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Exclusive: Hallmark’s Sweetheart Jen Lilley digs up more than A Little Daytime Drama

Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevey
Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevey. Pic credit: Hallmark/Photographer: Hugh Tull

When it comes to daytime drama, there is no one better than Jen Lilley.

The Hallmark movie star, also known for her roles on Days of Our Lives and General Hospital, is merging her two worlds in her new Hallmark original movie, A Little Daytime Drama.

Lilley plays head writer Maggie, who is doing everything in her power to save her long-running daytime drama Forever is a Long, Long Time. This includes cajoling her ex-boyfriend, Darrin. (Ryan Paevey) to reprise his role on the soap, even though she is still reeling from their breakup.

Alice (Linda Dano), best known for her role on Another World, wants Maggie to take over the production of the show…but first, they have to dramatically boost the ratings.

Now, Maggie must convince Darrin to return to the show, while setting aside their hurt feelings, to work side-by-side. Sparks eventually fly and we are left rooting for Maggie and Darrin to find true love and romance one more time.

A Little Daytime Drama was a great fit for Lilley, and so was her character of Maggie. She is also marking her 14th film for Hallmark. “I was excited because I’ve never been able to play a writer before,” she exclusively told Monsters & Critics.

“I love that I would also be able to shed light on the fact that soap operas shoot an entire Hallmark movie by lunch,” she says, “so that was incredible.”

Monsters & Critics: Let’s talk about A Little Daytime Drama. What attracted you to this movie?

Jen Lilley: Well, I was so excited for this one because it is the perfect blend for my audience between soap operas and Hallmark. I can’t even imagine what their reaction is going to be. So, I was obviously drawn to the fact that you’re seeing a soap opera on Hallmark. The movie is so funny, and it’s always a treat to work with Ryan Paevey again.

M&C: How would you describe Maggie?

Jen Lilley:  Maggie is a straight shooter. She is a writer and she really cares about everyone who works on the soap opera, which is very true to real life. She wants everyone to keep their jobs. 

Everyone on a soap is very much like one big family. Soap operas have been around for 50 plus years, and so the same crew working day in and day out for decades at a time. And that’s why the stakes are so high to get Ryan Paevey’s character Darrin to come back to the show.

M&C: Have you worked with Ryan before?

Jen Lilley: Yes, I have. We did [the movie] Harvest Love together, but it was ironic because we never worked together on soap operas. Ryan joined General Hospital about three weeks after I left the show.

M&C: Talk about the fact that your soap fans evolved to be your Hallmark fans.

Jen Lilley: Well, anyone who watches Hallmark knows how passionate they are about Hallmark Channel, and anyone who watches soap operas knows how important it is to watch their stories every single day.

Soaps have been such a nostalgic experience for generations. If your grandmother, mom, sister, or friend watches soap operas, you know that you do not talk to them when they are on; there’s no disturbing them.

So, to have a project that combines both audiences is really exciting for me. I honestly think this will be one of the highest-rated films Hallmark has ever had since we’re combining both loyal audiences in one fell swoop.

Jen Lilley and Linda Dano
Jen Lilley and Linda Dano. Pic credit: Hallmark/PhotographerHugh Tull

M&C: What does it mean to you that the Hallmark fans are so loyal and devoted?

Jen Lilley: I grew up watching the Hallmark Channel, and I think for most people, Hallmark exemplifies why entertainment is entertainment.  It provides escape, especially since there’s so much stress and tension across the globe right now. I think that it’s just so wonderful to work for a network that provides a truly comforting escape. For me, it’s 90 minutes of no stress; which everyone really needs. It’s like therapy. 

To have the support of the Hallmark fans and the soap fans, that’s the most I could ask for as an actor. I have the kindest, most compassionate, most genuine, and selfless fans, and not every actor can say that.

M&C: Why do you think the romantic aspect of these movies is so important in our lives?

Jen Lilley:  I think love is the most important emotion and feeling, and the most powerful force on Earth. I think that again, escapism is really important.  And I think that a love story is always something that somebody wants to tune into, just because love is so powerful.

So, I think that Hallmark basically provides fairy tales for grownups, and I love that. But I also do believe that love like you see in a Hallmark movie exists in real life, and so I’m happy that I found that in my husband, Jason.

M&C: Is there a message in this movie?

Jen Lilley: Oh, there’s a message to every Hallmark movie. I would say that the overall message of this one is to not let your misconceptions inform your decisions. And to be open to mending relationships that maybe drifted apart because of misconceptions.

M&C: How are your three young children?

Jen Lilley: They’re doing so well.  My daughter just turned two, so I finally just transitioned her to a toddler bed. So, I’m out of the crib phase for now and that’s pretty exciting to me.

M&C: How did you handle COVID-19 lockdown as a family?

Jen Lilley: Well, at first, we had to stay inside. In Los Angeles, you couldn’t even go outside for two weeks, which was pretty crazy. But we were super blessed in that my husband and I had gotten our children a giant playground that we had just finished building in February.

It took us two months to assemble it, and so we were so blessed that we had a backyard with a huge playground. So, we would just play in the backyard with the kids for hours on end, for months on end. I also got a fire pit right before they closed us down.  I remember going to Lowe’s and standing in a long line and I was like, “Okay if we’re going into lockdown then I’m at least going to make s’mores.”

M&C: Is motherhood what you expected?

Jen Lilley:  Yes, and more.  As much as you have stressful moments as a parent, at the same time, my children cause me to relax and unwind.  As ironic as this sounds, I’m just such a workaholic that if I didn’t have children, I don’t think I’d have any balance in my life.

M&C: Are you still involved with the nonprofit Child Help?

Jen Lilley:  Yes, I am. I just ran a huge campaign called Camp Christmas in July that we just finished. I’m actually drawing the grand prize winner today.  We did five weeks of giveaways where we raised over 3,290 backpacks full of school supplies for children in foster care. 

And that campaign benefits Childhelp, Comfort Cases, and Cityserve as our charity partners.  We were also able to get brand new pajamas for 1,657 children. So, I’m still heavily involved in that and I’m really passionate about helping children in foster care or those who are at risk of entering foster care.

M&C: Why is this important to you?

Jen Lilley:  As a Christian, and I believe that God runs towards broken things. And looks at things that are uncomfortable and tries to provide care and compassion.  So, for me, it’s very rooted in my faith and my belief that it’s my job to love people well and as best as I possibly can. If it’s in my capacity to help, then I should.

Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevey
Jen Lilley and Ryan Paevey. Pic credit: Hallmark/Photographer: Allister Foster

M&C: Are there one or two life lessons that you got from COVID-19 that are important to you as your children become teens and young adults.

Jen Lilley: The most important thing to me in my children’s lives as they grow is for them to be confident, kind, and to love others well. I don’t care if they’re straight-A students, even though education is important to me, but what matters most to me is they’re kind and compassionate.

And so as far as lessons, I’m just trying to constantly inform them in an appropriate way that doesn’t panic them, that there are so many children that don’t have a lot of things that they have.  And if we can possibly help them, then we should.

I’m visiting my family in Roanoke, Virginia, and because of the Christmas in July campaign, we were able to give over 200 backpacks to the children in my hometown. I had my three-year-old son, Jeff, come with me to drop off the backpacks. I was explaining to him what we were doing and he was really excited. So, I’m trying to teach them that if it’s in your capacity to help, then you should.

M&C: Do you ever watch any of your Hallmark movies when they come on?

Jen Lilley: Definitely. And when I’m in quarantine or home for an extended period of time I always have the Hallmark channel on.

M&C: Do you keep in touch with your Hallmark co-stars?

Jen Lilley: Yes, I do.  Especially the girls that I never got to co-star with. But it is really like a big family. I think it’s really wonderful to work for a company where there’s just so much to go around but there is no competition, and you actually do root for all of your coworkers. All of the actors celebrate one another and that’s really unique.

M&C: Lastly, why do you want my readers to watch this movie?

Jen Lilley:  I think if they have any appreciation for soap operas or Hallmark, they’re not going to want to miss this one.  This movie is really romantic but it’s also extremely funny and it plays homage to soaps.  While at the same time it has a bit of a soap-dish deal; so, it’s just kind of fun for everybody.

The Hallmark Channel’s original movie, A Little Daytime Drama premieres on Saturday, August 21 at 9 p.m. ET.

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