Tuohy's Triumph: Exclusive!

Leigh Anne Tuohy shares her story with SheKnows in a deeply personal interview that gets to the heart behind the heart-filled Sandra Bullock instant classic, The Blind Side.

Tuohy famously took in a homeless teenager in Memphis, Tennessee who would find his calling and become a football superstar. What led this wife of an entrepreneur who owned over 80 fast food restaurants to spearhead an effort to make Michael Oher a home that could not have been further from where he grew up?

The Tuohy family in San Diego for gameday against the Chargers

How that path was paved is not completely told on screen in The Blind Side directed by John Lee Hancock (The Rookie). Tuohy sat with SheKnows at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills after a long day of interviews with the film's cast. Stay tuned for our exclusive video interviews with stars Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw!

After sitting amongst the hugest stars in the film and music business, the playing field leveler was Leigh Anne Tuohy. Equal parts firecracker, strong Southern woman, inspiration, motherly to all (including yours truly!), pragmatic and one-hundred percent what made what The Guess Who so perfectly called the iconic American Woman.

Leigh Anne, husband Sean and their two children, Sean Jr (SJ) and Collins, did not simply adopt Michael Oher, the engulfed him in familial love that has changed lives exponentially. With The Blind Side's arrival on November 20 in theaters everywhere, look for the inspiration to explode.

Tuohy triumph and travails

SheKnows: Hello Leigh Anne, it is such a pleasure to sit with you after witnessing your stirring story. I think the film is a strong statement for women. How do you think your story speaks to women?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Southern women are strong natured anyway. It's kind of a characteristic. Maybe, a characteristic flaw (laughs). I'm very strong willed. I think at this point in our society and in our country right now, everybody's got to be strong willed. I think women have to wear a lot of different hats. Not only do you have to be the mother the nuturerer, but also the wife and the housekeeper and now, so many have to and want to have a career. So, you have to wear a lot of hats. I'm not a big women's liberation person -- not at all -- but I do think right now, women have to contribute to all facets.

SheKnows: I wondered what you thought of hearing Sandra Bullock was going to play you?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: I was thrilled. There were names and names and names that were thrown out over a year-and-a-half. It's all about timing. It was a rollercoaster. Finally, they said it was going to be Sandra Bullock. I thought, "yeah, I'm sure it's going to be somebody else." Three weeks later they called and said she signed on. I was pleasantly surprised. I fell in love with her. She did a great job.

SheKnows: For some, Virginia isn't quite "the South," any issues with a Washington, DC suburb of Arlington, Virginia-native tackling Tennessee?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: (Laughs) I think Virginia's South!

Sandra Bullock makes her point in Warner Bros' The Blind Side

SheKnows: I'm sure Sandra does too. You had kindred spirits heading in to telling this story. One theme that arose for me from The Blind Side is how you did not really change Michael's life, he changed yours. How can you quantify in a way that your life would be different without him in it?

A family finds itself

Leigh Anne Tuohy: If Michael had not come into our lives it would have been extremely different. With all that being said, we have a different view of life now. We view everybody different than we did. We realized that there's a need out there that we didn't really know about. We were living in our own little cocoon. You tend to realize that there is a lot going on out there that you're not aware of and it brought so much to light. Even relationship aspect-wise, it all brought us closer together. We had that common bond. We went through trenches that a lot of other families don't go through.

Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw as Leigh Ann and Sean Tuohy

SheKnows: Indeed…

Leigh Anne Tuohy: We came out of this as a stronger family. I'm thankful. I also think that we are so much aware of all people now and feelings and their needs. You don't know what the guy next to you has going on. He's got mud on his shoes or a tattoo. We're so quick to judge. We are so, so quick to judge. You don't know the worth of that person or what they could contribute to society. We tend to put labels on people. There's a lot of things that we've come through so much, I think, the better.

SheKnows: You're talking people judging a book by the cover, I know they show in the film, when you first meet Michael where it's cold and raining and he's wearing shorts and a T-Shirt in November. What was that moment really like?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: John Lee (Hancock, director) took some liberties with that, but the scene really happened. It was the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the kids had just gotten out of school and we had been over my mom's dicing nad getting ready to cook for Thanksgiving. We were coming back home and Michael was walking and he had on shorts and it was…it's almost become an urban legend (laughs). It was a blizzard (laughs). It was chilly, it was like 40 degrees. I just commented that he looked like a fish out of water for an African-American kid to be where he was at that moment in our neighborhood. You just don't see African-American kids walking around the neighborhood at 9:30 pm at night in shorts. I said, "who is that?" SJ (her son) said, that's a new guy at our school. I thought, "what he's doing out here?" SJ told me he plays basketball. But, school was closed. Sean (her husband) wondered if maybe he had gone to shoot some hoops. I said, "turn around the car."

Fate blind-sided Leigh Ann

SheKnows: You were compelled?

Leigh Anne Tuohy: It was obvious after we turned around and chatted a few minutes that he had no mission, no plan. We thought he was going to the gym because it was warm. Sean said that the gym is not open, let us take you home. He wouldn't let us take him home, but he let us take him to a bus station about six or seven miles away. So, we drove him that night to the bus stop. Then, he went back home. Flash forward a couple weeks and that was the first time he spent the night on our coach. When I pulled over, it was a seed that was planted. I immediately knew after the conversation. I come to find out, none of that was really the truth. It snowballed. I went in on Monday after Thanksgiving and asked about Michael and who was this kid. Why doesn't he have long pants on in November? Where does he live? Where are his parents? I didn't get any of the answers I wanted yet. I just took it from there.

SheKnows: In the film, and also in real life, it seems that adopting Michael really happened naturally.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: It did. It really did.

SheKnows: There was a natural Michael coming into the family that felt effortless. When Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw and the kids are gathered around the table and ask Michael if he'd like to be part of the family, it felt truly as if that moment was incredibly organic.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: It was, there was never an agenda. There was never a moment. That was so authentic. It just happened. People find it so hard to believe. We have crazy lives. My husband has a very successful business and he tries to run 80-plus fast food stores, and yet he broadcast (play by play) for Memphis' NBA team, I'm trying to get here yesterday, he could less, but he needs five suits out because they're leaving for a week of road games. He needs his suits. That's what was important right then. That's how we operate. Whatever the need is at that moment, we take care of it. You throw in a daughter that is a level-nine gymnast and a state champion pole-vaulter and we drive two days a week to Arkansas because that's where the Olympic guys are, and then you throw in Michael playing three sports and constantly needing everything to get through those sports and then you have Sean, Jr (laughs) who's just along for the ride and always helping out. Our lives are always crazy. It was like, to Michael, if you want to jump in this frying pan, let's go!

Tim McGraw as husband

SheKnows: Lastly, your husband in the film is portrayed by Tim McGraw. Tell me your girlfriends in Memphis were not so excited for you!

Leigh Anne Tuohy: Isn't that fun (laughs)?

Tim McGraw stars in The Blind Side

SheKnows: That has to be a blast.

Leigh Anne Tuohy: He did a good job as Sean. He's cocky and a little arrogant. He's a smart ass and I think Tim nailed all three of those beautifully. My husband's personal assistant is a huge Tim McGraw fan, so she was in heaven getting to hang out with him. That was a big feather throughout this whole thing is getting to hang out with Tim McGraw.

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Leigh Ann Touhy is a truely amazing woman, and so is her loving hearted family. If everyone in the world had hearts as big as these people, AND as big as Big mike's, this would be a wonderful world!!! This story made me "cry the good cry"!!! WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL People!!!!!!

Pamela Stanley July 06, 2013 | 12:05 PM

I Personaly want to meet Leigh Ann,We sorta have some thing's in common. I have took in My 2 Daughter's several friend's over the yr's. I took in 2 sister's My Children befriended on the School bus I drove. They lived in a motel and I went to pick them up to go shopping with My girl's My Mama and Me. When I pulled up There was a caseworker there that I was friend's with in School. She came over and asked could I take them otherwise they would be put in the system and of course seperated. I did not have to think about it I said Yes I would take them. However I had a New Modular Home, A Mustang GT Convertable and other bill's But My Heart just could not say No. I kept those girl's for a while with no help from the system and they were put back in the home a while later. The oldest turned to drug's it sad to say But the youngest went to Church with us got saved by The Grace of God and is still Very close to My Daughter's.I didn't have Money the way The Tuohy's do I never will.But I have God The Father on My side so I just keep on keeping on.And Very Recently I had someone else come to me no where to go got layed off from work with his wife about to have thier first Child I said come on in Son we will make room. I was talking to My husband I said I don't know why people alway's come to me and he said Baby you got a Heart The size of Texas and it's where they feel at home....GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!!!!!

Russ Manning June 02, 2013 | 3:07 PM

I am a grad 1971 in Pharmacy. I used to eat with Archie and lived with Miller Hartzoz and Larry Torgeson. I am so very proud of you. You have done so much for the Ole Miss Rebels and so has Sean. Wow, I thank God for people like you. I hope someday I can do as much as you have. God Bless you. Love, Van Russell Manning. Both of my children graduated from our school. Love yall. Russ

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stephanie mahmood May 21, 2013 | 4:32 PM

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Chiejina May 13, 2013 | 12:49 PM

This film is off the hook.

Victoria March 11, 2013 | 3:57 PM

Leigh Anne, gul you have spunk. I appreciate all that u have done for Michael. I'm glad you all became a family. I love 2 watch the movie. I'm glad he allows his story 2 be told. I pray it helps others Such an inspiration.....

anita February 04, 2013 | 3:29 PM

Thanks for giving micheal his true start in life!! I wish there were more families like yours around the world would be such a nice place to be!! God has blessed you all im sure 10fold for the act of kindness that you showed him!! I think what you guys did was an awesome act of kindness...Micheal is an outstanding football player and i know you guys are proud of him!!!May God continue to bless you and your family!!!

Keithann Legg February 03, 2013 | 4:11 PM

Who does not love this movie? Your family is such an inspiration to all who have see it. Now this is completely what family is suppose to be all about and what life is all about...love and compassion for those less fortunate. Am so happy to say that I am watching the Super Bowl game today and wishing Michael and his family the best...Go Ravens!!!!!!

Ernestine S. Bonicelli November 22, 2012 | 8:15 PM

I have a question for Pam that must be asked. Is Sean forcing people to eat the fast food, or do they willingly, and anxiously, go in his restaurants and pay their money in exchange for his food? How is HE doing anything to anybody in a free country where people eat what they want to eat and what they can afford to buy? You sound like one of those who wants to blame guns for killing people and maybe you want Big Daddy Government to control what everybody eats and what everybody does. And when and how they do it. Because of what YOU think. What if the shoe were on the other foot and somebody was forcing you to be a responsible citizen, making responsible choices and not depending on government for everything. How would you like that little Missy?

Ernestine S. Bonicelli November 22, 2012 | 8:10 PM

You can tell me all you want that movie makers make filth because people want to see it and I will point to this movie, and to re-runs of Lucy and Andy Griffith and others that continue to run, day after day, month after month, year after year. Tell me that people don't want to see decent, inspirational entertainment. The public eats this stuff up!!!!!

Pam March 25, 2012 | 8:45 PM

But Sean is rotting people's arteries with fast food. No wonder he feels he has to do something positive. Shame on him. 80 artery clogging pink slime riddled fast food joints. Who could be proud of that???

Shanique Levy-Asher March 10, 2012 | 4:35 AM

The story is very touching and inspirational. In the future, i would like to do something just as big as "making a difference" in someone's life similarly to what Mrs. Tuohy and her family did for Michael Oher. You know what amazed me? Never at one point in the movie did a member of the family said anything to make Michael feels inferior, instead they all embraced him and took him in with open arms. Even when he met in the accident and Sean Jr got hurt, Mrs. Tuohy did say anything to make him feel as if he's to be blamed for the accident. That i found to be very very impressive.

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