tall and proud

Jeff Hiller balances faith and humor in ‘Somebody Somewhere’ and fans are loving it

 

Jeff Hiller reminds fans that spirituality and queerness can co-exist both on and off screen.

Hiller’s role as Joel on the hit HBO Max series Somebody Somewhere illuminates optimism through his newfound friendship with Sam (played by Bridget Everett), who has recently moved back to the small town of Manhattan, Kansas. Hiller’s offbeat humor is a terrific addition to the critically acclaimed show, which also includes drag king legend Murray Hill. The show, co-created by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, is a love letter to families of choice.

For Hiller, getting cast in the series (recently renewed for a second season) is a lifetime in the making.

 

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Once a theology major at Texas Lutheran University, Hiller previously worked with homeless youth and HIV prevention as a social worker in Denver, Colorado. But New York City beckoned, and after discovering improv and sketch comedy at Upright Citizens Brigade, there was no looking back.

Hiller’s dry humor landed plenty of guest spots as a b*tchy customer service representative, but the chance to create the role of Joel offered an opportunity for the actor to show the breadth of his talent and personal experience.

“We’ve seen a lot of churches oppressing queer folks, and we’ve seen a lot of queer folks who don’t talk about the church at all,” Hiller told Queerty. “But seeing them together is really interesting because there are a lot of queer folks — especially in small towns — who have come together in faith communities and found their people through these affirming congregations.”

Everett also found Hiller’s character fascinating. “You know, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ thing is part of real life,” Everett told INTO. “Hearing that from a person of faith, that always just blew my mind. And a character like Joel who is gay and has a working faith with, or working relationship with faith and religion is just as like … ‘What?’ But Jeff makes it makes sense. And, you know, and for Joel the character I think Jeff did an incredible job.”

 

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Hiller has spent time in both New York City and Los Angeles, eventually returning to the east coast, where he found himself teaching improv where he once studied. “I paid my dues,” Hiller told the New York Times. “Do you know how many students in my level one class booked sitcoms?”

Sharing a rental home with Everett and Hill during filming allowed the artists to commiserate over the hard knocks of an actor’s life. After a year of quarantining with husband Neil Goldberg, the change of scenery was rejuvenating. “It was very fun. It was like a long slumber party,” Hiller said.

Despite the character’s natural comfort level, Hiller admits that he also faces self-doubt. “I’m definitely a nerd—well, not a nerd. Nerd now is cool, isn’t it? I’m definitely not ‘conventionally attractive,’ how about that? And I am a little bit, you know, awkward and strange and obviously gay! So, I think all of those things are true,” Hiller told Under the Radar. “I think I maybe have a few more hang-ups about how not mainstream I am and that Joel seems to be able to accept in a way that I can’t or haven’t.”

Despite the insecurities, the six-foot-five actor is standing proud and tall, and we’re proud of him for that. And with Season Two of Somebody Somewhere to look forward to, Hiller’s fans will be close by.

 

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