Jen Lilley is one of the kindest human beings around. Her glass is always full, her joyful light shines bright, and she’s just one of those people who makes you happier when you’re around them. In her spare time she is having fun while making money with binary option robot.
From Hannah Montana to Queen Esther to modern day soap operas, Jen stays busy! Plus…there’s always philanthropy, table saws, recording music, and her love of Dean Martin to keep her occupied, just in case learning 30 pages of dialogue a day isn’t enough for her.
When did you decide to become an actor?
“During the spring semester of my second year in college. I auditioned for an independent film on a whim and booked the lead female role. When I got on set, I fell in love with the crew and the movie making process from start to finish. So, naturally, I decided to learn as much as I could about acting as a career.
“I wondered why some actresses were successful when so many were not, and I deduced that the answer is most actors don’t treat acting as a business, but simply as a means to acquire fame and accolades. I’m more interested in the art of story-telling and how it affects an audience, and having a platform to talk about kindness and helping others. I set about learning as much as I could about the business of acting and approach acting as a business as much as an art form. Eight years later, I’m still loving every moment!”
How did you go from the daughter of a judge to an actor? That is an unusual combination. (BTW what is your father’s name?)
“My dad’s name is Vince. In many ways, my dad understands theatrics more than most. Before becoming a judge, he was a top lawyer in Virginia. And what separates a good lawyer from a great lawyer is the great lawyer’s ability to persuade a jury to believe your client’s side of the story.
“That’s exactly what actors do. We are constantly telling our character’s side of the story, persuading the audience to root for or condemn the lead protagonist. I considered going to law school, and several of my costars actually graduated law school before becoming actors. I think great lawyers are naturally good story tellers. In truth, lawyers need to be better story tellers than Academy Award winning actors, because often times their client’s lives literally depend on it. So it’s not as unusual of a combination or career path as one would imagine.”
Would you mind telling us about your family? We would love to hear about them.
“My family is amazing. They’re all much funnier and wittier than I could ever dream of being, and I love them for it. They’re kind and generous to a fault. They’re ambitious and brilliant, with sound common sense, as well as a thirst for knowledge and book smarts.
“If you’ve ever seen Father of the Bride (side note…if you haven’t, you really should!), my dad reminds me of Steve Martin in this film, minus the temper. He’s funny and charming, he loves life and finds humor in dire situations. He’s genius, yet so humble that you’ll never know the depths of his knowledge. He has a photographic memory, he understands language and grammar more than anyone I know, and even though I’m sure I’ve already worded something awkwardly in this interview, my dad would never tear me down. My dad is a natural leader. He doesn’t teach by belittling, he leads and teaches by celebrating someone’s strengths, and encouraging those strengths so that the weaknesses naturally lessen.
“My mom is who you want in your corner when a crisis hits. She’s rational and methodical, she can remain calm under pressure like no one I’ve ever met, and she’s always got a plan A, B, C, D… I don’t know how many other back up plans she comes up with, because plan A always works. She’d be an excellent FBI or CIA agent! She’s also very compassionate. She does a lot for charity and deeply cares about people. She’s creative and funny and incredibly intelligent.
“My siblings are a million times cooler than me. They’re all wildly funny and perceptive. I could spend the entire interview gushing about how wonderful my family is. I know I’m blessed.”
Tell us about your first role in Hannah Montana. That must have been a blast. Were you nervous?
“I played a bathing suit model, but I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. I got the role after only being in Los Angeles about a month and a half. Disney sets are high energy and fun, and I had a lot of on set experience already from all the independent films I did in Virginia before moving to Los Angeles.
“Everyone was very nice and funny. It was a great work environment, and it was very organized.”
You starred in the film The Book of Esther. Tell us about your role.
“I played the title role of Queen Esther, based on the actual Queen Esther of Persia, who saved an entire nation of Jews from genocide sometime around 483-473 B.C.
“Esther has always been one of my favorite historical accounts in the Old Testament. She was brave and selfless, as wise as a serpent, and as gentle as a dove. While it’s tempting to romanticize Esther’s rise to power, the truth is, Esther didn’t enter King Xerxes’ beauty contest for fame and status, she entered the contest because she knew that the King’s wicked Prime Minister, Lord Haman, was already plotting to kill the Jews. Esther understood that as Queen, she could leverage her royal position to save her people. Esther was terrified, if anyone found out her real name was Hadassah, and she was a Jew parading around as a Persian, she could have been sentenced to death. Esther obeyed God, and rose to the occasion despite her fears, selflessly risking her life to spare the Jews from genocide.
“I grew up admiring Esther, so it was an absolute privilege to play such an amazing woman of God. I hope I captured her spirit and honored her story.
“BACKGROUND ON ESTHER:
Esther was a Jewish orphan originally named Hadassah, but her cousin Mordecai, who fostered her after the death of her parents, changed her name to Esther to disguise her Jewish heritage. During that time, King Ahasuerus, who is referred to as King Xerxes in modern text, sentenced his first queen, Vashti, to death after she refused to dance for this banquet guests. Then King Xerxes held a public beauty contest to select his next queen. (This is the real life, dark version of Cinderella).
“Esther won the beauty contest, and long story short, when the King’s Prime Minster, Haman, planned to annihilate every Jew in Persia, Queen Esther risked her life by revealing to King Xerxes that she is also Jewish (and therefore subject to death), and she used her position, to persuade King Xerxes to have mercy on the Jews living in Persia, saving her people from genocide.”
Tell us about working with director David A.R. White. He is a great actor and director.
“David is phenomenally talented and creative, with a knack for entrepreneurship. He’s made such a name for himself – I hope in time, I can create a legacy like Pure Flix. I’ve worked with David on four films now, and each time is more delightful than the last. He’s the real deal.”
Do you have any interesting or fun stories from the set?
“Soap opera legend, Thaao Penghlis, played Lord Haman. When we filmed The Book of Esther I had just finished my run as Maxie Jones on ABC’s General Hospital, so Thaao and I instantly bonded over our shared soap opera background and swapped behind-the-scenes stories. One day, Thaao told me he has died and come back to life 6 times on NBC’s Days of Our Lives! I giggled and asked him which death was his favorite, and he said, one time his character, Tony, died because someone slit his carotid artery. The fans were so outraged that Tony was killed off, that a short time later, his character came back, driving a boat, with his fabulous Fabio-esque hair blowing in the wind, and as the camera zoomed in, you could see a BAND-AID on his neck where his carotid was sliced! I was in stitches, no pun intended!
“Now, three years later, Thaao and I are working together on Days of Our Lives. It’s funny how paths intertwine. Thaao is one of the finest actors I’ve ever met…he’s mesmerizing. It’s almost unfair having to act opposite of him, because you don’t want to say your lines; you want to be an audience member, rapt by his performance!”
You also worked in the film Revelation Road 2: The Sea of Glass and Fire. Can you tell us about this film and your role?
“I was lucky enough to be in all three movies of the Revelation Road trilogy. I played David A.R. White’s wife Rachel, a sweet young mom and devoted wife, who constantly prays for her husband’s salvation, but doesn’t pressure him into the faith. She was loving and non-judgmental – my kind of girl! This was my first time working with David, and I’m so glad it wasn’t the last!
“Interesting story…The wedding dress I wore in the flashback scenes is my actual wedding dress.”
Tell us about your current role on Days of Our Lives.
“Theresa Donovan is absolutely delectable! She’s sassy and brazen, fierce and fragmented. TV Guide described her like this, “She has the face of an angel, and a soul that would scare the hell out of Satan himself.” I couldn’t love her more! Behind her belligerent facade, Theresa is a flawed young woman struggling with her identity. She’s been sentenced to Salem as part of her parole for a whopping 6 felonies. She’s in literal and metaphorical limbo, suspended between the tough girl, smart-ass persona she’s created, and the fragile dreamer she’s protecting: the real Theresa, who truly believes she’s unredeemable, and incapable of amounting to anything noble.
“I am so fortunate that I got to originate this role and create her from the ground up! After two and a half years and over 300 episodes, I’m still discovering and building layers! She’s a human Rubik’s cube, and I’m having a fine time portraying her every twist and turn!”
How is working on a soap opera different than a series or film?
“Well, in short, there’s no margin of error in soaps, because there’s no time for mistakes. While an independent film moves more quickly that a studio film, at worst, you can expect to tackle around 17 pages of script a day. Soaps, however, conquer anywhere from 120-200 pages a day, day in and day out, year round! Soap operas are like actor boot camps. Everything is one take. Two takes, IF there’s a technical error. If you can keep up and create a character who’s grounded and real, while balancing a full workload of around 30 pages of your own dialogue a day, you can do anything!!
“When I booked the lead role in my upcoming Christmas movie, Hollygrove, my director David Jackson said, “I’m going to have to figure out how to slow you down.” David has worked with former soap stars in the past, and he knows we’re always on time, ready to go, and prepared to the hilt. Being a perfectionist, I’m glad I have soap training in my arsenal.”
Do you have any interesting or fun stories from the set?
“One time when I was on General Hospital, I got tongue-tied and said “weally” instead of really. I knew I wasn’t going to get another shot, so I played the moment of frustration, which completely suited the scene, and it went to air like this, “Weally, weally, really!” …How “embawwassing””
We are also interested in your role as Cate Anderson in Crossing Streets.
“Cate Anderson is a hilariously cheeky police officer, based on real life Roanoke, Virginia police Lieutenant Susanna Camp.
“The film shot in my hometown, and I can’t tell you how rewarding and surreal it was to film there and get to spend time with my family! Before our first day of filming, I did a ride-along with Lt. Camp. I swear, I hadn’t even buckled my seat belt in the patrol car, when a call came in that there was a homicide! Susanna sprang into action, screaming, “Buckle up!” and peeled out of the station garage faster than I could say, “Sweet Jesus!” I was exhilarated and terrified all at once, and it was at that moment I understood why I was an actor and preferred make believe…”
What is Where are you, Bobby Browning? about?
“Where Are You, Bobby Browning? is my second feature with Director Marc Hutchins, who also directed Crossing Streets. It stars Matt Dallas and Cassi Thomson, and I played Cassi’s rational best friend, Patsy. It’s a romantic comedy that breaks every formula, and I have no doubt it will be a cult classic! It’s absolutely hysterical! The cast was brilliant through and through. Where Are You, Bobby Browning? has perfectly awkward humor like Napoleon Dynamite, heightened situational comedy like I Love Lucy, and charming melt-your-heart moments like any Meg Ryan film. Marc told me they just locked picture, and I can’t wait to see it!”
Do you have any interesting or fun stories from the set?
“I found out one of the actors, Segun Oduolowu literally lives a few blocks down the street from my in Los Angeles. What are the odds we’d meet for the first time in Virginia! Small world!”
Tell us about your latest role in Hollygrove.
“Hollygrove is an enchanting Christmas movie written by Tracy Andreen, about a jaded young lawyer named Kate Jordan, who finds love in the most unconventional and unexpected way. I play Kate Jordan, the lead. This story surpasses traditional and predictable plot lines. It’s mysterious and gritty, yet comical and familiar. I fell in love with this project the moment I finished reading the script. It highlights girl power in just the right ways. Kate is endearing and practical; she’s not a brow beater, or a woman who loves emasculating men, though she doesn’t believe that women should settle down for the sake of getting an “MRS.” degree.
“I have no doubt audiences will love this film. It’s probably my favorite project I’ve ever worked on; it just tells such a beautiful story in the most unpredictable way. When you think the story is going to zig, it zags, and takes the audience on much more interesting journey. I’m simply smitten with it! Hollygrove is a story that transcends time, appeals to both men and women, and will surely make you laugh, cry, and ponder life.”
Do you have any interesting or fun stories from the set?
“We filmed on location outside Boston during the snowiest month on record since 1872, and oh my goodness was it freezing! Unplowed, the snow levels were taller than me! Plus, my character always seemed to rush outside in a huff without grabbing her coat, and then for continuity, our makeup and wardrobe teams often had to dump snow on me and Thomas Beaudoin (who played Daniel). It was miserably cold, but I’ve never had so much fun! We had the best cast and crew! I miss them so much. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
“We stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast called the Proctor Mansion Inn, which doubled as our film set. The owners, Brian and Dawn Fitzgerald, were fascinating people. They were both literal geniuses, and the most humble people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Brian had a zest for learning, and in his forties, he went from not knowing where middle C was on a piano, to being a master pianist! So many people would say, “Oh I’m too old to take piano lessons…” Not Brian! His thirst for knowledge and setting new goals inspired me more than I can say.”
You are also a singer. Can you tell us about your music?
“My parents call me their little song bird. My whole life, I’ve walked around singing without even realizing I was doing it. I still sing every time I get out of the car and walk to my front door…which is probably the reason I never successfully snuck out of the house as a teenager.
“I led worship for several years at a couple different churches in Virginia, before moving to Los Angeles, then didn’t do anything with it for a while. I’m just now exploring music and singing again thanks to my producer Rob Christie. We’re writing some original tunes, but because my schedule is so rigorous at Days of Our Lives, I have very little time to pour into my music. Right now, the plan is to record some more Christmas songs and release a Christmas EP this holiday season.
“As far as my sound goes, Rob says I remind him of a mash up between Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, and Sara Bareilles. I love all these singers, so I’ll take it!”
When did you start singing professionally? What was your first experience like?
“Not even a year ago. My first experience was absolutely surreal. If I didn’t have pictures and a single on iTunes to prove it, I still wouldn’t believe it happened!
“Here’s the story in a nut shell: I’ve always wanted to record a Christmas album, so last year I decided to record a single, Baby it’s Cold Outside, and see how it sold. A friend of mine connected me with two-time Grammy-winning music producer, Rob Christie, so I could ask Rob some simple questions about the legality of recording a cover, etc. Before I knew it, Rob decided instead of wasting our time explaining all the rules, he would just help me produce my Christmas single. My jaw dropped!
“Then, somehow, I convinced my cost-star Eric Martsolf, who is a phenomenal singer, to sing the duet with me. Then, a day or two later, Rob called me up and said he had Dean Martin’s multi-Grammy winning musicians, Gregg Field and Chuck Berghofer, on board to play drums and base. I was over the moon! A few days later, I was on my way to the studio to record. I definitely cried the entire way to the studio because I was so excited. I didn’t care if I sold a single copy, I am a HUGE Dean Martin fan, and I was gob smacked at the opportunity to be in the same room with such amazing musicians!
“After Eric and I recorded our first take, Gregg Field said, “You can really sing!” And I said, “Thanks, but you seem so surprised.” He said, “I am.” I said, “Why? Why would I waste your time to record a song if I couldn’t sing?” He said, “Every actor thinks he or she can sing, but you can really sing!” Then Gregg and Chuck and Rob encouraged me to pursue singing full-time. I couldn’t believe my ears.
“As much as I would love to pursue music full-time, my first love is acting, and I can’t imagine my life without it. So, right now, I’m just trying to strike a balance between acting and singing. I’m so happy with my acting career, but I am going to work on music every spare minute I can get!”
We would love to hear about your upcoming album and what inspired it.
“Right now, because of my demanding schedule, I’m just working on a Christmas EP, and maybe an original single or two. I hope over the next few years, I’ll learn how to balance my schedule and invest in music.”
Where do you want to go with your music?
“I’ll go wherever music takes me, as long as I can keep acting as well. My single Baby it’s Cold Outside and an original pop song I sang for Youthful Daze series, Look What I Found are available to listen to for free on my website www.jenlilley.com, or you can purchase them on iTunes and Google Play.”
Do you plan another album in the near future?
“Well, like I mentioned before, Brian Fitzergerald, the inn owner from Hollygrove, inspired me to keep pursuing my dreams, and not worry about how long those dreams take to mature. If there were more hours in a day, I would have an album out this fall, but until we learn how to bend the time-space continuum, I’ll work on it as much as my schedule permits [laughs]. I do plan to release more Christmas tunes this winter. Stay tuned for updates on that!”
When you are not working, what do you love doing?
“I love to bake and then hike off the calories. I also love sneaking in a nap…which I never would have believed as a child.”
What has been the best advice have you received as an actor?
“Jonathan Jackson and I share the same values, and one day we were discussing how to decide which roles are worth doing, even when they seemingly question our values. Jonathan said he always asks himself if the story is doing more good than harm. If the story as a whole relays a positive message, it’s worth considering. That always stuck with me. An actor’s job isn’t to judge the character, but to judge the story and its overall message.”
What is it that most people don’t know about you?
“I can work a table saw! I love DIY (Do It Yourself) projects – I’ve installed floors, built walls, and refurbished furniture.”
For more information about Jen Lilley, go to www.Jenlilley.com