure the technical stuff and dialogue are flowing right. She was like, “I would say it this way.” She had all the wit and charm. She was awesome. It was great to work with her. I think she has a great eye and is super talented. I think her character and relationship with Stella are very lovely and beautiful. I was super pumped she came to play with us.

Do you see a sequel to this movie like other holiday films have done in the past and having Stella’s story continue?

I hadn’t even thought about that until you just said that. Sure. There is definitely so much going on in this movie that there can definitely be more stories to be told. Maybe. Maybe not. Never say never.

Wedding Rehearsal

HGTV/Discovery+

Did the set reignite your love of interior design?

It definitely brought those feelings back. This was so fun and beautiful. I always like making a house a home as much as we travel and film and work all over. Whether it’s a hotel room or house they are renting for me at the time, you always want to make it feel good when you come home. That’s a big part of it. It’s why I did my candle line a few years because a scent can change the vibe of a place. It’s also something that was easy to bring with you. I think everyone part of this movie did such a good job. When I see the kitchen that was redone, I walked into the kitchen and was genuinely like, “This is beautiful. I could have that in my house right now. There was movie magic going on.

Along with acting, you’re hosting a Gossip Girl podcast XOXO. The 10-year anniversary of the show’s finale is coming up. How has it been taking a look back?

It came out in 2007, so coming into 2023 it’s 15 years since it premiered. I have never watched the show very much. In the very beginning, when we started filming and when I came on the show, one of our producers would have us over on Monday nights to watch it. There was a point where we would be filming on Monday nights and DVR wasn’t the same then. You had to watch it as it aired. So many seasons and episodes I had not seen. After so many years you forget so many things. I would watch one episode and think this nowadays could be 10 episodes of a show with how much that goes on. The podcast has been quite fun

It’s still fascinating and crazy to me that this show still holds and people still love it the way they do. It speaks to how amazing [executive producers] Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage were to option these books and turn them into the show they did….Watching it holds, other than the cell phones that are flip phones. A lot of things could happen at any time and these things could be going on. It’s crazy that this was on before there were really these blogs and social media platforms. It was the beginning of what goes on now.

Have you watched the new series yet?

I have not just because I wanted to get the podcast going and watch the original for the first time start to finish before I get into the new one. I’ve heard great things though. I know the people attached to it. I know it’s in good hands as they tell this next story of Gossip Girl All in all, I think it’s fascinating.

Where do you think Vanessa would be today?

I feel she is in Europe and living her best life. She is in Europe, making movies, and probably still talking to Dan.

Designing Christmas premiere, November 11, Discovery+