Jen Lilley on the ‘When Harry Met Sally’ Moment in ‘Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday’

Angel Falls A Novel Holiday Final Image Assets
Shane Mahood/Crown Media

Jen Lilley has done quite a few Hallmark movies (and across all seasons). But in her newest Christmas offering, Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday, she got to do something new both on and off-screen.

Lilley wants to direct one day, and she took a step towards that while on the set. “I’ve had a couple offers from other directors to shadow them and I absolutely am going to take them up on that when my kids are a little bit older because I don’t believe in doing anything until you can really commit to it,” the Days of Our Lives alum tells TV Insider.

But on Angel Falls, alongside director Jonathan Wright, she learned how to operate the camera. “The scene I got to film was a scene with Eric Close, who’s such a talented and accomplished actor — talk about an incredible resume from actor to director,” she gushes. “He’s worked with everyone from Clint Eastwood to Bradley Cooper [in American Sniper]. And he let me film him, so it was a real treat for me. That was such a blast.”

Here, Lilley previews Hallmark’s return to Angel Falls and the romance and community of A Novel Holiday.

Where is Hannah in her life personally and professionally when we meet her?

Jen Lilley: Hannah is a bit jaded in love, as any Hallmark leading lady often is. She is a book editor who loves romantic fiction, but she doesn’t really believe that the heroes depicted in the novels actually exist. When we meet her, her childhood companion-turned-competition, Ryan [Carlo Marks], returns to town from his fancy publishing job in New York to handle his parents’ estate, and she, of course, thinks that Ryan’s starting to take over her job because he’s a publisher from New York, she’s a local publisher, and of course then as in most romantic comedies, misconceptions and witty banter ensue.

One thing I loved about this film is they are childhood friends who later turned to nemeses. Ryan doesn’t know that Hannah is competitive with him, but Hannah thinks that Ryan took her job in New York and that’s why she’s stuck in Angel Falls. It provides a lot of drama right off the get-go. I like that it’s the boy who comes back to the small town in this one versus the girl.

(Shane Mahood/Crown Media)

Despite that competition, what’s attractive about Ryan to Hannah?

He has integrity, which she doesn’t realize at first. And he’s familiar. He’s a family friend that was probably one of her best friends growing up. She knew his parents, who have sadly passed away. So there’s just comfort in the fact that they have a foundation of friendship, which you often don’t find in a lot of the Hallmark movies.

What does Ryan think of what’s been going on in Hannah’s life? How does he see her?

He thinks she’s living her best life. He has no idea that she’s not completely happy with everything that she’s pursuing in the publishing world. He thinks he’s returning home to handle his parents’ estate and reconnect with a really good friend of his, and he has no idea she’s been holding a grudge against him.

What does he see in her that she needs to see in herself?

Hannah has very little confidence. She’s afraid of taking risks in her job even though she’s completely skilled because she lost the job offer in New York. Ryan sees that in her and really encourages her to take a leap of faith and trust her instincts.

Who is Hannah closest to? And whose advice does she need to hear the most?

She’s close with her parents, but she’s always trying to please them because they own the publishing company. Of course she consults a lot with her best friend, Ashley, who has been married to Zach for three years, so she takes a lot of relationship advice from her.

(Shane Mahood/Crown Media)

Is there anything character-wise you got to do in this Hallmark movie?

The only thing that was exciting and challenging for me that I haven’t done in previous romantic movies is bringing in a balance of a relationship that I already had from the past. I’ve never fallen in love with a friend on camera. That was a bit different for me, and I actually took the writer, Samantha Herman, out for coffee before I left to go film. Samantha wrote Mingle All the Way, which is a Christmas movie I produced last year, so we have an established relationship.

I was just like, “How are you envisioning this? Is it one of those When Harry Met Sally moments where it’s like, ‘It had to be you’?” and she was like, “Yes.” So it was fun for me to find the balance of you’re my friend, you’re kind of my nemesis, and you kind of annoy me just like Harry annoyed Sally, and then we become friends and then there’s this moment of, “oh my gosh, you’re the love of my life.”

It’s a different story, but what’s the common thread viewers who watched Christmas in Angel Falls will pick up?

It’s extremely different than the first Angel Falls, which is great in the sense that if people have not seen Angel Falls, they can enjoy the sequel without feeling like they need to watch the first one first. In the first movie, Angel Falls is a town that has no Christmas cheer and of course they find it.

In this one, the only through line is that it takes place in the same town and the same town has a very strong sense of community. All of us know that holidays can be very difficult for people. At some point in our lives, we’re going to lose loved ones that are very close to us, and holidays will be hard, especially the first holiday without your parents or a sibling or a spouse, etc.

(Shane Mahood/Crown Media)

One thing I really loved about this movie was that they didn’t shy away from the fact that holidays can be hard and then the characters really found solace in the community, which is true to life. When you lose people, of course it’s difficult, and of course you need to grieve, but you also need to not isolate yourself, you need to surround yourself with community and people who love you and support you so that they can carry you through when you’re weak, and that’s something that this movie really highlights well.

Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday, Movie Premiere, Sunday, December 15, 9/8c, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries