Jake Borelli and TV’s Dr. Levi Schmitt are both out of the closet
Jake Borelli—known to 11 million viewers as Dr. Levi Schmitt–made a splash the second he entered the critically acclaimed production in 2017. It is the first gay romance in the history of ABC’s award-winning medical drama series, Grey’s Anatomy, currently in its 15th season. In November, his character came out as gay. Soon after, Borelli boldly followed suit by publicly coming out on social media. Borelli’s vulnerability was received with cheers from fans and America alike to his coming of age romance with Dr. Nico Kim. Kim is played by Alex Landi, and theirs is one of the main storylines of the current season. We caught up with the 28-year old actor to discuss how living his truth has helped propel him to stardom.
Prior to coming out publicly, how out were you with your family and friends?
Jake Borelli: I’ve been out to my family since I was 18. I came out to my parents first, who have always been very accepting and open-minded. Then, I came out to my two older brothers, and fortunately nothing changed in our relationships. Actually, for the past decade my immediate family has been very supportive and welcoming of everything I have done. Which has been wonderful. I have also been out to my closest friends for just as long. Then again, if they weren’t supportive, they probably wouldn’t still be considered friends (laughs).
What was more difficult, when you first came out to your family and friends prior to stardom, or coming out while starring on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy?
JB: Coming out when I was younger was probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. First and foremost, coming out to myself took an extended amount of time and plenty of self-discovery, beginning as early as in middle school. It is so difficult when you start to realize something about yourself that is completely different from all of your peers. While my peers were discovering their own sexuality, I was realizing my preferences differed and aligned more with the girls I was friends with. It was both interesting and shocking to me as I was not exposed to many gay people—and certainly no gay people my own age during my adolescence. Coming out on a larger scale through the show was challenging. Now I was exposing myself to millions of people. However, coming out prior to Grey’s Anatomy was much more difficult, a longer process and the hardest coming out experience on a personal level.
You coming out on a national scale has been really very well received. Wouldn’t you agree?
JB: Granted, it has been well received. But that does not mean in the moments leading up to it, I was not scared out of my mind. The show rakes in 11-million viewers, and in a way, I am telling 11-million people my deepest secret. That in and of itself is a major anxiety trigger. And coming out on such a grand scale brings about an entirely new level of inner turmoil. What was great this time around was that I had a support system I had cultivated over the past ten years with people in my personal life who are behind me no matter what.
You work with a large cast. Who was aware of your personal life prior to recently? Can you say who has or hasn’t been supportive?
JB: The entire cast has been extremely supportive. I sat down with a bunch of my costars after the fact and we had really productive conversations regarding where I am at in my career with coming out. I had not spoken about it extensively with anyone beforehand. Because it is a professional environment. However, one of my best friends is Jaicy Elliot (Dr. Taryn Helm) who I have been out to since the second day I met her. I was also out to Jeanine Mason (Dr. Sam Bello).
What is it like to bring a storyline to life that sort of parallels your own personal life?
JB: It is honestly two-fold. In one way, it is more vulnerable than most roles in that I am placing a larger chunk of my heart in the role being as the character’s emotions align with those I have felt directly. Thus, there is this fear of how the character will be perceived by the audience because, in a way, it is also how they are perceiving me. On the other hand, it makes the process far easier. I do not have to make up a huge backstory in how I relate to the character as I have had to do with other roles.
Would you say portraying a character that resonates so closely with who you are is ultimately more challenging?
JB: It challenges me personally more because it invites me to step forward in a more exposed manner. Yet, in terms of my acting process, it is easier in that I can jump in to character naturally without having to be so introspective.
How has it been working so intimately with Alex Landi?
JB: Alex Landi is fantastic! Since the beginning he has been so open and willing to try things. Alex is not afraid of any of the material we get ourselves into. This is really important, especially when we are involved in these intimate love scenes. It is also important when working with someone in romantic scenes to have a level of comfort. And I definitely feel comfortable around him for sure.
Recently Darren Criss, who routinely plays gay characters, made a statement that he would stop doing so because it takes opportunities away from gay actors. What are your thoughts on straight actors playing gay roles and visa-versa?
JB: I think as much as we can, it is important to promote diversity in the characters we are portraying on television. It is just as important to promote diversity in the actors that we cast. I think it becomes tricky when we start to set steadfast rules about the sexuality of the actors who play these roles. With that said, I think it is wonderful what Darren did. It encourages heterosexual actors to come to the forefront and open the door for queer actors. Honestly, I see both sides. I think it is vital for queer actors to be given the opportunity to be cast in roles that they have not gotten to play for so long. I also think it is important to not be restrictive in casting because then you begin to cross a very fine line which can become too political.
Being as your career is growing at a rapid rate, where do you hope to take your career next?
JB: I would like to keep acting, and I would love to move into film. There is truly some amazing work being released with rich stories. And I am also a big theater nerd. I would love to spend my summers in New York doing theatre. I always wanted to be in a play on Broadway. My goal is to keep working, to keep sharing these stories, and to keep spreading the notion of creating a world where people can be comfortable stepping into their honesty and their authenticity.