The Scandal alum is a host and judge on DeGeneres' new competition series, Ellen's Next Great Designer, premiering Thursday on HBO Max

By Breanne L. Heldman
April 21, 2021 03:00 PM
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scott foley
Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

The past year has been filled with change for Scott Foley.

In addition to navigating the pandemic, the Scandal alum and his wife, actress Marika Domińczyk, along with their three children (Malina, 11, Keller, 9, and Konrad, 6) moved from Los Angeles, where he'd lived for the bulk of the past 30 years, to Connecticut.

Then, Foley, 48, agreed to do something he'd never done before: He became host and judge of Ellen DeGeneres' furniture design competition series, Ellen's Next Great Designer, which premieres Thursday on HBO Max.

"I'm not a host! I'm an actor," he tells PEOPLE with a laugh in the latest issue. "I have no idea what I'm doing, but I took it very seriously. It was a lot of fun."

Of course, those weren't the only big changes for Foley and his family in the past year. They also adopted an adorable puppy, named Duke Pumpkin, who joined his pet family that includes two more dogs and an "old cat."

Below, Foley describes his transformational year, from his new role — which plays on his love of both reality television and woodworking — to what led his family to leave sunny California behind in exchange for East Coast winters.

scott foley
Credit: Jake Giles Netter/HBO Max

How did you wind up involved with Ellen's Next Great Designer?
I've been a furniture builder, sort of tinkerer my whole life. Four or five years ago I was on Ellen's show and I said one of my dream jobs would be to host This Old House. And Ellen said, "Why can't you do that?" and had me do a mock audition. That episode must've stuck in her craw and when they were looking for a host for this, they reached out. Of course, I jumped at the chance.

But you haven't hosted much before.
I've never hosted anything! But I'm a big reality TV watcher. I think the genre has really grown and come to dominate. I respect it. I knew that the contestants and the designers we had took the show very seriously and in turn, I did the same.

How was shooting it during the pandemic and traveling to visit the designers at their warehouses?
This was unlike a lot of these other competition reality shows that I've been watching — whether it's Blown Away, which is the glass blowing one, or the flower arranging one, which my kids love — where they rent a warehouse space and everyone does the challenges in the same space. Which is interesting and allows for a certain amount of drama to be there. But because of COVID, the challenges were given to the contestants over Zoom in their own studios and shop spaces. I'd just moved to the East Coast and over half of them were within driving distance from me. So I'd hop in my pickup truck to see them work in their own environments. Everyone was masked and tested all the time and we were very careful. And then we would all sort of converge in Los Angeles. It was a really clever way of doing a show like this.

Do you think the show benefitted from that format? Because some of the pieces and materials are quite large.
Some of these pieces are HUGE! I had to come up with a design challenge — it was like Scott's episode — and we'd just moved to a new house, so I tasked these challengers with building a structure for my kids to play on that would fit in my yard. Some of these things were massive. I mean, monkey bars and swings and gravity balls. Crazy things they came up with. If we had done it the normal way, I don't think we'd be seeing some of the final products that we were ultimately able to get from them.

RELATED: Scott Foley's Wife Wife Marika Domińczyk on His Sexiest Quality: 'He's So Hot When He Woodworks'

What inspired the move to Connecticut?
My wife grew up on the East Coast and had been longing to return for awhile. I was sort of hesitant because of the nature of what I do and being in Los Angeles has always seemed sort of important. But about two years ago, my oldest came home from school and said, "Dad, why don't we have a plane?" And I thought, "Hey babe, it's time to move!" So that was really the main impetus. Not that they couldn't have a normal life in Los Angeles, but we felt it would be a bit easier to make their lives normal somewhere else.

scott foley
Credit: Gregg Deguire/Wireimage

How has the transition been?
Okay so far. Because of the pandemic, we haven't really been able to take advantage of the town or the community the way we hoped to. But we're getting there. And we really like it. I've lived in L.A. for 30 years and came to believe winter sucks. I'll tell ya, winter's not that bad! We kinda liked it, being inside and hanging out with one another.

I know you've recently completed a few furniture projects of your own. Has your work been inspired by any of the designers you met on the show?
Absolutely. I love to tinker, I love to make things, I love working with wood. I'm inspired by so many things, but these people that I met have specific talents. But I realized if they can do it, I've gotta be able to at least half do it. And half, for me, is good enough!

How is your new dog, Duke Pumpkin?
He is ridiculous. He has become our new baby. He wakes us up in the morning, he wakes us up at night, he wakes us up all the time. He still poops in the dining room but we're trying to break him of that habit. But he's just the sweetest. We forgot how much work a puppy is, but then how much love and light and laughter they bring into your life, especially now.

Have your kids been able to go to school or has it all been from home?
When they first started school this year, it was all home school and then they went into a hybrid model. They're back in school now but there was a positive case in my middle child's class about a month ago, so his whole class had to quarantine after they'd been in full-time school. We had to break the news to him, and he said, "You know, it's OK. At least I'll get to see my friends without their masks on." Poor kids! Way to look at the bright side, but it just broke my heart. I don't even know how to wrap my head around what they're going through. But everyone's just doing their best.

Ellen's Next Great Designer premieres Thursday on HBO Max.