I’m sitting in East Pole‘s bustling Armour Yards location when Valyn Hall, easy to spot with her striking red curly hair, springs into the coffee shop. It’s an exciting moment for this writer who doesn’t get to interview UI engineers or actors on HBO’s irreverent comedy The Righteous Gemstones everyday—Hall happens to be both.
On The Righteous Gemstones, with a cast that includes John Goodman, Danny McBride, Edi Patterson, and Adam DeVine, Hall stands out among the ensemble with her portrayal of Aunt Tiffany. The lovable, country ditz married to Baby Billy (played by Walton Goggins) worked her way into the hearts of the self-absorbed Gemstone family of televangelists—and the audience’s hearts at home—throughout the three seasons. “I just got an audition through my agency and I think I was sufficiently weird enough as a person that they were like, Yeah, she’s the one,” laughs Hall.
Since Aunt Tiffany’s introduction in season one (spoiler alert: she offs the bad guy) the character has only grown, further endearing herself to fans of the show. “She’s getting more time. She’s getting more sussed out for sure as a character,” says Hall. Meanwhile, Hall still lives in Midtown and works in her tech role. We chatted about her dual career paths and her life in Atlanta. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Which came first, acting or the tech job?
Acting first. I’ve been acting since I was a kid. I won this acting competition in Florida when I was 17 and my current manager was there and picked me up. He’s amazing. I’ve been with him ever since.
How did you find your way into your role as a UI engineer?
I used to be a hair and makeup artist. I did that for 10 years because I couldn’t really afford to go to college, and then I just wasn’t down to hustle anymore. I really needed healthcare, and I wasn’t making enough as an actor to qualify for healthcare (which is something we just striked over). So, I went to Georgia Tech’s first coding bootcamp. That was a six-month program, and I graduated from that and got a job I think two months later.
What do you love about your job?
I love it because you can do it anywhere. You can do it at home; I’ve been known to do it on set.
On Gemstones, Aunt Tiffany’s role has grown a lot since she was first introduced. What’s it like to experience that?
It’s really cool. As an actor, I’ve been kind of doing day player roles here and there, and I’ve always been pretty happy with that. It’s just something that I love to do. Then when I got this, I didn’t realize it was going to be an actual [recurring] thing. I got on set and Danny [McBride, creator of the show and Jesse Gemstone], came to me and said, “What’s your day job?” I told him I build websites, and he said, “Somebody else will have to build those websites, because you’re in this.”
The audience seems to have really taken to her. What surprised you about that?
I was surprised that everyone was on her side, because a lot of times, when you have kind of a character who isn’t super smart, they’re usually like, Oh, whatever. But everybody responded really well, and I think that’s because Tiffany, while she doesn’t know a lot of things, she can learn—she just hasn’t been exposed to anything. And I think watching her be exposed to things is kind of where the comedy comes in.
She also seems really empathetic.
She is very empathetic. She has three main drives and those are: family, God, and snacks. She loves snacks a lot. Somebody asked me the other day, they were like, “Are you similar with Tiffany?” And I was like, no, actually, we are very different because Tiffany loves Funyuns and I’m more of a ranch Doritos girl, and Tiffany enjoys whole milk with ice cubes, and I’m a 2 percent girlie—totally different people.
Why was it important to you to be vocal during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike?
There weren’t a lot of picket lines in Atlanta because we don’t have box studios. We have private studios that are utilized by these other studios, and they had already all shut down. So the best way that actors in Atlanta were able to contribute is by getting the word out on social [media] and making sure that everyone’s aware of what’s going on and what we’re fighting for.
And I think we got a pretty good deal. I think generative AI isn’t anywhere near ready to replace all actors or replace all writers or anything like that. It’s good to get ahead of it.
Besides not working, what was the worst part about the strike?
Not being able to talk about the show, because we started striking while [season three] was airing. That was terrible. Not being able to share all the fun behind-the-scenes stuff. Also, not being able to talk about other shows that I was watching. TV and movies are my actual hobby. I’d love to say that [my hobbies are] like mountain biking or reading nonfiction books, but it’s not. It’s TV and movies. So I love discussing those things with other people and not being able to do that in a public forum was so sad. There were so many good things.
Why did you make Atlanta your home base?
It’s just the best city to me. I’ve lived in L.A., in New York, and had a great time in both places, but Atlanta’s always been this kind of diamond in the rough, sort of hidden-away-in-everybody’s-back-pocket location. Now, it’s getting to be more of an established film location. And I want to nurture that. I want to stay here, and I want to be a part of that.
What do you like about living in Midtown?
I love being able to walk everywhere, and I love all the trees. Most of the time if you’re in a city and you’re smacked down in the middle of the city, you’re not going to see a lot of nature and trees. We have owls and coyotes in our backyard. It’s just nice to have nature, but also be able to walk anywhere you want and have civilization around.
What’s something you wish people knew about Atlanta?
I just want people to watch out for Atlanta because we’ve got so much great talent. We’ve got [Daily Show correspondent] Dulcé Sloan, [comedian] Lace Larrabee, Josh Warren has a studio here called Action Show Studios and they’re doing some amazing work. Our comedy scene is getting really good. I hope more comedies come here because we’ve got so much talent. We need to expand, and we’re ready.