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Interview: Jill Wagner

North Carolina native Jill Wagner has already put together an impressive resume in Hollywood. She’s appeared in series such as Blade: The Series, Teen Wolf and Stargate: Atlantis. Many will remember Jill for her hilarious work on the ABC competition series Wipeout.

On the big screen, she’s appeared in the movies Splinter, Road to Paloma and most recently, Brazen opposite Jason Momoa.

Fans of Hallmark movies should instantly recognize Jill Wagner. She’s appeared in several Hallmark productions including Christmas Cookies, Autumn Dreams and A Harvest Wedding. Well, she’s back with her latest Hallmark movie, Pearl in Paradise. The movie will premiere August, 18th at 9/8c.

We sit down with Jill to talk about her character Alex, working with Kristoffer Polaha and how she ended up doing her first Hallmark movie!

Pop Culture Principle - What was it about the script for Pearl in Paradise that attracted you to the project?

Jill Wagner – I am just going to be honest with you; going to Fiji was a huge draw for me doing this project.  Of course, that was part of it, but when I read the script, it was different than any other Hallmark movie I had read before. It had a Romancing the Stone kind of vibe to it and it actually had a stunt in the film, so I had a stuntwoman. This movie was just a little different than what I was used to and I kind of like that aspect.

Pop Culture Principle – What can you tell us about your character Alex?

Jill Wagner – In alignment with most of the Hallmark movies, she’s a strong female character and I like that and that is one thing Hallmark does really well which I appreciate. I found her to be a little bit like I used to be meaning that she had put her career first in her life and her career was her boyfriend. Obviously, in the film she finds love, but I could relate to that because I just got married about a year and a half ago, so most of my life, I’ve been married to my career and I could definitely relate to that. It was interesting to go on this journey with her and see her pop out of that and realize that love is the real treasure, which is the theme of this movie.

Pop Culture Principle – What would you say is Alex’s biggest strength and her biggest weakness?

Jill Wagner – I would say that this could be a weakness, but I don’t think it’s a weakness if someone puts their career first, whether it be a male or a female. I think there comes a time in everyone’s life where they need to consider that they might get lonely and that a career can last only so long. I think that was a good quality about her and the fact that she is determined and that she is a strong female character which I really like.

I guess her flaw would be that throughout the movie she is really disorganized and she’s kind of scatterbrained and she misses deadlines which I can also relate to. I also guess that you can say putting her career first until the very end can be a flaw. I think that at some point, you have to let love in and open your eyes to a human being instead of your career.

Pop Culture Principle – You star in the movie with Kristoffer Polaha. Can you tell us what it was like working with him?

Jill Wagner – Well first of all, I worked with Kristoffer on a show called The Northshore almost fourteen years ago. It was his first television show and it was my first television show. He was my love interest on the show and we had this scene together. It was a very awkward scene for both of us because I had to strip down to my bra and underwear and then we had to jump in a pool and make out. He was telling me the entire time that he was nervous and embarrassed the entire time and I had thought he had done that a million times, so I was embarrassed and nervous. And we realized why didn’t we tell each other that we were nervous. It just goes to show you that if you just be honest about what’s really going on, that scene would have probably been a lot easier.

Kristoffer was great back then and I really just enjoy watching him work. He’s a really smart actor and I actually learned a lot from him. I love it because every time I work with a different actor, I hope that I take away something and learn something. Kristoffer taught me so many things and he’s just a really smart actor and not to mention, he has a wicked sense of humor!

Pop Culture Principle – Were there any funny behind the scenes stories that happened on set that you can tell us about?

Jill Wagner – We would run over our lines the night before our scenes and go over everything and make sure that if there were any questions that we talked about them. One night we were at dinner and at the resort we were staying at, there were frogs everywhere. I had this bright idea that we should act out or scenes with frogs, film it and send it to the director. We did that and he didn’t know if it was brilliant or if it was the stupidest thing he’d ever seen, but he loved it. I think that is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done with a co-star when it comes to rehearsing.

Pop Culture Principle – Pearl in Paradise was filmed on location in Fiji. Would you say that the island of Fiji was its own character in the movie?

Jill Wagner – Absolutely and in fact, I think Fiji was the actual lead of the movie. When you read about Fiji in books and you see it on television, it’s seems magical. When you are there, it definitely is a magical place. I think the number one thing I loved about Fiji was the people. The people are amazing. They are gentle, beautiful, smart and just kind people. I met so many great friends and in fact, I have this pen pal who worked on the set and we’ve been messaging back and forth. It’s something that you can’t describe because you just have to go there to understand how amazing Fiji is.

On one of my days off, I went to a village that was in our term, very poor. Going there felt really sad and I started looking around at the kids and the adults and they were all happy and smiling. Sometimes I think we might have it wrong worrying about the big cars and big houses. Being there was amazing and it was definitely a learning and a spiritual experience for me.

Pop Culture Principle – Pearl in Paradise has a Romancing the Stone kind of feel to it. Would you agree and how do you feel about the movies being compared?

Jill Wagner – I would and if people want to compare both projects; compare away! I think anytime you are related to anything that is good, I consider it a total compliment. If someone told me I looked like Julia Roberts, I would be happy. To me, those kind of things are all compliments and I hope people do see a similar vibe because I thought that when I watched it.

Pop Culture Principle – You’ve worked on several Hallmark projects. What is it about the Hallmark brand that keeps you coming back for projects?

Jill Wagner – Well, at first the reason I started these movies is because my grandmother wanted me to do one. I called my manager, he sent me two scripts and I printed them out and sent them to her. She read them, then calls me and tells me which one to do. That made her so happy and I was like this is why I do what I do and if I can make my grandmother happy, that is amazing.

Unfortunately, she passed away a few weeks ago at 91, but that was one of the things she really looked forward to. I thought to myself, well that’s my grandmother, I wonder if there are other women her age, or younger or even men who look forward to these movies that make them feel good. I think that’s one of the reasons why I started and why I kept doing them.

Another reason is that I recently got married and I acquired a stepdaughter that is only eight years old. She’s always asking to see stuff that I’ve done and most of my work I can’t let her watch, but she can watch these Hallmark films and that makes me feel good that I can film something and she can watch it which is really nice. I thank my grandmother every day because she turned my career in a certain direction and I love it because it’s not something I’m ashamed of. I’m very proud of the films Hallmark creates. I think that they are decent and they have a good message and I think that maybe the world needs a little bit more of those right now.

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with Pearl in Paradise?

Jill Wagner – To me, it’s the absolute grandeur and beauty of our set location which if Fiji. I also think that it’s a different film and has a different vibe to it. It’s kind of an adventure and I think that it’s a little different than most Hallmark movies that I’ve seen. Also, the chemistry between me and Kristoffer was just amazing and I hope the fans really enjoy it.

Pop Culture Principle – What message, if any, would you like viewers to take away from Pearl in Paradise after viewing the movie?

Jill Wagner – The theme of course is that love is the real treasure. Through the search for all these material things, open up your eyes because love is the real treasure. Also, hopefully they will laugh a little bit because it’s a very cute film.

A big thank you to Jill Wagner for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk with us. You can catch Pearl in Paradise on Saturday, August 18th at 9/8c only on the Hallmark Channel!

**Photos credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographers: Allan Stephen/Sven Boecker**

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