INTERVIEW: Jen Lilley's life and songs in the key of soap

Posted Saturday, January 03, 2015 11:34:13 PM
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INTERVIEW: Jen Lilley's life and songs in the key of soap

An exploding music career, angry catfights, and keeping her real-life marriage a secret are all in a day's work for Days of our Lives star Jen Lilley. In a interview, Jen reveals the soundtrack to the soapy days of her life.

Stolen embryos, coma catastrophes, and crazy catfights are exciting and all, but they kind of can't hold a candle to the real-life excitement Days of our Lives' Jen Lilley (Theresa Donovan) brings to the table. Not only is the Virginia native a budding vocal star, having just gotten an opportunity to record a full-length album at Capitol Records, but she recently revealed that she's married -- a super soapy secret she tells Soap Central she kept locked away for years.

"I felt so guilty because I knew I was lying," she says of hiding the fact that she married hubby Jason Wayne in 2007. "My personal friends knew, and obviously my family knew, but basically, in Los Angeles, if you're married [it can be tough to land jobs]."

Therefore, the actress explains, she purposefully kept her marital status under wraps from fans and from the press until early last year. "I was on Criminal Minds, playing a 17-year-old back in 2008, and then I interned for the casting office a year later... and one day I was wearing my ring, and the casting director was like, 'Oh, my God, you're engaged?!'" Lilley recalls.

Lilley continues, "The casting assistant was one of my really good friends, and she said, 'No, she's married,' and [the casting director] literally cartoon-style went back and hit the wall and was like, 'Wait, you can't be married, because I'm 28 and I'm older than you, wait, oh, my God, are you 40? I thought I was older than you. Are you 40?' And I was like, 'What? No, I'm 24.' And she was like, 'But you're married?!' And I said, 'I'm from Virginia!' So it was a lot of people's reactions like that, and I had a hard time getting roles in my age range, so I just kept it a secret."

The cat came out of the bag in the spring of 2014, which lifted quite a weight off the actress' shoulders. "I was calling him my boyfriend, and then I started thinking, 'Well, technically, your husband is your boyfriend,'" she says of the excuse she told herself during the time she kept mum about Wayne. "But yeah, it was always weird."

However, "weird" isn't exactly an out-of-the-box concept for the actress, considering her current DAYS storyline is one for the books. Fresh out of a disastrous relationship with Brady (Eric Martsolf), Theresa has no idea that Kristen (Eileen Davidson) stole the embryo -- and therefore has no idea that the pregnancy everyone keeps accusing her of faking was actually the real deal. "This is the stuff of soap glory," Lilley declares of the fun plot twist, adding that at first, she wasn't sure what to make of the stolen embryo storyline. "I thought it was funny, I thought it was biologically impossible, and then I thought, 'This is awesome!' It's soap history in the making, and I get to be part of it."

She does admit that working with Davidson tops the actual storyline part. "Working with her, it was just one of those moments in time where I really felt like I was in the presence of a legend," she explains. "Eileen will be remembered for decades and decades to come. So... I felt really spoiled to work with her and to work with her in such an interesting capacity, and not just, 'Oh, I bumped into her in the Horton Town Square, and she gave me the evil eye.' It's like, dude, we had full-on confrontations, and that's really cool."

As viewers already know, Davidson is set to return to the DAYS canvas this spring. So will the truth about Theresa's embryo come out upon Kristen's return? "I cannot answer that without smiling!" Lilley teases, adding that no matter what, she hopes the fallout will be remembered for years to come. "DAYS is awesome, and being a part of its history is more than I could ask for, so I hope [the story is a knockout]. It would be awesome."

Meanwhile, viewers will have to make due with seeing Theresa struggle with her feelings for Brady, who has made it clear that he wants absolutely nothing to do with her -- which of course causes her to squirm and make not-so-intelligent choices like only Theresa (and maybe Eve) can do. "I had a really good friend in junior high that I base Theresa off of who was this damaged girl who made horrible decisions because she didn't think that she was worth anybody's time," the actress explains of her alter ego's mentality.

Lilley gives insight to her character: "Girls like Theresa make rash decisions because they don't have enough self-esteem to hold their ground and make smart decisions. They kind of shoot themselves in the foot and preemptively hurt themselves so that other people won't hurt them, and I think with Brady, it's like, I think in Theresa's mind and in Theresa's heart, she thinks that she loves Brady. But at the same time, I think, from being married almost eight years, [I've come to realize that] real love is selfless. Real love is putting the other person first. So it's an interesting dichotomy playing her, because Theresa thinks she's fully in love with him, but as the portrayer, as Jen Lilley, I can say she doesn't fully love him in the most selfless, genuine way."

That in and of itself is a recipe for disaster, and the addition of Melanie (Molly Burnett) into the mix makes for even more juicy fun. "Theresa really starts to hate Melanie, because Melanie and Brady start to kind of flirt with each other, and that drives Theresa crazy," Lilley says. "Theresa knows that Brady probably deserves someone like Melanie more than her, and she can't stand that."

Consequently, the girls have already brawled more than most UFC fighters, which the actress says is great fun. "Molly and I can't look each other in the eye because we are really good friends, so it's hard being mean to each other, but it's been fun for me too," she says. "Molly can hold her own. She's something else. And she's taught me some of the choreography [for catfights]. She's like, 'Here's how you make it look like you're pulling my hair,' and all this stuff, and I'm like, 'Oh, my God, okay.' I feel so awkward doing it! During the scenes, I get really nervous. I'm like, 'Well, what if I slip during the scene and I actually pull your hair or something?!'"

Catfights might not be her natural forte, but that's okay, because Lilley has something else to fall back on: her budding singing career. As Soap Central first reported, the actress is recording a full-length album at the legendary Capitol Records studios following the recording of her and Martsolf's remake of the holiday classic "Baby, It's Cold Outside." She'll be recording two albums this year, which is beyond her wildest dreams.

"I thought I'd start to dabble in singing and just kind of try to start learning, and then all of a sudden, it was like, 'Well here you go, here you go, here you go,'" she says with a laugh, adding that both the holiday tune and the resulting recording opportunity came out of a simple resolution. "I'm a total nerd, and I make seven-year plans, and I make five-year plans, and one of my goals for the year 2014 was to record one Christmas song, so that's kind of how it came about. And then it just became bigger and bigger and bigger... definitely beyond what I ever thought was going to happen. It's really exciting."

Funny enough, the actress also credits DAYS newcomer Christopher Sean (Paul Narita) for convincing her to pursue a singing career. "He's actually one of the people that kind of put the nail in and solidified the fact that I was going to start singing again, because he was always so encouraging," she enthuses. "He would always ask me to sing for him. He was like, 'Oh, I heard you singing.' And I was like, 'Um, when did you hear me singing?!' And he was like, 'Oh, you were walking down the hall, and you didn't know I was there,' and I was like, 'Oh, that's awkward' [laughs]... My parents, they always called me their songbird, because I still do it to this day, and I don't realize I'm doing it until I start consciously thinking about it, but every time I walk to my car, and when I walk from my car to my front door, I sing, and I've done that my whole life. My parents used to always say, 'We always knew when you were home, because it would be one in the morning and you'd be singing at the door. Even if you were trying to sneak in, we knew you were home, because we heard you singing.' So yeah, I do, I walk around singing and don't realize I'm doing it."

And she might not be the only DAYS actor who does so; plenty of Lilley's costars are also impressive vocalists, including Martsolf, Kassie DePaiva (Eve), and Casey Moss (J.J.). "Our cast is so musically inclined," the actress raves, adding that she hopes that she and her Salem counterparts are offered more chances to show their musical talent on-screen. "I really, really, really hope that they take the time to write songs and let us sing, but I have no idea [if it's possible]. It's definitely something I would love to do if the writers could make it happen."

What do you think about Theresa's current storyline? What do you think about Lilley's singing career? And are you shocked that the actress hid her real-life marriage for several years? You can share your thoughts below in the Comments section, post with other fans on our message boards, or click here to submit Feedback.


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