Jens Hillje was born in 1968. He grew up in Italy and Bavaria, where he had his first experiences with revolutionary people's theatre. After studying applied arts in Perugia, Hildesheim and Berlin, he worked in the independent theatre scene as actor, author and director starting in 1990. He moved to Berlin in 1996 and, together with the director Thomas Ostermeier, founded the “Barracks” venue at the Deutsches Theatre, which was voted Theatre of the Year two years later. From 1999 to 2009 he was chief dramaturg and part of the leadership team at Berlin's Schaubühne. Together with his Schaubühne colleagues Ostermeier and Sasha Waltz, he created an international drama and dance ensemble. As a dramaturg he worked with, among others, the directors Barbara Frey, Luk Perceval, Rafael Sanchez, Yael Ronen and Sebastian Nübling. In 2000 he began working together with the director and author Falk Richter. After Hillje became a freelance dramaturg again in 2009, their collaboration continued on productions including Trust (Schaubühne, 2009), My Secret Garden (Festival d' Avignon, 2010) and Noise (Schauspiel Dusseldorf, 2012). Together with Nurkan Erpulat he developed the piece Mad Blood at the Ballhaus Naunynstraße in 2010, which was chosen by the trade journal Theater heute (Theatre today) as Play of the Year in 2011. That same year Hillje curated and served as artistic director of the performing arts festival In Transit at the House of World Cultures in Berlin.
From 2013 to 2019 he was co-artistic director of the Maxim Gorki Theatre, managing the Gorki's artistic direction together with Shermin Langhoff. In September 2014, German speaking critics chose Gorki as Theatre of the Year in a survey held by „Theater Heute“. The Preußische Seehandlung Foundation awarded him the Theaterpreis Berlin (Theatre Award Berlin) 2016 alongside Shermin Langhoff. From the 2019/20 season until summer 2021, he worked as a dramaturg at Gorki.
Jens Hillje received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in the summer of 2019.