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On this show set in Kansas, an actor gets to be 'Somebody, Somewhere' — and a cult star

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Bridget Everett, as Sam, and Jeff Hiller, as Joel, on the set of HBO’s “Somebody Somewhere” a drama set in set in Manhattan, Kansas. Hiller met Everett while working in New York’s downtown theater scene.
Marian Wyse
Bridget Everett, left, as Sam, and Jeff Hiller, as Joel, on the set of HBO’s “Somebody Somewhere,” a drama set in set in Manhattan, Kansas. The two actors met while working in New York’s downtown theater scene.

Jeff Hiller, the breakout star of “Somebody Somewhere,” had grown used to playing bit parts. The show, streaming on MAX, has given him a chance to explore a deeper character.

Jeff Hiller is the star of a hit show set in Manhattan, Kansas, but he's never been to the small city.

In fact, Hiller told KCUR's Up To Date host Steve Kraske on Wednesday, the series is filmed in suburban Chicago, Illinois. Members of the crew visit Manhattan once a year to shoot b-roll around town, he said.

"I would like to see Manhattan," Hiller said. "I'd like to go to Varsity Donuts."

Somebody Somewhere,” streaming on MAX, can be a little raw at times, largely because of the humor Hiller's co-star, Bridget Everett, is known for.

In it, Everett plays a prickly 40-something returning to her hometown — the "Little Apple" — in search of herself. Her relationship with Joel, played by Hiller, is the emotional heartbeat of the show.

After decades of playing bit parts as mean waiters and nasty flight attendants, Hiller said he was ready for a richer, more authentic role.

“It was such a gift to be able to play someone who had an interior life and a three-dimensional character,” Hiller said.

The show makes a real effort to portray friendships authentically and realistically, and much of it centers on the idea that Everett's character has real issues with intimacy

“Some actors would be like: 'Let me make her likable, let me make her kind,'" Hiller said.
"And Bridget's not afraid to make her prickly.”

Hiller and Everett in a scene from “Somebody Somewhere.”
MAX
Hiller and Everett in a scene from “Somebody Somewhere.”

Hiller’s character, Joel, has no problem with intimacy. He's able to shake his friend out of her funk.

“If anything, he's too intimate,” Hiller said. “So he's able to drag her out of this sadness that she's been in after her sister died.”

Hiller said he has a lot in common with Joel: He grew up going to church every Sunday, and he's gay.

"He's a better person than me, but we are similar," Hiller said. "I feel like if I hadn't left Texas, I would probably be living a life similar to Joel."

Hiller grew up in San Antonio, and was a theology major in college. He came out at age 20.

Though his immediate family was supportive, Hiller said his relationship with his faith community was more difficult to navigate. He’d been studying theater and theology with plans to become a pastor. When he came out as gay that career was no longer a path for him.

“It was it was a different time — it was pre-‘Will & Grace’ so it was a little more touchy,” Hiller said with a laugh. “I feel like now if you come out, you get a cake. You didn't get a cake then.”

At first, Hiller said he was surprised that the show found an audience since it competed with shows like "Succession" and "Barry."

“The show is quiet,” Hiller said. “The biggest thing that happens is, you know, I go on a date.”

If it gets another season, Hiller might finally get a chance to visit Kansas for one of those donuts.

"I really hope that enough people watch it that we get to do more seasons because I love these characters," Hiller said. "I mean, even if I weren't on this show, I would watch the show."

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Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
As Up To Date’s senior producer, I construct daily conversations that give our listeners context to the issues of our time. I strive to provide a platform that holds those in power accountable, while also spotlighting the voices of Kansas City’s creatives and visionaries that may otherwise go unheard. Email me at zach@kcur.org.
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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