Jill Wagner
2020 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Sven Boecker

Who Is Jill Wagner? Meet the Hallmark Darling Starring In Taylor Sheridan's 'Lioness'

From Hallmark to the CIA.

Taylor Sheridan has a knack for attracting both top-tier talent—and undiscovered gems. His latest project, Special Ops: Lioness, is no exception from industry veterans Zoe Saldaña and Nicole Kidman to the soon-to-be breakout star of the small screen, Jill Wagner.

The latest addition to the Sheridan universe is a far cry from his Yellowstone ranch drama but no less intense. Based on a real-life CIA program, Special Ops: Lioness follows a Marine recruit (Laysla De Oliveira) who goes undercover to bring down a terrorist organization from within. Between a star-studded cast and a story as gripping as they come, it's sure to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

While many names and faces in Lioness will be recognizable, Wagner's is certainly a fresh one. The 44-year-old actress and TV host has been on the Hollywood scene for some time, but this series marks her first major foray into drama. So who is Jill Wagner — and why is she the perfect fit for Sheridan's latest work?

She's A North Carolina Gal

Wagner was born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While she didn't come from a family of actors or dream of being in the spotlight as a child, it still wasn't long before she realized she might have an interest in it. While working the counter at Cinnabon as a 15-year-old, she was scouted by a photographer to model in Jamaica.

"He told me that he was doing this shoot in Jamaica where they were having a contest to find some models," she said in a 2009 interview. "I thought maybe he wasn't being serious or that he had other interests."

But he was serious, and it wasn't long before she was flying to the Caribbean. Even though Wagner ended up majoring in business management at North Carolina State University, she also trained as a model and actress at Barbizon Modeling and Acting School in Raleigh. Upon graduating in 2001, she left her small town behind and headed to Los Angeles to make a name for herself. The rest, as they say, is history.

She Got Her Start Hosting

It didn't take long for her to land her first gig in Hollywood. In 2003, Wagner joined MTV's Punk'd as a cast member and performed in several sketches alongside Ashton Kutcher. From there, she landed a few other hosting gigs for shows such as Inside the Vault as well as some small acting roles. Wagner appeared in major shows such as Monk and Bones and co-starred alongside Sticky Fingaz in Blade: The Series. 

After a few years in the industry, she started co-hosting Wipeout, an ABC game show gig she maintained for four seasons before taking a brief break to focus on acting. She returned in 2012 and continued with the show until its cancellation in 2014.

"I think that people love 'Wipeout' simply because it's just plain, simple fun," she said of the show in 2010. "Falling down — I mean, I know you probably laugh when you see people fall down, as long as they don't get hurt. It's the same thing with 'Wipeout.' It's never going to get old."

With Wipeout in the rearview mirror, Wagner stepped away from the mic and devoted her efforts to her acting career. Since 2015, she's starred in several Hallmark Channel projects, including Christmas Cookies, Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses and The Angel Tree

Of course, the Christmas rom-coms are just a small part of her contribution to the Hallmark Channel. Wagner also starred as Amy Winslow in a multi-year mystery series called Mystery 101, a show about a college professor and detective who team up to solve crimes. She also guest starred on the show Teen Wolf and appeared in the indie horror flick Splinter.

She's A Mom Of Two

When she's not on set, Wagner is busy raising two young children. She and her husband, David Lemanowicz, welcomed Army and Daisy in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Lemanowicz, a former pro hockey player, has another child from his previous marriage.

Upon announcing the birth of her second child, Wagner also revealed that she had some complications during her pregnancy. "You made me feel safe, although my situation was not," she wrote about her husband on Instagram. "I watched you care for our newest daughter during that time (while I could not) and I know she also felt safe in daddy's arms. To endure all of this was hard I know, but what came next was unimaginable for us both.

"Our little flower was having complications too. My heart fell into a million pieces as we tried to process what was happening. And just like that, you moved into action to make sure both of your girls were taken care of. It's been the toughest 11 days of my life, but it was your strength that pulled us all three out of it. As we bring home our beautiful healthy baby girl today, I am reminded of how precious life truly is and the importance of having a strong devoted partner."

It's unclear exactly what complications Wagner and Daisy experienced, but it seems everyone came out of it OK.

She's a Big Part of Taylor Sheridan's Latest Project

Between becoming a mother and landing a major role in Sheridan's newest project, Lioness, Wagner has certainly had her hands full. But it sounds as if she wouldn't want it any other way. She recently posted on Instagram about her experience working on the show, saying that it "will forever be one of the highlights" of her life. In addition to starring in the new series, she will also be serving as executive producer alongside Sheridan, David C. Glasser, Ron Burkle, Bob Yari, David Hutkin, Saldaña, Kidman via her Blossom Films, Geyer Kosinski, Michael Malone and John Hillcoat.

Special Ops: Lioness premieres on Paramount+ on July 23.

READ MORE: 'Yellowstone'; Creator Taylor Sheridan Uses the Same Actors Across His Many Projects