Grey’s Anatomy star Jake Borelli has had a truly groundbreaking year. Just last month, he graced the cover of Out Magazine being celebrated as a member of a new Hollywood – one that is ushering in a new generation of queer actors fully able to embrace their identities. Now in his fourth season on the iconic medical drama, fans can’t get enough of his onscreen romance, the first gay male romance in the show’s history. Borelli also just celebrated the one year anniversary of The Thing About Harry – one of the first gay romantic comedies on TV.
Borelli spoke with Awards Daily about what it has been like to connect with his fans and the queer community as a whole, especially in a pandemic. As Hollywood learns to adapt to what might be our new normal, Grey’s Anatomy has become one of the only shows where audiences want to see the characters live through the pandemic as the team behind the longest running medical drama honors our medical heroes across the country. Borelli detailed what it has been like on set, how he and his castmates are coping, and even touches on the surprise returns of the season that had fans jumping out of their seats.
Awards Daily: Let’s start with the obvious. For the past year you’ve been filming in the midst of the pandemic. What has that been like both creatively and just experiencing the changes on set?
Jake Borelli: It has been so incredibly different than anything I have ever done before as I’m sure everyone has experienced in the past year. However, Disney has done an incredible job at putting together and enacting the protocols that keep us all safe. It’s a lot more regulations, a lot more protocols, a lot more PPE, and A LOT more social distancing.
We’re now midway through and after doing this for a few months things are beginning to feel normal! But also, on a technical level it has changed everything. As actors we can’t rehearse in the ways we used to. We now have to do table reads on Zoom.
The thing that has remained the same is that Schmitt and I are a lot alike. I do bring a lot of myself to the character. The simple fact that we are both going through the pandemic has allowed me to bring my own anxieties and fears to Schmitt. In a way it has been cathartic and that honesty has stayed the same.
AD: One of the more surprising relationships of the past couple seasons has been the friendship between Schmitt and Jo [Camilla Luddington]. That friedship has largely blossomed throughout this season. What has it been like developing that relationship especially, as you just said, where you can’t prepare in the ways that you are accustomed to?
JB: The relationship between Schmitt and Jo is literally my favorite thing that we have done this year! Every time that it pops up in the script I get so excited. I immediately text Camila and we get so giddy. It has been a highlight for me and the two of us have gotten really, really close over the past couple of years. She basically started me off on Grey’s. Schmitt’s first big moment was with Jo four years ago [the infamous surgical glasses moment that ended with the two hooking up]. It’s been very full circle to have that quirky moment from hooking up to becoming besties and living together. It’s a lot of fun.
AD: Levi Schmitt has broken a lot of ground as the first gay male character on Grey’s Anatomy and there has been a lot of excitement over the romance between Schmitt and Nico [Alex Landi] over the past couple of years. However, as fans know, the first openly queer actor on the show was T.R. Knight who infamously returned with a jaw-dropping cameo earlier this season. Have you had the chance to meet Knight?
JB: We haven’t worked together but we did run into each other at an event. It was my first year on Grey’s and I was with my friend and co-star Jeanine Mason when we saw him from afar. We immediately started geeking out and whipped up the courage to say hi! He was so sweet and welcoming. That was four years ago at this point but I would love the chance to work with him.
AD: We just passed the one-year anniversary of the premiere of The Thing About Harry, your groundbreaking TV romance. Between that and Grey’s Anatony you’ve had this amazing year as a gay actor who has been able to find these incredible roles. One of my favorite things to watch as that unfolds is the way you engage with fans online especially younger queer kids who finally get to see themselves represented. What has that been like?
JB: This year has been a very lonely year for myself and a lot of people that I know. Especially in the queer community it is very easy to feel alone and separated but with the pandemic that feeling has been incredibly exacerbated. It makes me feel lucky that I’m able to interact with my own community in a safe way and that we’ve somehow, against all odds, found a way to still have community and connect with one another. That is so important for the queer community.
I love getting the chance to talk to people. I love to interact with them and hear their stories. To be able to celebrate these characters and stories like that and to be able to talk about it on Instagram Live makes it feel like we are in this together.
AD: Fans have really connected to “Schmico” and a lot of ways it has resurged this passion among fans almost like in the OG days. What has it been like developing this relationship with Alex Landi and watching it unfold?
JB: Working with Alex for the past few years has been incredible. We both have this love for Schmico. As you said this relationship has been groundbreaking and I certainly feel the weight of that when we’re together.
They’ve had a rocky year and they’re trying to find a new way to be with each other throughout the pandemic. That’s something I know a lot of people can relate to. It will be interesting to see how they navigate this. I don’t even know how it will play out yet!
AD: I know you were a huge fan of the show even before you joined the ensemble. What was it like as a fan watching this past season with the jaw-dropping cameos from both TR Knight and Patrick Dempsey? Did you know they were coming? Is there anyone else you would love to see return?
JB: [Showrunner] Krista Vernoff and Ellen Pompeo have been so, so good at keeping these secrets to the point where they keep them from me too! It’s to the point where we get to table reads and I have no idea what’s happening. It was so tightlipped that I didn’t even find out about Patrick’s return until we watched the show live together with the rest of the world. The same with TR Knight.
Honestly, I would be so excited to see anyone come back. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the season to see who else will return. I just hope that at some point I get to work with them! I definitely don’t want to go to “the beach” because that seems like a scary place to go but I would love to work with any of them. Maybe a character that is still alive!
AD: I remember calling one of my oldest friends after the premiere, the two of us basically grew up with the show. We both felt like this was one of the best kept secrets in a very long time. No one saw it coming!
JB: My friend Jaicy Elliot [who plays Helm] and I were facetiming throughout the premiere. We both freaked out and I remember saying “I feel like we’re on Game of Thrones or something!” The way these twists and turns were kept from everyone was wild!
The mid-season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy airs tonight, March 11th, on ABC.