“Life can be a comedy or a tragedy; it’s what you make of it”

A Conversation with Lillian Hartley

The mind behind Candescent films,  has done it all, and thanks to it, Lillian Hartley has sculpted a name for herself.

Most people don’t like change. Lillian (triple threat: actor, film producer, model) leans into it. And it’s led her to an extraordinary career. Founder of Candesent Films and member of the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild of America, it will come as no surprise that Lillian was immersed heavily in the theatre as a child. But her childhood and young adulthood were not in the spotlight as you might imagine from the daughter of a playwright. She attended Stony Brook University and hustled the whole way through to graduate in three years, Suma Cum Laude.

After finishing school, Lillian started spending time on set during pilot season. Why not? One of her mentors needed an assistant, and she felt an urge to try something new. In the entertainment industry, the excitement and thrill are contagious. Lillian then made a gamble and dove into acting.

She spent some time at acting school and auditioning in California, but it wasn’t long before she felt another adjacent calling. New York was next, production this time, and this propelled her. By age 30, she started her own company and had a portfolio of feature films under her belt. Shifting from a focus on fiction to documentary– when it was emerging, and not quite the buzz it is now– she learned to be eager for opportunities where her career could flourish and transform over time.

So to those with any interest in the entertainment industry, Lillian suggests taking any job you can and seeing where it takes you. The intricacies of her career journey are even more complex than this summary, and that’s a testament to the importance of taking risks in the first place.

From each apprenticeship and job she took, she understood more about herself both personally and professionally. Career change doesn’t have to be abrupt though; Lillian coined hers as “pivoting into change.” 

But to embrace such a lifestyle requires a certain kind of mentality. Lillian describes herself as a little bit childish, but that’s often just what we conflate with optimism. Having a positive outlook is critical to it all. While her mindset has helped her boost her career, it also translates seamlessly into her style. When she was young, her mom let her dress herself, and the creative freedom of fashion excited her at an early age.

From her perspective, different clothes let her play different characters, and she embraces this sentiment to this day, changing her look for every occasion to celebrate the way dress can testify to one’s identity. In many ways, her passion for film and storytelling inspires this very approach.

Candescant Films is Lillian’s heart and soul, with a mission to “champion actors and directors raising social awareness through compelling character-driven stories”. They’ve supported films featured at Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto International Film Festival and received nominations from the Academy Awards and Emmy’s (with a handful of wins there too). Contributing to the greater good through a personal passion, one must remember that there was no one direct path Lillian took to get there. It’s derived from her embrace of change and finding fulfillment along the way, and not necessarily all at once.

Muse and Tell with Lillian Hartley

Have you found that film has influenced your style?

 In every way! One character I’m still obsessed with is Auntie Mame - all style and personality!

Who have you looked up to as you’ve grown professionally and personally?

My Godmother Linda Howard is a former stuntwoman and was known for racing cars and getting herself set on fire! She has been an instrumental force of support for me throughout my evolving career and has been a voice of confidence and strength. I just spent a week with her in Los Angeles, under her orange trees that were blossoming. It was restorative to be around her positive energy, she builds me up!

As a woman who travels often, what was one of the places you’d most like to go back to and what would you wear when visiting again?

My dream place is Italy, I love Naples. I love islands. When I go back I will be inspired by the style of Sophia Loren, Monica Vitti, and Gina Lollobrigida.  

What are your aspirations ten years from now? Where do you see yourself?

My fantasy would be living on a boat somewhere gorgeous, warm and intriguing. I have a passion for photography, so I’d love to pivot there next!