Jake Borelli talks ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ coming out and role in queer rom-com ‘The Thing About Harry’

Photo courtesy of Persona PR

For Jake Borelli, landing a role on “Grey’s Anatomy” wasn’t something he ever pictured happening in his career.

Born and raised in  Columbus, Ohio, the 29-year-old actor got his start at the Columbus Children’s Theatre. From ages 10 to 13 years old, Borelli says he participated in 17 plays and loved every second of it.

“I absolutely loved it. I ended up getting introduced to local agents there, who started me with radio and commercial work,” said Borelli. “That’s when I thought, ‘I could turn this into a career.’ I got on a plane to L.A. right after graduating high school.”

Borelli started taking classes out in Los Angeles and began to audition. He landed a few small roles on some primetime television shows like “NCIS,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Suburgatory,” and landed a recurring role on the Nickelodeon series “The Thundermans.” After eight years of auditions, Borelli ultimately decided to uproot his life and start over in New York.

“I decided after auditioning for [‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’] in New York to uproot everything, move there and work with acting coaches,” Borelli recalled. “I quit my job, sold my car and moved to New York.”

While he was laying down roots in New York, Borelli’s agent sent him a tape audition for “Grey’s Anatomy.” 

“‘Grey’s’ felt so out of reach for me at the time,” said Borelli. “I didn’t believe it was something I could do. I sort of forgot about it after I sent my tape in.”

However, two weeks after submitting the audition, Borelli got word that he had landed a role on the beloved medical drama. After six weeks living in New York, Borelli was back on a plane headed back to Los Angeles to join the cast of “Grey’s Anatomy.” 

Borelli plays Dr. Levi Schmitt aka ‘Glasses,’ who joined the cast of characters as an intern in season 14. Borelli says playing Dr. Schmitt the first year was an absolute whirlwind for him, and ended up mirroring a lot of his real life as well.

“I felt like I was literally in a dream for the entire first year. It felt like jumping on a moving train,” said Borelli. “Now here I am, this young actor who really wants to learn, getting to learn from these icons. To act along with Ellen Pompeo was nuts. It was also the idea of playing an intern, you have no idea how long you are going to be there. It mirrored the life of our characters; I’m there as Levi, who is starting to work at a hospital with OG surgeons, while I, as a young actor, am working with OG actors.”

“Grey’s Anatomy” started its 17th season this year. Borelli says that playing Dr. Schmitt has changed him drastically over the past couple of years, and even gave him the courage to come out as gay in his personal life.

“[Playing Dr. Schmitt] changed me so drastically. Him coming out of the closet on the show helped me come out of the closet,” said Borelli. “Having him navigating his new identity for three seasons has helped me step more confidently in the queer community. the show has given me a lot of confidence and opportunities to speak with queer people around the world. Playing Levi has really widened me as a person.”

Borelli recently starred in “The Thing About Harry,” Freeform’s first gay rom-com. Borelli plays Sam, a young gay man starting his political career in Chicago. The film follows Sam as he and his old high-school bully Harry (played by Niko Terho) are forced to share a car ride to their Missouri hometown for a friend’s engagement party on Valentine’s Day. After learning that Harry has also come out of the closet as pansexual, things take a turn, and the two men begin to develop a deep friendship – with neither of them admitting a potential romance may be brewing – leaving them wondering if one road trip could change the rest of their lives.

The film was directed by Peter Paige and premiered on Freeform on Feb. 15, 2020. What Borelli didn’t realize when he landed the role was that Paige, who was friends with “Grey’s Anatomy’s” showrunner Krista Vernoff, that the role of Sam was made especially for him.

“I woke up to an email one day from Krista saying that her best friend was going to offer me the lead role in a new film and that she completely supported me,” said Borelli. “I got the script later that day. I read through it in one day and was obsessed.”

Borelli says that there were a lot of moving parts for him to get cast in “The Thing About Harry” that he wasn’t even aware of until after the fact. 

“Peter was talking to Krista about writing the film and what he was envisioning for the lead, and she responded, ‘Like Jake Borelli?’ AndPeter agreed,” Borelli recounted. “He wrote the script with me in mind. He reached out to Krista and said he was ready to film, but at the time we were busy with ‘Grey’s’ so she said he couldn’t have me yet. Peter went back to Freeform and tried to get the film cast, but it didn’t work out. Krista then said we could make it work — all of this happened unbeknownst to me. I owe so much to Krista for being a champion of me for so long.”

Borelli says that “The Thing About Harry” got an amazing reception from viewers — the film currently has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes and an 88% audience score. Borelli says that he still gets messages from queer fans who he says are just as obsessed with the film as he is.

For Borelli, what sets “The Thing About Harry” apart from other films with queer topics is that it doesn’t focus on the process of coming out — it follows similar themes that you find in other rom-com films with straight characters, making it an important watch.

“What’s so new and fresh is that it’s trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s a classic rom-com but it’s queer, and that’s not something we’ve seen before,” said Borelli. “There are young adult queer films out there, but this is special because it doesn’t talk about coming out and doesn’t sit in the shame of being queer. It’s an adorable love story about two queer guys finding love. It was refreshing for me to read, and was the main reason why I signed on. It would have changed everything for me if I saw it when I was young — it validates love stories as queers.”

Stay up to date with Borelli by following him on Instagram @jake.borelli.

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