What You Don't Know About Hallmark Star Jill Wagner

Jill Wagner is certainly not an unfamiliar face to viewers of Hallmark Channel's heartwarming movies. That's because, since making her Hallmark Channel debut in the 2015 rom-com "Autumn Dreams," she's appeared in a whopping 16 of 'em. Of those made-for-TV movies, seven have them have been under the "Mystery 101" franchise, in which Wagner portrayed college professor and amateur sleuth Amy Winslow, whose deep-dive knowledge of literary whodunits is put into service of solving actual murders by teaming up with police detective Travis Burke (Kristoffer Polaha).

Of course, Hallmark movies are merely one aspect of Wagner's career, encompassing TV hosting, film acting, modeling, and more. Meanwhile, fans of this multitalented actor and TV personality will see a lot more of her during the 2022 holiday season, when she'll appear opposite Cameron Mathison in the television movie "A Merry Christmas Wish." In addition, Wagner is also inviting viewers into her Tennessee home with  "Farm and Family with Jill Wagner," a new series for the Great American Community App (spun off from the GAC Family Channel).

Fans have followed Wagner's career since she arrived in Hollywood nearly 20 years ago, and there's a lot more to be learned by reading on to find out what you don't know about Hallmark star Jill Wagner.

She got her start on Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd

According to IMDb, Jill Wagner's first screen credit is also her most outrageous: "Punk'd," the Ashton Kutcher-hosted MTV hit in which a crew of actors pulls elaborate pranks on celebrities. 

In an interview with the website My Devotional Thoughts, Wagner revealed how she came to land her first Hollywood acting job shortly after arriving in Los Angeles upon graduating from college. "When I was there, I made friends with an agent who told me I should audition for a show called 'Punk'd' with Ashton Kutcher, I did, and the rest is history," Wagner said. 

As anyone who's watched "Punk'd" will realize, tricking celebrities requires a certain degree of improvisational prowess, and Wagner needed to think fast on her feet. "It was terrifying," she told GQ. Her secret weapon, she confessed, was that she grew up without a television and didn't know much about the celebrities she was pranking. "When I did the red carpet episode, Ashton had to have somebody point out who people were," she explained. "Now, I'm like, 'Wow, how did I go up to Katie Holmes and do that?' Well, that was pre-Tom Cruise. Now, you couldn't do that. She's like royalty."

She hosted one of TV's wackiest shows

Following her stint on "Punk'd," Jill Wagner landed roles in a variety of TV series, including "Monk" and "Quintuplets," along with minor roles in the movies "Junebug" and "Shifted." All that led to being cast as Krista Starr in "Blade: The Series" in 2006, which she told My Devotional Thoughts was her first leading role in a series. 

In 2008, Wagner's career took a turn when she was hired to host "Wipeout," the wackadoodle TV competition that tasked contestants with navigating a hilariously ridiculous obstacle course. "I mean, I started out as an actress and this is my first hosting job and I wasn't really sure I could do it, but it turns out I am really good at talking to people," Wagner told GQ. "I love acting and I miss it and I'll get back to it but right now I am having a ball."

The show's inherent silliness, she admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, presented her with a new set of challenges unlike anything she'd previously experienced in her acting career — including "Punk'd." "I really try to keep a straight face, but it's impossible," she said. "I challenge anyone to come down and do my job and keep a straight face."

The heartwarming reason she began doing Hallmark Channel movies

When "Wipeout" ended its run on ABC in 2014, Jill Wagner shifted from hosting back to acting. While she likely didn't realize it at the time, she was about to begin a new chapter in her career when she was cast in "Autumn Dreams," a 2015 romantic comedy for the Hallmark Channel. As Wagner explained in an interview with MediaVillage, doing her first Hallmark Movie came at the request of a very special person in her life.

"I originally got involved with [Hallmark] because I asked my grandmother what she wanted me to do that I hadn't yet done in my career," Wagner said. "She said, 'Hallmark movies.' I took that to heart, called my manager, and said, 'Can we get a Hallmark movie going?' Grandma wants a Hallmark movie; she gets one." Her manager sent two potential Hallmark Channel movie scripts for her perusal, and Wagner immediately sent them to her grandmother — who chose "Autumn Dreams." "I don't think I'd have ever gotten the chance to be in a Hallmark movie had it not been for her as I never really understood how great they are and what they mean to people," Wagner explained. 

As it turned out, Wagner enjoyed the experience so much that she continued her relationship with Hallmark Channel, appearing in many more movies after that. "Every movie that I film ... I just feel my grandma smiling," she told Good Housekeeping.

Her scene partner in acting class went on to become Aquaman

Among Jill Wagner's many screen credits is the 2018 movie "Braven," in which she portrays the wife of the film's protagonist, played by Jason Momoa. Momoa is best known for his roles in "Game of Thrones" and, on the big screen, "Aquaman." However, he and Wagner had a far more extensive offscreen relationship than viewers of the film would have realized. 

"Jason was actually my first acting partner in class," Wagner revealed in an interview with HuffPost. "The teacher paired us up, and it all went downhill from there... hahahah!!! He's been one of my dearest friends since moving to L.A. 15 years ago."

In fact, "Braven" wasn't the first time she and her one-time acting-class scene partner had worked together. As she reminded, they previously worked together on the Hawaii-shot series "North Shore" (which, in an interesting coincidence, starred her future "Mystery 101" co-star Kristoffer Polaha). In addition, she appeared in two episodes of "Stargate: Atlantis," in which Momoa was a cast member. 

She met future husband David Lemanowicz when she was just 17

In April 2021, Jill Wagner took to Instagram to celebrate her fourth wedding anniversary. In her post, she shared a photo from her 2017 wedding to retired hockey player David Lemanowicz. As she told "Extra" (via Heavy), their romance was not unlike one of her Hallmark Channel rom-coms. "He was a hockey player, and he came through North Carolina, and we had about three dates, and then he was 'missing in action' until about five years ago," she explained. 

Wagner offered more details when the couple appeared on Hallmark Channel's "Home and Family" talk show. "I was 17, he was 20. I snuck out of my dad's window at home and went out at night, which I wasn't supposed to ... I snuck out and met him. Fell completely head over heels," she recalled. However, that was when things ended. "We went out three times," she added, "and then I never heard from him again." They unexpectedly ran into each other years later when he was in the Air Force, deployed in Afghanistan, and she was entertaining troops on a USO tour. "I hadn't seen her in 17 years," Lemanowicz recalled. 

Later, fate intervened again when she was out for dinner in Los Angeles with some friends. "We were leaving [the restaurant] ... and then I hear, 'Jill!' and David had just walked in the restaurant I was walking out of and boom!" 

Why her holiday film A Christmas Miracle for Daisy will always hold a special place her heart

In 2021, Jill Wagner starred in the holiday movie "A Christmas Miracle for Daisy," playing an interior designer who takes on a new project — only to discover her clients are her ex-boyfriend (Nick Bateman) and his young daughter, Daisy. 

As Wagner revealed in an interview with The List, that particular movie remains particularly meaningful for her. "'A Christmas Miracle for Daisy' is probably, I would say, my most special Christmas movie to date," said Wagner, who had recently welcomed her second child — a daughter named Daisy. However, she explained at the time she was offered the movie; she hadn't yet publicly divulged her baby's name. "And so when I got the script, you can imagine, I was kind of surprised to know that the young girl in the movie was named Daisy," she explained. "And I think that that automatically attracted me to the script."

As Wagner explained, the film has the typical love-story elements, but also focuses on the bond between her character, Whitney, and the little girl, Daisy. "I just think it's so special and it's just so heartwarming how they tell the story. And so I was really proud to be a part of it," she said.

She partnered with the creator of Yellowstone to co-create a new series

In September 2022, reports emerged about Jill Wagner's involvement in a big new project that would be a major departure from her iconic Hallmark Channel movies. Wagner, reported Deadline, was working with TV producer Tyler Sheridan (best known for his Paramount Network mega-hit "Yellowstone") on a new series called "Lioness." Wagner wouldn't just be acting in the series — alongside a cast that was set to include Zoe Saldaña, Dave Annable, James Jordan, and Laysla De Oliveira — but is also the series' co-creator and executive producer.

"Lioness," the outlet noted, follows a young recruit to the CIA's Lioness Engagement Team, a team of undercover female operatives tasked with infiltrating a terrorist organization and bringing it down from the inside.

"And that's going to be something that's totally different than any of the films that I filmed. I would say it's a little less family-friendly," Wagner told The List, revealing she's been doing more than an hour of training each day in preparation for her role. "I think the character needs to be stronger than what I am right now, so I'm trying to do her justice," she explained.

The surprising way she got herself into character for Teen Wolf

Another of Jill Wagner's most memorable roles was portraying Kate Argent in MTV's "Teen Wolf." As she revealed in an interview with The List, "Teen Wolf" was a full-circle experience, given that her first acting job in L.A. was in another MTV series, "Punk'd." "And so to get a chance to be back on their network was great," she said. 

According to Wagner, she was surprised when she discovered her "Teen Wolf" character would be transforming into a jaguar version of a werewolf — a werejaguar — for an entire season, requiring extensive makeup and prosthetics. "And so I would sit in the chair for about an hour and a half ... each day, just so they could get my — I guess it's called a werejaguar face on ... It's just fun to play a character like that because it gets you into the role."

While the prosthetics helped her get into character, she had another acting trick she used to bring herself into the character's mindset. "I listen to a lot of heavy metal music, a lot of Marilyn Manson," she told Assignment X. "You just have to psych yourself up, try not to talk to people, try to get into your own little head. I think music is something that really helps me."

She was a spokesmodel for a car manufacturer

At one point in the mid-2000s, Jill Wagner branched out from acting and hosting to promote an automobile brand. In 2009, she opened up about her role as a spokesmodel for the Ford Mercury, appearing in TV commercials and promoting the vehicle. 

As she told Autoblog, she'd been the Mercury spokesmodel for about five years. "Everyone comes up to me and says, 'We can't believe you've been the spokesperson for that long,' and I'm like... 'I guess if you look around, there aren't that many people that have been spokespeople for that long.'"

As Wagner explained, she'd become comfortable in her spokesmodel role and had developed a great relationship with the company. "Everyone at Mercury has been really cool — they're kind of like family — they let me have a lot of input and let me do my own thing, so I don't feel so 'spokespersony' — they try to bring a lot of Jill into the commercials, which is really cool," she explained.

She hit the road to host a show about crafts

"Wipeout" hasn't been the only show that Jill Wagner has hosted. In 2016, she was tapped to host "Handcrafted America" for the INSP channel. As the series synopsis pointed out, "Handcrafted America" sent Wagner traveling throughout America to bring viewers a look at some of the country's most creative artisans and their clever craft projects. 

Speaking with HuffPost, Wagner gushed about the people she met during the show's one-and-only season. "They're so incredibly talented. Their level of artisanship takes years of work. It takes dedication, passion, and above all ... patience." It was the latter trait, she admitted, that was teaching her an important lesson about taking one's time. "I can get a little frustrated not getting things right the first time," she confessed. "This has been a humbling experience, learning from people who are masters in their fields."

While she conceded she wasn't exactly the craftiest of people herself ("I'm terrible at every single thing I try to make on this show," she said), Wagner noted her deep respect for those artisans and revealed her hidden agenda for taking the job. "I felt a connection with it from the moment I read the synopsis," she said of the series. "Being completely honest, I wanted to host it for selfish reasons at first. I wanted to travel around this amazing country, go to its remote parts, to meet some uber-talented people."

She exited Hallmark for a different TV franchise

Many viewers of Hallmark Channel's movies may not have been aware of the man behind them all: Bill Abbott, who spent more than a decade as the CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, parent company of the Hallmark Channel. When Abbott exited Crown Media in 2020 and then launched Great American Family, Abbott wound up bringing a lot of the actors he'd worked with at Hallmark Channel to his new venture. 

Jill Wagner was among the many stars to jump from Hallmark Channel to GAC, reported Cinema Blend, joining the likes of famous actors such as Candace Cameron Bure, Lacey Chabert, Danika McKellar, and many others. Wagner's first GAC movie, "A Christmas Miracle for Daisy," made its debut during the 2021 holiday season, and she'll also be seen in the GAC 2022 holiday film "A Merry Christmas Wish," which was previously announced under the title "A Christmas Farm." 

Speaking with The List, Wagner offered her theory on the enduring popularity of those Hallmark Channel (and now GAC) Christmas movies. "And some of these movies that we film, they pull [at] your heartstrings," she said. "And I think it's important to remember that at Christmas time if you can go back to when you were a kid, that magic that Christmas has, there's a certain air of magic around it."