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Jen Lilley Talks Eat, Play, Love, Days of Our Lives, and More [Exclusive]

Photo Credit: Johnson Production Group

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Hallmark Channel goes to the dogs again this weekend with Eat, Play, Love, which reunites Jen Lilley with her A Dash of Love director Christie Will Wolf in a romantic comedy about second chances that sometimes have to be seized. I spoke with Lilley this week about the film, her second of three Hallmark projects so far this year, and her very busy summer shooting this film along with three others while winging back and forth between Vancouver and LA.

Photo Credit: Johnson Production Group

Lilley plays Carly, a veterinarian who returns home to eventually assume the reins of her grandpa’s practice. Her former high school sweetheart, Dan (Jason Cermak, who recurs over on HMM in the Fixer Upper mysteries), newly engaged to TV journalist Kristi (Emily Maddison), runs a shelter with her still-BFF Michelle (Lucie Guest), and once she starts volunteering her services there, she finds old feelings aren’t quite as buried as she thought.

In a bit of stunt casting that’s actually really charming, 70s TV icons Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner reunite as Darcy’s grandpa, Isaac, and Mrs. Gilbert, a client of Dan’s who’s trying to find the right dog. We also get to see Gidget, the dog who played Vincent in The Art of Us. Here she plays Beasley, a match-making pooch at the shelter. The film is the first from Joel and Lisa Canfield.

Photo Credit: Johnson Production Group

Lilley came on board Eat, Play, Love via her friendship with Wolf, who thought of her when she read the script. “She got hired to direct. The character Carly Monroe is nerdy and adorable and because Christie knows me personally, she said, ‘I know the perfect person for this.’ We loving call each other the dynamic duo. We love each other,'” she laughs.

Lilley was thrilled to work with Majors and Wagner. “It was incredible. Talk about two icons. It was pretty amazing. Before we started, I got an e-mail from the Lee Majors introducing himself, telling me he was looking forward to working with me and [he’d] done research on [my] work,” she recalls. “He said, ‘I’m sorry in advance if I mess up, wink wink.’ I almost fell out of my chair. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re the Six Million Dollar Man. Hopefully I don’t forget my words when I’m gazing into your eyeballs.’ He has a fast sense of humor. He’s has such a good sense of humor. He’s adorable.”

“Lindsay Wagner is every woman’s woman. I think she inspires women just as much today as she did in the 70s. She’s a humanitarian and she’s lovely and she’s a giving performer. She’s so interesting. What I loved about Lindsay is that I appreciate a woman who is very pro-women and strong but also feminine. She’s not trying to be a man. She’s trying to be a strong female. That is a Lindsay Wagner to a T. I love her. She’s a fascinating, brilliant lady.”

Photo Credit: Johnson Production Group

Lilley loved working with the dogs in the film, but they and the outdoor scenes came with a few challenges. “I’m definitely a dog person. I have a dog, he’s hypoallergenic. I’m pretty allergic to animals and on top of that, I’m deathly, Epi-Pen allergic to lawn grass,” she says. “We had all these pivotal scenes in a park. Lee Majors was teasing me so much. Between him and Lucie Guest, I’d grab them and ask if I [was] weeble wobbling. I had so much medicine.”

Part of the film involves Carly realizing that she might need to switch up her wardrobe, which is still rooted in her late teens and 20s, and Lilley had a blast shooting the makeover and its consequences. “My favorite scenes were the makeover scenes–[the] one where I’m going through my old clothing–that was all improv. We were cracking up. Everybody had the giggles,” she says.

“When [I] come to work in the peach, pink dress and I’m trying to find my office and I’m blind as a bat and I’m feeling on the counter and then I run into the office door, and then give Beasley an exam…those scenes are fun for me. Lucille Ball is my hero and I love women that can do physical comedy. It’s not as popular these days but it’s my favorite and I think slapstick is always funny.”

Photo Credit: Johnson Production Group

The other films Lilley worked on this summer are two thrillers, Snatched and The Duplicate, and the upcoming Hallmark Channel film, Harvest Love, which pairs her again with Wolf and which we’ll cover in part two of our interview next month. “I’ve done four movies since May. It’s been absolute madness,” she explains.

“[In Snatched], I play a pregnant wife hipster, and her gynecologist psychopath is played by Dina Meyer. My husband, played by Corin Nemec, looks like her Dad. It’s sort of Fatal Attraction meets Basic instinct. She tries to manipulate the labor and steal the baby for herself. It’ll be in limited theaters.”

The Duplicate was fun and crazy because I played twins. One is a PTA mom going through a divorce. [The other] is the evil twin. She frames her sister for their father’s murder. It was crazy trying to learn lines against myself. It was very confusing. I love the director, but he would be giving me direction and I’d have to ask him which character he was giving direction to. I was playing them so differently that he’d sometimes forget I was playing both.”

Photo Credit: Johnson Production Group

Many fans will recognize Lilley from her time on Days of Our Lives, and she holds her character and extended family on the show very dear. “I loved that [Theresa] was unpredictable. I love Eric Martsolf and every single person on that show top to bottom,” she shares. “I stayed an extra year and half longer than I thought I would because I loved the cast and crew. They’re such good people. I loved everybody. I try to go back and visit. In February, I dropped off Valentines for everyone.”

As for whether she’d go back again, never say never. “It’s always possible. I left with an open door. I would be willing to go back for a cycle like Ali [Sweeney] does or recurring like Eileen Davidson sometimes does. That’s up to the powers that be. Hopefully they won’t recast me,” she says.

Given that she’s been working back-to-back, she hasn’t yet seen the new episodes since the departure of Dena Higley, but has high praise for new head writer Ron Carlivati. “I haven’t had the chance to watch, but I love Ron Carlivati’s writing. I was on General Hospital for some of the time that he was there,” she explains. “He’s a really excellent writer. I’m excited for them. They’re in good fans. Hopefully the fans agree.”

Eat, Play, Love airs Saturday at 9 pm/8c Saturday on Hallmark Channel. Lilley plans to live Tweet the premiere. Harvest Love will premiere in September, and I’ll be back next month with the second part of our interview.

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