When I grew up, the gay best friend was always on the sidelines. Julia Roberts and Katherine Heigl got to have all the fun and moon over the hunk, and the gay guy only got to pop up when the leading lady needed advice. Freeform’s The Thing About Harry is a movie event a long time in the making, and we are finally given the gay leading man of our dreams in star Jake Borelli.
Starring in Harry was a no brainer for the Grey’s Anatomy star. He was a fan of director Peter Paige and saw this as a real opportunity to present a gay romance to a wider, younger audience. The character of Sam could’ve been an uptight, obnoxious jerk, but Borelli is so charming and affable that you can’t help but root for him to get the guy. Borelli and co-star Niko Terho (as the titular Harry) have such palpable chemistry that you may think that they will get together halfway through the film.
The romantic comedy is a somewhat bygone genre. The most successful films were cranked out to give us all a squeaky clean, Hallmark version of what love can be, and that’s not a bad thing. Borelli gives us a complete, ambitious, and lovable character. Move over, Sandy Bullock.
Awards Daily: I really love this movie. It’s very sweet and earnest, and you’re great in it.
Jake Borelli: Aww, thank you.
AD: We don’t see a lot of romantic comedies anymore, especially for LGBT characters. Usually it’s tied to a coming out story. Were you wanting to do a throwback to that style of movie?
JB: I grew up watching romantic comedies, and I loved them growing up. When this project came about, I didn’t know what it was when I first heard about it. My reps had told me that Peter Paige was interested in me being the lead of his next movie, and that was almost all I needed to hear. I have seen a lot of the TV shows that he has made, so I was super excited that he wanted me to be a part of it. When I started reading it, I was like, ‘Oh my God…it’s a rom-com through and through,’ and it’s about queer people. And it was something I had never seen before. When I was younger, watching all these rom-coms, this was something that I yearned for. I didn’t even know that this was something that I needed at that age, you know what I mean?
AD: I do!
JB: And, now, here I am, I am leading a project that I would’ve loved to have seen at a young age. There was no doubt in my mind.
AD: The only other true romantic comedy that I can think of is Trick from 1999—a movie I adore. But this feels like something Sandra Bullock would’ve starred in.
JB: Literally the whole time I was reading it, I was wondering where Katherine Heigl was. I thought she was going to come up! It centers on queer people, but it feels so universal in what happens to the characters. It certainly has a queer lens to it, but it’s exactly what I would’ve watched as a kid. And this is for a young audience. We aren’t talking about coming out or drug-induced hookups. It’s a rom-com for young adults.
AD: You brought up Peter Paige, and I kind of squealed a bit when I found out he directed it.
AD: I was a teenager when Queer as Folk was big, so that made me even more excited for The Thing About Harry. Why were you so eager to work with Peter?
JB: It was great to have a queer person at the helm. He co-wrote it, and he plays my roommate for part of the film. We didn’t have to have a filter on set. I didn’t have to explain my queerness to anyone as an actor, so we had this shorthand. We had an ability to tell this story as two queer people, and that was fantastic.
AD: We never see that. In other countries, queer people can direct their films, but it still isn’t that common for American audiences.
JB: Yeah, and when I work with people that aren’t queer or if we are trying to tell a queer story, there’s always an air of, ‘Are we getting it right?’ or ‘Is it a caricature?’ With me and Peter, there was almost an confidence that we couldn’t do it wrong. Anything we say is queer because we are queer. Anytime I wondered if it was going to be right, I told myself that it was because it was coming from me and it’s coming from Peter.
AD: Niko’s character, Harry, is up front with being pansexual rather than bi or just gay. Was that something that was a topic of conversation since I don’t think we have seen that in a big film like this yet.
JB: I think we were all super comfortable talking about that. That was in the script, and it was something that Peter really wanted to talk about, especially with the younger generation coming up. We are shying away from labels because we know it stunts the fluidity of sexuality and gender and identity. It was super awesome that Niko’s character is pan because it encompasses a wider range or emotions and sexuality than something who is strictly bi. I think that’s a really important for his character to have. He truly is pan. I think it’s beautiful.
AD: You and Niko Terho have insane chemistry. I love that scene towards the beginning of the movie in the hotel where you are just talking. It’s very effortless and sexy.
JB: (Laughs) I think there was that chemistry between me and Niko from the get-go. I honestly think that’s why a lot of the movie works. He was so open to play, and off set, we were buddies. I think that carried into the film. I don’t know if you know this, but he was a professional soccer player.
AD: Oh, I definitely didn’t know that.
JB: When we first all got together, Peter had him teach me how to play soccer.
AD: Oh yeah? How’d that go? (Laughs)
JB: It went ok! (Laughs) He showed me how to kick the ball, but we probably shouldn’t have been playing in the hotel, but it was fun!
AD: Do you think Sam and Harry could’ve been friends if there wasn’t the attraction there? Just because the two of them have a rocky history?
JB: There is real love between them because of their connection. That love is separate from a romantic sort of love, so if they wouldn’t have gotten to that point of planning a life together, there still is that love between them. I guess, it comes right down to whether gay people could be friends with straight people?
AD: I guess when you put it that way, that makes sense (Laughs).
AD: Can I ask a Grey’s Anatomy question?
JB: Of course.
AD: I had no idea that the surgery profession or the world of surgery was such a hetero-dominated world. Can you talk to me about being a representative of the queer community in that environment that can sometimes be very toxic?
JB: It’s certainly not lost on me. I do know the surgery community is very stuck in this hetero-normative past. We work with a lot of doctors and surgeons on the set of Grey’s, and I have heard countless stories of being queer and be a surgeon. It’s another hurdle climb over. I’ve heard stories of this, you know, ‘good old boy’s’ system in the surgery hierarchy. It can typically be a who you know environment, and it’s hard when you can be ostracized, especially with sexual orientation. I think it’s so fascinating that we are dedicated to telling these stories and you take the character of Niko, the character I date, and he’s this macho, ortho guy. Ortho is known to be this macho, super masculine field. It’s important for us to see that kind of character on the show in that world, and it’s important to see Levi coming up in the ranks. We see him in an environment where he is still able to network and find mentors, because the people at Grey Sloan don’t care that he’s queer. I think it’s a beautiful model for what hospitals and other parts of the surgery world can be with how we treat queer people and still allow them to climb the ladder.
AD: I had no idea that that was a problem for queer people, so I’m glad Grey’s Anatomy is doing that.
JB: It’s goes even further in the real world. I think if Levi was at any other hospital, other than Grey Sloan, he would have a harder time in the work environment. It’s a testament to the people who work at the hospital.
The Thing About Harry debuts on Freeform on February 15th.