ICYMI: Jen Lilley Interview

All In Good Time

Life has been a whirlwind for DAYS alum Jen Lilley 

Since Jen Lilley’s last stint on DAYS as spitfire Theresa Donovan, her life has changed faster and more dramatically than any soap plot. Her family of three has morphed into a party of five. Yet, the energetic actress continues to forge ahead with her career while managing her hectic home front. How does she do it?

“Coffee. Lots of coffee,” delivers Lilley with a laugh. “My life is, like, sponsored by Keurig. I also have an amazing husband [Jason Wayne] and just live and die by a calendar and Google alerts. I have 17 alarms that go off every day to remind me not to have mom brain.”

The family expanded when Lilley and Wayne began fostering Baby J, the half brother of their son, Kayden, who the couple adopted in June 2019. Then, Lilley discovered she was pregnant with a biological child of their own and, on July 30, 2019, welcomed new daughter Julie.

Next up: officially adopting Baby J. “We have been named the adoptive parents, and we’re still meeting to figure out when it’s going to be finalized. It’s not formally done yet, but we’re very positive and going in that direction,” explains Lilley, noting that she has “a great relationship” with Kayden and Baby J’s birth mother.

Lilley acknowledges that life with a trio of wee ones is challenging. “I have three children in diapers,” she points out of Kayden, 3 1/2, Baby J (almost 2), and 6-month-old Julie. “Kayden was potty-trained at age 2, but then he had some medical complications. He had to be circumcised and have a lot of surgeries, so that unpotty-trained him pretty fast. We’re going to refocus on training him and our middle child at the same time. It will be a fun competition, maybe make them more motivated. So that’s my next project.”

Along with partially weaning Julie. “My friend Dani [Danica McKellar] told me, ‘You can just breast-feed her in the morning and at night. Your body will adjust; she’ll still get all of the antibodies and then, during the day, you can have help,’ ” recounts Lilley, who plans to move her daughter to the same home care facility where her boys are during the week. “That will help me immensely. This woman has a staff of four in her house and about 8-to-10 kids. She’s totally family and so amazing. I feel like I have a village.”

In the meantime, baby Julie has become her mom’s co-pilot on auditions. “She’s in the car with me today,” notes Lilley. “She went to my three commercial callbacks with me. I would never take to her to a theatrical one, like a TV or a film job. But at commercial callbacks you can literally find another actor in the lobby and say, ‘Hi. Are you a mom? Can you just watch my baby and make sure nobody takes her out of this stroller?’ Then you keep going.”

Clearly, mommy duties haven’t curtailed Lilley’s career goals. In fact, she starred in five movies (four for Hallmark) in 2019. “That was a surprise to me,” admits the actress. “I shot three of them while I was pregnant, which was pretty amazing. I didn’t think that would ever happen.”

One film, LOVE ON REPEAT, has yet to be released. “I can’t wait to see it,” says Lilley. “It’s basically Groundhog Day, but with me instead of Bill Murray. Comedy is my favorite, if I really had to pick. This movie is so, so funny and so dry. And it has a rock star cast — Andrew Lawrence, Jonathan Bennett [ex-JR, ALL MY CHILDREN], Kassandra Clementi … Every single person has a crazy resumé. MarVista [Entertainment] has it right now. We’ll see where they end up going with it.”

Lilley has other projects she’s working on, too. “I’m about to do another movie, a musical, with Christie Will Wolf,” she shares. “I think it’s our sixth movie together. There’s a working title right now that I can’t remember. We’re shooting that this month. It’s similar to La La Land or Singing in the Rain. I’m excited about it, but also nervous about it. I haven’t done anything like it before, and we’re shooting it in three weeks, which is madness. A normal musical would take, what, six months to shoot? It’s definitely going to be trial by fire, but I’m working with Christie so I know I’ll be in good hands.”

Plus, Lilley recently co-hosted THE MOVIEGUIDE AWARDS, set to air on Hallmark Channel, and has begun pitching series pilots and movies. “They’re projects I’ve written or come up with the concept for the story,” notes Lilley. “I’m really stepping more into the producer role, which has been fun for me and something I’ve always wanted to do.

“I’m also still planning to release the album I never released because I found myself pregnant, and that takes so much energy and passion and pedal to the metal,” she continues, noting that “100 percent of the profits from it are going to go toward building a children’s village in the United States for kids who are orphaned or in foster care. So that’s coming up this year, as well.”

While all of the above would have most people overwhelmed, Lilley isn’t one of them. She still daydreams about returning to DAYS. “I think about it all the time. Being on a soap is like being with family, and the atmosphere is so welcoming. I really miss the cast and acting opposite Eric Martsolf [Brady]. I trust him as an actress. It was so easy for me when I returned for 12 weeks [in 2018] to have a performance that I was proud of, because I had amazing co-stars. I mean, Kassie DePaiva [ex-Eve] and Eric Martsolf? Could you ask for anything more? And then to have wonderful scenes with John Aniston [Victor]? I miss the cast and the crew and the extravagant storylines. It’s so fun as an actor to have scenes with high stakes and to dive into them. Obviously, that’s a canvas you get to paint on all the time when you’re on a soap opera. I also miss playing Theresa. She’s so fun and feisty, and she says things that I would never dream of saying. She’s so sarcastic and sassy, and she has fantastic clothing. I absolutely adore her. I would love to play her again and return to the show at some point, but I think I need all my kids to be out of diapers, first, and sleeping through the night. Or, at the very least, sleeping through the night.”

Lilley still keeps up with the cast. “Eric and I are in touch a bit,” she reports. “I actually pitched him for this musical so hard. I was like, ‘Guys, he’s so amazing.’ But because we’re shooting it in Canada, they were like, ‘We can only have one American in it.’ I’m always trying to get Eric into projects because I adore working with him, and he’s so talented and wonderful. Kristian Alfonso [Hope] Instagram messages me a lot. Deidre Hall [Marlena] and I chat several times a year. Suzanne Rogers [Maggie], too. And Jade Harlow [ex-Sheryl], who I met through DAYS, is one of my very best friends. She was at my daughter’s birth.”

For now, Lilley is content to focus on her many other projects, her children and, of course, her husband. “When I have time off, I try to spend it with Jason — if we can manage to stay awake after the kids are asleep,” she adds with a chuckle. “I kind of live for nighttime. Recently we’ve been rewatching DEXTER. It’s my favorite series, which is surprising because it’s pretty dark, but we love DEXTER. We’re on season 4, John Lithgow’s season, which is amazing. So if the kids do go to bed on time, that’s what I want to do.”

As for the secret to their successful marriage — the couple will celebrate their thirteenth wedding anniversary in May — Lilley credits being on the same page about life’s important basics. “One of the things I always tell people when they’re going to get married is, in order to have a lasting relationship, there are a couple of things you need to discuss,” says Lilley. “One is finance, obviously. Then there’s religion, politics, kids, how you discipline kids, and how many kids you want to have. Jason and I were always open to kids. We went through a period where we thought, ‘We’ll just foster and that’s fine. Then we’ll be these really cool people that don’t have kids, but help out.’ I never envisioned we’d have three this close together, this fast. It’s nuts. Three years ago, we didn’t have any. Now we have three car seats in the car. It’s hysterical. We’ve actually upgraded to a third row [car]. So now we’re like, ‘We can fit six car seats … but let’s not.’ ”

Sharing Is Caring

Jen Lilley’s always been one to share bits and pieces of her life with fans. That’s why she started her own YouYube channel, TheJenlilley, which includes a mix of scene clips, interviews, music videos and more. But perhaps the most personal thing she’s ever uploaded was footage of daughter Julie’s birth.

“First of all, obviously, I didn’t share the nitty-gritty of it,” clarifies Lilley. “There’s a lot more explicit version for me. But I wanted to share it because I love my fans, and I do feel like they’re my friends. That’s something that I hear a lot from them, that they feel like they know me, which I always take as a compliment. I just wanted to encourage them and make them feel like this is their baby, too.”

There was another reason. “I had no problem getting pregnant, that’s not why I got involved with foster care and adoption at all,” she explains. “I always knew I could have children, but I did have two miscarriages. I think that’s something that people should talk about because it’s such a horrible thing to go through alone. So I wanted to encourage any woman who’s gone through that — and that’s one in three women who have a miscarriage — that you can still have a great birth story. It can be so happy and so powerful, and you can totally do it. I wanted the fans to be part of my journey and also encourage women in their journey, too.”