Jen Lilley didn’t set out to be an actress. Born in Roanoke, Virginia, she moved to LA in 2001 after discovering her love for the craft and her life hasn’t been the same since. Her career started off slow, as many do, with guest spots on hit television shows and an appearance in an Academy Award winning film. She really struck gold when she took over the role of Maxie Jones on ABC’s General Hospital. TheCelebrityCafe.com’s Sari N. Kent had a chance to speak to Jen about how she was unexpectedly bit by the acting bug and how the role of Maxie has changed her life.
Before we start, I just wanted to tell you what a fantastic job I think you’ve done as Maxie. Being a lifelong soap fan, I know it’s never easy coming in as a recast, especially when the actress who had the role before was so known for it. I read that you’ve had backlash as a result so I wanted to tell you, nothing against Kirsten Storms’ portrayal of Maxie, I just wanted you to know that I think you’ve made Maxie your own and have brought a uniqueness to the role. Plus, your chemistry with Bradford [Anderson, who plays Damian Spinelli] and Jason [Cook, who plays Dr. Matt Hunter] is off the charts.
JL: Thank you so much for saying that. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate hearing that.
SNK: How did you learn that the role of Maxie was being recast?
JL: I had actually gone in about a month and a half before the recast happened for the role of Cassandra. So, I’d gone out for that role, which was really funny. It was the weirdest audition ever. I put these really long extensions in my hair kind of like the White Witch from Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I went in completely in character. I’d never met Mark Teschner before, he’s the casting director for General Hospital and I did the audition. I backed out of the room really creepy . I went in character and I went out in character. I went in doing what I wanted to do and honestly, I couldn’t tell if he liked it. I didn’t know if I scared the bejesus out of him and he was never going to call me again. *laugh* So, Mark Teschner did like me, but felt I wasn’t right for the role of Cassandra, which we both know turned out good because that character is gone.
So, about a month and a half later I audtioned for the role of Maxie, but it didn’t say Maxie. It said ‘We need somebody that’s petite, 25ish, hip, sexy, funny and stylish. Preferably blonde.’ I called my manager and he told me that he had already submitted me for it. Mark Teschner ended up calling me back in and I read for the role. I got a callback. I read with Bradford. Then, they said for me to wait in the lobby. I booked it and they told me that I was taking over the role of Maxie from Kirsten Storms and ‘you start tomorrow.’
It was extremely crazy and I had not watched General Hospital before that day. I mean, I’d seen an episode so I could figure out the tone. But, I’m super thankful for it. It’s ironic that I was supposed to really only be there for about a month and nine and a half months have come and gone so it’s been kind of a whirlwind.
SNK: In the late summer of 2007, you moved to LA to pursue acting, what made you make that decision?
JL: I actually wanted to be a lawyer or a teacher in college. I was kind of always intrigued by actors but I never saw myself as one. I was walking around campus at the University of Virginia and I kept seeing these posters everywhere for these open auditions for this play The Loss of Life. I could not get them out of my mind and I thought maybe I could audition to see if I could get it, just for fun. So, I auditioned for it and I got the role, I got the lead. Once I got on set I found out that I really love acting. The camera doesn’t scare me and camera crews don’t scare me. They’re very down-to-earth people. I was kind of turned off by the melodramatics of stage acting. People can be larger than life and I like people who are more real and down-to-earth. I just felt that acting was what G-d wanted me to do. So, I graduated a semester early, I taught kindergarten during the day and I waited tables at night for six months then I moved out to LA. I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve been out here just short of five years and I’ve done really well. I feel blessed.
SNK: It seems like you have been blessed. Before you landed the role of Maxie on General Hospital, you guest starred on CBS’ Criminal Minds and ABC’s Castle. What were those experiences like?
JL: I loved working on Castle because I’m such a big fan of the show. That was really fun for me. Everyone on that show and everyone in the cast is so amazing. As you know Nathan Fillion came from soaps. They were all so kind and Nathan Fillion was so adorable. One of the rooms we were shooting in was so cold and he was like ‘Do you want my jacket?’ ‘Do you need anything?’ So, that was a lot of fun. He was just so sweet and I felt so blessed to work on that show since I’m such a big fan. That was such a special experience for me.
Criminal Minds was a lot of fun. I got to play a 17-year-old and got my eyes gauged out, which was fun. *laugh* That experience was fun because my character’s neck gets slit, her carotid artery gets severed and she dies. That experience was funny because they give you a real metal sharp knife. So, the knife man is supposed to hold his thumb over the blade so his knuckle hits the flesh, for safety reasons, so it looks like he’s cutting your neck. Well, the guy forgot to do that and I did the stunt because I love doing my own stunts. So, I’m lying dead on the concrete floor and I’m waiting for them to yell, ‘Cut!’ because I literally thought he cut my neck. The guy was mortified but I ended up being fine. But, it was a lot of fun.
SNK: You also appeared in the The Artist, which won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Picture. What was that like?
JL: That was the most amazing experience of my life, bar none. I love films. They thought we were crazy for making a silent film. I remember being so excited to work on it. I thought, even if this movie is never shown anywhere, I get to say that I worked on a silent film. I’m so enamored by Hollywood’s Golden Age, the history of movies, all of that. So, the fact that it went to Cannes and we won the Oscar. I was at the ceremony and I just started bawling and I had told myself ‘I’m not going to cry’ if we win so it was really amazing. Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It was phenomenal.
SNK: It sounds like it was quite a coup for a young actress. Your Internet Movie Database profile says that you just completed a project titled Petty Offenses. Can you tell me a little more about that?
JL: It was actually a pilot I shot. I don’t know if they’re still trying to sell it. It’s hilarious, kind of The Office meets Parks and Recreation. It’s a comedy about a bunch of social workers and I played this hilarious secretary that everybody has a crush on. She’s bubbly, the kind of person who always sees the glass as half full. It was a riot and the cast was great. I hope it goes somewhere. We shot four episodes. It was very funny and I loved the director and the crew. It was definitely hysterical.
SNK: Sounds like a funny scenario. Your Internet Movie Database profile also lists a project that’s in post-production called The Olivia Experiment. Can you tell me a little more about that?
JL: That [recently] premiered at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. It’s a quirky comedy about sexual disorientation. Basically, there’s a girl named Olivia, who I do not play, is a virgin, she’s 27, she’s never even kissed a boy. She’s a professor in women’s studies and she conducts an experiment. I play Felisha, who is one of her students, and I suggest to Olivia to use my boyfriend to lose her virginity with. It was really funny. I guess I would call it a quirky dramedy because it some real touching moments and I felt really blessed to work with the whole cast. A lot of them are unknown. It’s kind of like The Office where you know all of them are going to become successful. We spent six months on it and the cast was just phenomenal.
SNK: It sounds like an intriguing movie. Are there any upcoming General Hospital tidbits you can share with my web site’s readers?
JL: Yes, well, as you know Maxie has been busy, she got married and Matt runs off, which we know so she’ll be getting a new love interest. So, that should be interesting. I think people are going to see a big change between her and Spinelli that will be very vibrant and fresh. So, stay tuned, it should be very exciting.