Cowgirls can end up anywhere and everywhere if they follow their dreams, which is exactly what Jill Wagner did.
Growing up in North Carolina, she knew she loved acting and let her dream bring her all the way to L.A., where she has starred in many films and television programs. Teen Wolf, Splinter (2008), Stargate: Atlantis, and Bones are all on Wagner’s resume.
Along with her acting credits, she boasts hosting several television programs, including Wipeout, Wolf Watch, Handcrafted America, and Home & Family.
Jill Wagner’s latest feat, The Legend of 5 Mile Cave, is premiering this Saturday on INSP. In this time-hopping Western, Wagner plays Susan Tilwicky, a strong mother whose home is on the brink of foreclosure. The film follows the adventures of her son and a drifter as they delve into the world of the Old West.
In anticipation of the film’s release, COWGIRL spoke with Jill Wagner about filming, her relationship with acting, and her personal development.
COWGIRL Magazine: Tell me about your childhood and the experiences that led you to where you are today?
Jill Wagner: I came from a very loving family. Anytime I wanted to try something challenging I was encouraged to take it on. When I wanted to make the move from NC to LA, my family was so supportive. Because of all the love I received and the strong values I was given, I feel like I was able to take all of the rejection I had when I first started and turn [it] into a learning experience. I think the best advice my dad ever gave me was not to take everything so seriously and to “be who you are.” I have tried to maintain the “Jill” I was growing up and that attitude has really helped me to succeed in this business.
CG: It’s clear you have a strong love for animals. How did that come about?
JW: I have always loved animals. From the time I was born I think I have had a strange, but beautiful bond with them. If you told me I had to be on a desert island with just cows and dogs, I would be alright. Well, I may want to include my husband and my step daughter! Seriously though, I wanted to be a vet until I understood that you see a lot of hurt animals and my little heart couldn’t take that. I rescue cows on our farm in Tennessee. Nothing makes me happier than going out in the pasture and feeding them treats. They really are amazing animals.
CG: How did your country lifestyle impact your experience working on the The Legend of 5 Mile Cave?
JW: Well, I felt I could have been Susan in a former life. I grew up in the country and I know and love that life. I have a farm of my own now and I couldn’t imagine losing it. I could really empathize with my character’s situation.
CG: Which scene/scenes were particularly memorable to film?
JW: One that sticks out in my mind is the kitchen scene where Sam tells Susan something he has been hiding from her. It was a super emotional scene and one that I was scared of. I think those are the scenes that come out the best sometimes. There was also a scene where Sam introduced himself for the first time and we got to see the horses run free and I really enjoyed that.
CG: How do you think The Legend of 5 Mile Cave compares to old-school Westerns?
JW: I think it honors them beautifully with this film. It’s honest, and wholesome and adventurous. Part of it was shot in Arizona on a set where many other westerns have been shot. I think we did a great job of staying true to the great westerns of the past.
CG: How did you prepare for this role?
JW: I had to research on how southern people spoke in that part of the country during that time period. It is slower and softer than what we hear today. I was afraid of sounding like an idiot since this was my first period piece, but I hope the audience sees Susan and not Jill.
CG: What was the most challenging or rewarding aspect of playing your character, Susan?
JW: She is a strong southern woman and anytime I can play a woman that I would look up to in real life is good.
CG: Being an actress, film is a big part of your life. What films have influenced you, and in what ways?
JW: My grandmother let me watch Gone with the Wind for the first time when I was about 11 and it changed everything for me. I fell in love with it and made her watch it around 50 more times! I loved the story, the clothing and Vivienne Leigh became my favorite actress and I saw movies in a different light. I had a true appreciation for the good ones.
CG: Along those lines, which actors and actresses have inspired you throughout your career?
JW: Vivienne Leigh was and still is my favorite. I also love Debra Winger and her performance in Urban Cowboy made me wanna try to learn how to ride a bull!
CG: What advice would you give to young women looking to follow in your career footsteps?
JW: Don’t ever go into the business thinking you will be an overnight success. Sometimes that happens, but it’s lightning in a bottle. Only do it if you are passionate about it, are willing to put in the work and don’t mind being broke for years at a time.
. . .