Jill Wagner Talks Mystery 101: Killing Time, Faith in Film, and Feel-Good Movies

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We had the absolute please of chatting with the lovely Jill Wagner in anticipation of Sunday's installment of the Mystery 101 movie series on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

We've been big fans of Jill, covering her work Teen Wolf and now across the Hallmark family of networks.

Mystery 101: Killer Timing is the BEST installment of this franchise yet, and Jill and her co-star, Kristoffer Polaha, are giving it everything they've got as Amy and Travis investigate a series of new incidents related to another shocking mystery.

Find out more about it below, and check back with TV Fanatic soon to catch up with Kris, as well.

Jill Wagner is Amy Winslow

It's so nice to meet you.

It's nice to meet you too.

I have enjoyed watching you for so long, and it's thrilling to get a chance to chat with you finally.

Aww, thank you.

Absolutely. I was covering you even way back on Teen Wolf, which seems so long ago now.

Totally different coverage. You've got the serial killer-vampire and now Hallmark.

Kate on Teen Wolf

I have to be honest. I like your Hallmark version a lot better.

Yeah. I think my grandma would probably have said the same thing.

I remember she used to watch me because I did a lot of kind of darker stuff, and she was always like, "I just don't think I'd be watching Teen Wolf unless it was for you," but she for sure loved all of my lighter stuff better because she was like, "That's more you, that's more your personality." I was like, "Well, of course, I'm not a serial killer vampire."

I'm sure it's challenging to vamp out and makeup. You have to push yourself in different directions, but it's also challenging to be more like yourself, and some actors find that to be harder.

I actually think that that is harder because I am such a tough judge. I mean, I love actors that are just real, like it just seems like they're not saying any lines, and of course, we all loved character actors, and I'm not taking anything away from that.

I think that that is really hard, but when you're just playing yourself, it's oftentimes more tricky because when you look back at it, you're like, "Ah, that is fake. That is not you." And so it's just harder to maintain the realness throughout the scene.

Sometimes I actually like when I get to bust out and have an accent and just be somebody else because then you can't be judged on how you're not being honest with yourself.

Amy Listens to Information

Right. What do you like about Mystery 101 and playing Amy?

There's so much I love about this series. I mean, there's everything from the writing of the show. I think is really good. I think that just being with my castmates who I adore. Kris, I really like him.

He's a great co-star, and we get along really well, and I think more than anything, we have great on-screen chemistry. I think that's really hard to find, and it's not necessarily something you can always create just by casting two people, so I think Hallmark got really lucky with that.

The fact that we do have that chemistry really helps sell the show, I think. The crew, we have an amazing crew. We often get to work with the same people. I think it's just the machine in general and everything around it.

It just works, and we're just so lucky because I've been on so many shows where it's not a pleasant experience, and this one is just a wonderful experience. You're having fun beforehand, you're having fun during, and you have fun after you're done, and you get to watch the finished product.

Amy Shows Concern

I think that a lot of the reason your chemistry with Kris is so good on screen is that you are both so natural on this show. It doesn't feel like you're acting, and that's exactly what you're looking for, so way to go because you've both achieved it.

Yeah. Well, thank you. I've always admired Kris for that because I think in his acting, that's why I've always been drawn to his acting because I do feel like he's very real. It's hard for me to judge.

It's almost like I think of it this way. If anybody's ever told you anything about your voice like, "Oh, your voice is low or high or whatever." You can't hear it when you speak. However, when you record yourself and listen to yourself, you can hear all kinds of flaws. It's kind of the same thing. I can't really tell when I'm doing it.

I kind of know if something feels a little off, but it's really when I watched the show afterward. I'm my worst critic, and so I'm like, I don't know if I'm being real. I don't know how people are going to perceive me.

I know what I'm trying to accomplish, and sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't, but I always look at Kris and think, well, I think he grounds the scene, and it's so natural and real. I just always hope that I complement that for sure.

Travis and Amy Search the Board for Connections

Well, you do.

Well, thank you.

Absolutely. And that chemistry, as you said, they got lucky with casting you two because your chemistry is so genuine.

Many of these Mystery movie series tease the attraction between the characters, but on this, it's not as much of a tease as it is just a slow, natural-feeling progression. Do you think that's because of the way you two are?

Well, I don't want to speak for them, but I think that maybe it has a little bit to do with it and the fact that Kris and I were both really heavily pushing it, and we're very involved in the script itself.

I sit down and probably read that script 10 times before I've shot the first day, and I have notes, and I want to sit down with the director; I want to sit down with the producers, and I really dive into it, as does Kris.

Travis and Amy Grow Closer

Part of our notes in going into this and seeing where these characters were going after a couple of movies, I think we really wanted them just to be normal people, right? Because they are adults and adults.

I mean, if there's this much attraction, it's like, come on, they've got to form some sort of relationship. You can't keep these two apart for very much longer.

That's something that Hallmark has been really good at -- that slow burn -- but we wanted to make sure that it happened. That they were allowed to have this relationship because they are two adults. I think that they earned that.

They've worked hard for it, and I think the audience rated to see that because we didn't want to see too much, and then it just gets old after a while. It's like, come on, guys enough already, and I think we owed it to the audience, and I think they did it at a perfect time.

Three's Not a Crowd

This next installment has some pretty significant reveals and some pretty significant developments in that area. What can you tease about it without saying too much?

Well, we get to meet his ex-wife, which is so beautifully played by Erin Cahill. They cast Kate perfectly with her because Erin herself is very likable, just in real life. She's very likable.

I think she brought that to this character, and I think it really helped because initially, my thought in my character was kind of, "Okay. Well, what does she want with him? What is her motive for being here? Is it to help Travis, or is it to get Travis back?"

I think that is a real feeling with any woman who loves somebody and an ex comes in, especially an ex-wife, and they happen to be friends. You're going to question a little bit. That's just human nature. I don't want to say Amy was jealous or anything like that.

I think that she was just unsure of what the relationship was between them, and I think that because Erin plays it so beautifully, you see this very  real relationship come up between Amy and Kate.

Amy and Travis Hard at Work

I love how their relationship is portrayed because just because someone used to date the person you are in love with or used to be married to them doesn't mean that two women have to hate each other.

I love seeing how it was written and how it was played between both of our characters. I think that there's real respect between these two women. I really liked that part of it.

I did too. I'm very pleased with the whole way this one came out.

Yeah, and it was really great because, in my real life, my husband has an ex-wife that I'm good friends with, and so I have that relationship with her to kind of pull from, and I know what that feels like.

More women than not have that relationship with one of their boyfriends' exes or especially an ex-wife. I think it's nice for that portrayal, and you don't have to have two women going at each other and having a catfight over a man.

Amy Investigates

Absolutely. Yeah, because it kind of cheapens both relationships if it gets to that.

Absolutely. Yeah, I agree.

How has playing a literature professor affected your real-life interest in reading mysteries?

Well, it's funny. I am not the best reader in the world, meaning I can pick up a book and, as much as I want to read it like right now I'm really into flowers and gardening and trying to do a cut garden and so I've gotten all these books and bless my heart. I sit down to read them, and I can get through about, I don't know, 15 pages, and I'm asleep.

It is not the easiest thing for me. I've always really admired... My grandmother was a great reader. I mean, she could read a novel in a day. I mean, she loved it. It's not that I don't love reading; it's just really hard for me because it just puts me to sleep.

It's like a natural sleeping pill for me. As I said, I'm not an avid reader, but it definitely has sparked my interest, and I have done a little research because I think that Amy is like her own little Sherlock.

I think that she admires Sherlock, and I've definitely learned a lot on the show about the writers that wrote the mysteries and the old school ones like Ms. Marple and all of that. I'd say I've learned a lot just from being on the show.

Amy on the Scene

What about mystery movies and other TV series? Do you watch those and compare them to what you're doing?

Yeah. For sure. I've just now started to realize that there are a lot more mysteries out there than I even knew about and a lot of new ones coming out. Now, I just compare. I compare and also look at it differently because you're really dissecting it when reading the script.

While you're reading it, you're just like, "Oh, okay. Wait a minute. It could be this person." And you're really trying to think, who is this person? Can I figure this out before I get to the end of the script?

I think just now, in watching mystery movies, that I really concentrate on every little detail because I know in our scripts, it's like every single detail.

You might think it's the smallest little thing, but it will be the key that solves the whole thing. I watch them a little differently now.

Jill Wagner in Mystery 101: Words Can Kill

What about your Christmas movies? I want to talk about those as well because I absolutely love your choices when picking Christmas scripts. Some of yours are my favorites.

Aww, thank you.

Do you have any more coming up?

Well, as of right now, I'm just shooting Mystery 101, and then we'll see if I shoot one. I don't have anything right now, but that obviously can all change, but I do love Christmas. I love the shooting of Christmas movies. It gets me in the spirit.

It's usually obviously way before Christmas when we're shooting them, but it's like always a happy set, right? Because you can't be sad if Christmas carols are playing and you're talking about Santa Claus.

I always try to do a faith-based Christmas film because I think that's the most important part of Christmas. I'm going to be searching for a script like that.

Kris Polaha and Jill Wagner on Set

Yeah, that's nice. I'm going to be sad that the Christmas in Evergreen movies will probably change since everybody used to go back.

Once you do one, you kind of go back and access the town supporting characters for other movies, and now that's not going to really work with two-week quarantines everywhere. That's so sad.

It has been seriously difficult. I mean, just me and my husband, we're not putting our child on a plane yet, so we bought an RV, and we've been traveling across the country. That's another seven days hacked onto the 14-day quarantine. We're away from home for almost two months.

It's a hard thing to do, but it's important for us just to keep her safe. We deal with it, but it's not easy. The 14-day quarantine is not easy. You have to take like three tests before you even start working, but they're just trying to make everybody safe, and I understand and appreciate it.

Jill Wagner in An Education Murder

Sure. I don't envy that situation, especially because it's so hard for actors when you're filming so far from home anyway and adding all that extra time to it. I'm glad that you can go with your family.

Yeah. I mean, I'm not leaving her for anything and my husband... I'm so lucky because he has a remote position, so he's always been able to travel with me for the most part.

Thank God because I don't know how we would make it work otherwise because I can't stand to be away from him either. It's really good that we'll all be together, though.

My last question for you is what kind of changes you have seen under the guidance of Wonya Lucas since she's taken over the helm?

Well, I think there are quite a few changes, and everybody can see them. There's a bit more diversity. I think we've had our first gay couple. We've had a lesbian couple. There's a lot of change. I don't know how much of that is just from her or if it was percolating before her.

I can only speak to what I have seen since she's come on board. I've had the opportunity to email back and forth with her, and she's been so nice and so kind. I'm really happy for her and just wish them all the best. I'm happy for the network that it's growing, hopefully in a positive direction, and everybody gets a little love.

Jill Wagner in Mystery 101 An Education in Murder

I'm hoping that Hallmark Drama will get some love. Maybe that could be a place for a faith-based Christmas movie.

Yeah. I mean, my story with my husband is quite a story, and it's quite a faith-based story that we're going to turn into a movie and. I've been trying to work on that script, and it most certainly could almost be a Christmas movie, but we'll see.

For sure, I think that's a good place and if not, maybe some others; you never know. There are a million companies out there that, hopefully, want to offer more faith. We need more faith-based movies out there—more good faith-based movies.

Yes. Quality.

Exactly. I'm not into the kind that when you're done with it, you feel like you might be going to hell. You're not sure. You're like, "Oh my gosh, I've done everything wrong in my life." I'm not into those kinds.

Mystery 101: Killer Timing Poster

I'm into the kind that leaves you with hope and leaves you feeling good, and leaves people questioning the people who may not believe in God. Maybe it makes them want to pick up the Bible and read it and see what the big hoopla is.

I think if you can make people feel good after a movie like that and make them feel secure in their faith, then that's amazing. That's all we're trying to do.

Be sure to tune in to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries on Sunday, March 21 at 8/7c for Mystery 101: Killer Timing!

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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