From church plays to the small screen

Every actor has to start somewhere.

For former South Mecklenburg High School graduate Jenn Lyon, that place was the stage of her church.

“I think I was in every church play there was from the time I was 4 or 5 years old,” Lyon said.

After years of studying acting, honing her skills and receiving a few lucky breaks, the 33-year-old actress successfully transitioned from the angel in Christmas plays to several significant small-screen projects – including guest spots on “Army Wives” and “Louie” and a high-profile recurring role on the critically-acclaimed FX crime drama “Justified.”

Now Lyon will share the screen with actor/comedian George Lopez in the highly anticipated sitcom “Saint George,” scheduled to premiere March 6, a Thursday, at 9 p.m. on the FX network. Lopez stars as a successful entrepreneur who invented one of the world’s most popular energy drinks, and Lyon plays the role of Mackenzie, Lopez’s ex-wife and the mother of their 12-year-old son, Harper.

“She’s sort of a Beverly Hills housewife, comes across as sort of demanding and loves to boss George around,” Lyon said of her character on the sitcom. “She’s sort of a foil for George in that way, but she really loves him and her son so much.”

Though they play exes in the show, Lyon said her and Lopez’s characters maintain a close relationship – much of their time together involves humorous lovers’ spats – and both want the best for their son. And there are plenty of arguments between Mackenzie, Lopez and his “overbearing” mother, Lyon said.

“They delight in the fighting … they love to swing one-liners at each other,” she said.

Lyon said she was drawn to “Saint George” partially because it gave her a chance to do comedy. Though she’s taken a handful of dramatic roles in the past, the actress considers herself a comedian first and foremost and named Judy Holliday and Lucille Ball as two of her idols. Working with someone of Lopez’s caliber also was a huge attraction, she added.

“I’m a huge fan of George’s stand-up,” Lyon said. “I think that he’s an incredible writer, so funny, so insightful … and also in person he is just delightfully funny.”

She also gives a lot of credit to the show’s executive producers, who worked on shows like “Rosanne” and “Home Improvement,” as well as a strong script that allows her to create multiple dimensions for her character.

“To work with them is just fantastic, and to be able to take that role and make (Mackenzie) multidimensional is a real challenge,” Lyon said. “I knew that I could make her more than she was on paper and they would help me do that.”

The daughter of Rev. Ken Lyon, Matthews United Methodist Church’s senior pastor, Lyon attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem after graduating from South Mecklenburg High. She starred in a handful of theater productions across the U.S. prior to pursuing television roles about three years ago.

“From the time she was about 2 years old, it was clear that she was a performer and entertainer,” Ken Lyon said of his daughter. “She was so active in any of the plays, the Christmas pageants – anything with singing and acting, she just gravitated toward it … We, certainly without pushing her, encouraged her to use her gifts.”

Lyon gained recognition for her recurring role on ‘Justified,’ which included eight episodes spanning seasons three and four. Her character, Lindsey Salazar, began as a bartender, but as the writing progressed, the character developed a relationship with the show’s main character and took a “darker” turn toward the end of Lyon’s stint on the show.

“All the characters (on “Justified”) are so richly and boldly drawn that the opportunity to play something like that is just rare and fantastic,” Lyon said.

Lyon wrapped up shooting a short film, “The Flower Shop,” which she also is co-executive producing, earlier this month. In the meantime, she’s keeping her fingers crossed for “Saint George,” hoping the sitcom will be picked up by the network and become a long-running series.

“I just hope everybody will watch it and love it as much as we do,” Lyon said. “There’s really nothing on TV like this – you’ve never seen this family on TV before.”

Ken Lyon hopes his daughter can continue experiencing success not just for her career, but also for the chance to use her gifts to give back to

“She’s a very caring person,” he said. “I hope through a successful career, she can use whatever influence she has to make the world a better place for other people.”

Lyon doesn’t make it back to the Charlotte area often due to her busy schedule, but whenever she does she enjoys the opportunity to slow down and rest for a few

“I tear up just thinking about it … there’s nothing like coming home again,” she said. “I love North Carolina.”

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