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Jen Lilley On Her Return To DAYS

Jen Lilley had a heavy hand in orchestrating her return as DAYS’s Theresa Donovan. It all started shortly after she learned about John Aniston’s (ex-Victor) death and emailed then-Co-Executive Producer Albert Alarr last December.

“Not only did John Aniston mean a lot to me, personally, as an actress, but I truly believe that Victor and Theresa had a very special relationship,” says Lilley, who last appeared on the soap in 2018. “When I first left the show and Theresa went with Mateo to Mexico in order to save Brady and Tate, the only person who knew why Theresa was really pushing Brady away was Victor. Victor respected the fact that Theresa was doing this instead of telling Brady the truth because she knew he’d come after her and would probably die. She sacrificed herself and, from then on out, Victor said, ‘Come back to us. You’re always a Kiriakis.’ So I thought it made a lot of sense for Theresa to come back, at least for Victor’s funeral, maybe shake things up with Brady, and ruffle his feathers on the way out.”

Lilley ultimately received a call from her manager saying DAYS wanted her back, “but back back,” explains the actress, who had only intended a quick return. “Albert misinterpreted [my email] as I wanted to come back full-time. So when they asked for 12 weeks, I knew it was not possible. I told them I could come back for three or four weeks. I could rearrange things and make that happen.”

Once they worked out an arrangement, Lilley returned to Salem. She describes her first day as “so much fun. I had one line, like I did when I first joined the show,” she says. “It felt like a throwback to that day. The only thing I had to really learn was the new Covid protocols — wearing a mask and standing six feet apart. I couldn’t catch up with Eric [Martsolf, Brady] by running into his dressing room. I had to sit across the hall from him with his dressing room door open and my door open and talking.”

One thing Lilley didn’t have to acclimate to was playing Theresa again. Her feel for the character was still there. “Oh, very much so,” she contends. “I love her. What was trickier this time was that I was back for a very somber and serious occasion. It wasn’t just that the character had died, but the actor who played that character had died. There was somberness and seriousness on set. It wasn’t as easy as when Theresa comes in and, you know, does something crazy, blows up Salem and leaves, and there’s quite a bit of aftermath. It was more trying to figure out how to play each moment and still have the time at hand be impactful.”

Lilley explains that the Theresa who returns to town is a bit different. “She’s matured a lot in the same way that Sami matured,” the actress reflects. “She’s still very fiercely loyal to her family. She cares about very serious things like her family, but she’s still fun. If she came back with anything, it’s a mission to get Brady back, because she heard Brady was single. He’s not with her sister [Eve], he’s not with Chloe, so maybe he’s available and maybe this is their chance. She’s coming back thinking, ‘I have a shot this time. Maybe I can make things right with Brady again.’ Because things were so good with Brady, and when it fell apart, it was all based on her saving his life. It was so sad that she couldn’t come back and put it back together with him the last time I was on. I remember that those scenes were so easy for me to do as far as crying because I felt truly sorry for Theresa.”

Since leaving Salem, Lilley has found great success in TV movies. “In the past I did Hallmark; now I’m under contract for Great American Family,” she shares. “I did have upcoming projects that had already been slated that I had to go to Romania for. I had to leave and do another film in June.”
She’s also active in foster care causes and organized Christmas is Not Cancelled, to complement her efforts. “It started in 2020 as a one-time fundraiser to help raise 10,000 toys for Toys for Tots,” she explains. “We accomplished that mission, partnered with a bunch of brands, and the fans loved it so much that they were like, ‘What are we going to do next?’ I was like, ‘Nothing. I’m an actress. Are you kidding me?’ And the brands came back and were like, ‘This is so fun. What are we going to do?’ So starting year two, which was 2021, my now-business partner and I, who was just a girlfriend at the time, in the summer put together a program called Camp Christmas in July. We do a virtual summer camp with a bunch of your favorite celebrities. We get together, play games and it raises money for charity. We filled thousands of backpacks for children in foster care so they could go back to school with high quality school supplies that they were going to need for a successful school year.”

Though Lilley is also a busy mother of four, “I was incredibly grateful to have gone back to the show for two weeks,” she reflects. “I want Brady to be happy, and I want him to be happy with Theresa.”