Our interview with gorgeous actress/musician Jen Lilley, who is set to debut her new album this fall which embodies the same sultry ferocity of Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, with Phil Spector’s wall of sound treatment via London’s top 50 piece orchestra. Her debut single “King of Hearts” from her forthcoming album exudes vulnerability, fleeting love, and empowerment.
Known for her work on television and the 5-time Academy Award winning film THE ARTST, Jen Lilley is balancing her day job with her lifelong passion of 1960’s girl groups to create a collection of timeless songs that is set to have a whole new generation singing along.
Produced by Adrian Gurvitz (Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder), with string arrangements by Rosie Danvers and her 50 piece orchestra recorded in London (Adele, Kanye West), Eric Wortham on keys (Adele), Peter Randall on Bass (Adele), Dean Parker on guitar (Michael Jackson, Diana Ross), and Greg Bassinett on drums (Ringo Starr), Jen Lilly’s songwriting chops has a dynamic and seasoned grammy award winning band behind her, making for a truly unforgettable album.
Jen’s creative prowess does not end in the music studio, as she is also best known for playing America’s sweetheart on the Hallmark Channel and NBC’s devious leading lady Theresa Donavan on “Days of our Lives.” She is currently filming her newest Hallmark original movie that is slated for release towards the end of the year.
Hi Jen please tell us about you?
Lots of energy and drive packed in a 5’2” frame.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Tenacious, zealous, bubbly
Why and how did you get started in acting and music?
When I was little, my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. “Anything?” I asked in awe and wonder. “Anything” they answered. To which I promptly decided, “Then I’m going to be a bird so I can sing all day.” Obviously, they had to explain to me I can’t actually become a bird, but I could sing all day. The point is, I always wanted to be a singer, but it wasn’t until college that I got bit by the acting bug. By University, I had fully given up on my dreams of singing. It just didn’t seem practical. I grew up in Virginia. Virginians become doctors or nurses or lawyers or teachers or CIA or FBI agents, not actors and singers. Or so I falsely and naively believed.
During my second year of University, I saw a poster for open call auditions for an indie film called, The Loss of Life. I ended up booking the female lead, playing opposite Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian (small world), and fell in love with acting. I doubled up my academic course load to graduate early, got my degree so I had a very practical fall back plan, and diligently studied the business of acting at night. I graduated early and promptly moved to Los Angeles to pursue my lofty dreams.
Singing, on the other hand, found me. I had long put away my childhood dream of becoming a singer, but in December of 2015, I decided to do a last minute Christmas duet of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with my sudsy TV hubby Eric Martsolf. The duet was so successful with the fans, I followed it up with a Christmas album, which was just a bucket list item for me, since I totally love Christmas music and all things cheese. Then the Christmas album went to number one on Amazon swing charts, out selling Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Harry Connick Jr., aka the greats who I have listened to and sung many a duets with in my car throughout my entire life. Christmas passed, and fans kept pressing me about when I would create a “real” album, but I put if off. To be honest, I had no confidence in myself as a singer. I still thought it was a silly dream four year old me had, and I could just as easily transform myself into a bird.
I met rock legend, Adrian Gurvitz in February of 2016. He produced my album, wrote the incredible melodies and accompaniments, and championed me into a the singer I’ve become. I call him my rock daddy, and he, along with God’s funny fate, is the reason I’m writing this article.
What was the first role you ever did?
Sheila in The Loss of Life
Do you have or had acting classes?
Tell us about your experience in castings?
For the most part, casting directors are lovely. They’re in the same boat as actors. They’re freelancers who have been hired by a producer or network to find the right actor for the role. If they can’t find the right actor, they have a massive problem, and likely will be fired or at the very least, not rehired. So when I go into an audition room, I know that they’re rooting for every single actor who walks in to be the answer to their problem. My goal is to book the room, not the role. It’s the only way I can leave and confidently think, I might not be what they had in mind, but I gave them a solid option, and if it’s not what they’re looking for this time, hopefully they’ll call me in when they’re casting a role I do fit.
Tell us about your leading role as Theresa Donavan on “Days of our Lives?”
Playing Theresa was a transformative experience. She’s a beautifully flawed character, and she acts tough to cover up her need for approval and love. Playing her expanded my empathy for others. Everyone is facing a tough battle, and there’s so much more than meets the eye.
How do you prepare for a role?
If I can, I read the entire script without knowing which role they’re interested in me playing. That way I can read the entire script like a book, imagine every character without wondering how I would play someone, and then I jot down some instinctive impressions on how I see the characters. Then I see which role I’m auditioning for or being offered (if I have the luxury of not knowing when I read the script), and start memorizing. I say the lines out loud to memorize, and write down more gut instincts as I hear myself out loud. Then I start at the beginning of the scene and figure out the layers and textures within the scene. I look at most scenes (the meaty ones, not necessarily the getting from point A to point B scenes) as a story all its own, and then I make sure each scene strings together to create a character arch in the movie or episode/episodes.
What have you learned from your other actors?
To focus on your scene partner. If you put your energy into the other actor, you’ll lose focus of yourself, and truly be in the moment.
Who is your favorite actress?
Meryl Streep of course. Followed closely by Tatiana Maslany.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
I’m honestly not sure. Hopefully changing foster care laws, adopting more kids, singing, acting, producing, and directing, or at least learning producing and directing. I’m extremely ambitious, but I try to take my time learning the ropes of any job I tackle.
And now about your music career, what kind of music style we can expect?
It’s a modern album with nostalgic 60s vibes. It’s classic and soulful, with empowering and uplifting undertones.
Tell us about your debut single “King of Hearts?”
“King of Hearts” is a story of empowerment. It encourages listeners to hold fast to the fact that they have worth, and it’s better off being on your own than in a relationship where you’re not valued.
How was working with producer Adrian Gurvitz?
Wonderful. Adrian is incredibly talented. He has the patience of job with me, and I couldn’t adore him more.
What do you think of Social Media in the Entertainment business?
You know, I, like most people teeter between loving it and hating it. I try not to let it dictate my time or worth, and to do that, I decided to view social media as a community; as an incredible opportunity to encourage and uplift my fans on a personal level. I read every single comment as often as I can. When my fans ask me to pray for them, I stop right then and there and I do. I’ve met some of the most incredible foster mommas on social media, and it’s given me so much strength in my foster care journey.
Best advice ever given?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication and thanksgiving, let your requests be made known by God. And the God of peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds.
What is your favorite healthy food?
Oh man, all of it. I’m a huge fan of veggies and quinoa and lemon vinaigrettes.
And your favorite cheat food?
What’s your favorite music?
60s jams, Amy Winehouse, Frank, Dean, Tony, and Ella.
Idea of a perfect Sunday?
Breakfast with my family in our pjs, with both kids being absolute angels (haha!), church (seriously, my church is awesome and the people are real and genuine), and then family nap time, dinner, bath and bedtime routine for my munchkins, and then watching a Netflix show with my hubby in bed and falling asleep by 10 PM.
Do you have a role model?
Do you support any charity?
Oh my gosh yes. I’m not sure how to even make the list concise. Charity and loving and helping others is everything to me. Childhelp, the A21 campaign, Project Orphan, The Innocent Justice Foundation, the LA Mission, Thirst Project, and Children of the Night to name a few.
Any future plans you want to share with us?
I’m hoping to build a children’s village with the money from the album. God willing. It’s a lofty goal, and it will probably end up looking differently than I imagined, but it’s always good to set huge goals and press toward them.
Where we can follow you?
Quote: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”-Winston Churchill
Book: “Oh the Thinks You Can Think” by Dr. Suess
Sports Team: Washington Redskins, but I’m slowly trying to figure out my LA team.
Favorite movie: Too many! Depends on my mood or genre.
Holiday: Valentine’s Day
Tv Show: Orphan Black