Jake Borelli Talks ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ & Living Your Truth (Exclusive Q&A)

Raise your hand if you're just as deeply enthralled with Grey's Anatomy today as you were 13 years ago (because we all know I am). Our weekly drama fix just keeps getting better between the emotional story arcs, the intense medical cases and the phenomenal cast. Jake Borelli is currently killing the game as the adorkable Levi "Glasses" Schmitt on Grey's (FYI: he also recently starred in Netflix's Reality High and wrapped up a three-year run on Nickelodeons' The Thundermans) and took some time out of his packed production schedule to chat with Her Campus about his character's relationship with Dr. Nico Kim, the one departed character he wishes he could have worked with, the advice he has for every person and more. 

Her Campus: A number of Grey’s actors auditioned for multiple roles before landing theirs (such as Jessica Capshaw & Kevin McKidd)—when you landed Levi, was that the first time you had auditioned for the show? What was that process like?

Jake Borelli: You know, there might have been a time like 10 years ago that I auditioned for the casting office, but I don’t think it was for Grey’s, I think it was for something else, so as far as Grey’s I think this was my first audition. I was living in New York at the time and they were casting for a bunch of sub-intern characters. I got a taped audition for it, so I went over to one of my friend’s places where we filmed the audition and sent it off, and I didn’t hear back for a couple of weeks. They ended up calling me around 9 o’clock at night New York time and offered me the role, asking if I could come and film the next morning in LA—so I freaked out. I got on a plane and I went straight from the airport to set and filmed for two weeks. That’s all it was supposed to be, I think, so I went back to New York. Shortly after that, they offered me a more substantial role on the show, so I came back and never went back to New York!

HC: Grey’s always does a great job of showcasing both cringe-worthy moments and serious situations. What is it like playing that dynamic, one moment doing something really empowering and then the next goofing off?

JB: I think it’s amazing because Levi is at a point in his life where he’s truly learning. He’s learning how to be himself; how to be in his own body and how to articulate his feelings. So yeah, he kind of goes to extremes—he goes from very fumbly and klutzy to someone who has courage and stands in their power and says what they believe. It’s one of the things I love most about Levi, because at any given moment you don’t know what he’s going to say or how he’s going to react, or if he’s going to fail or succeed. I think that’s what's kind of lovable about him, because you just want him to do good and to be seen as a competent person.

HC: In this “Season of Love” Levi was starting to look like a shoo-in for Dr. Kim’s love interest and vice versa—but of course, after the elevator scene, it looks like we’re headed into a classic will they or won’t they arc. Dr. Kim is the first gay male surgeon on the series, while Levi had previously only shown interest in Jo—why is this storyline important to you, specifically, and for the show/audience at large?

JB: You know Grey’s loves their tension! At the beginning of the season, there was such a tease with the relationship between Levi and Nico, and we’re certainly on the rocks right now because both of them are trying to figure out if this is something that can work. I hope that it works out for them! I just want something to work out for Levi, but we’re going to have to wait and see. I’m really cheering for them. 

This story is so important to me because it’s the exact story that I would want to see as an audience member. I personally am a huge fan of Grey’s. I’m almost caught up on the entire series. I started watching when I booked the role and I’m on the season right before I enter, so I’ve watched almost 300 episodes and I’m kind of obsessed with it! So when I read the scripts now, I’m reading it purely as an audience member for the first time because I’m so excited to see what happens to these characters. This is the exact story I would want to see if I was just watching it at home.

A lot of people have been telling me that this story is important to them because they’re finally being seen, and they’re finally being represented on a large platform—on national television—by such an amazing, iconic show. Especially for our younger viewers, this may be the first time they’ve connected so strongly with a character, and I think that’s fantastic. I know growing up, hearing people’s stories and seeing gay people who were out and comfortable and proud was something that really allowed me to also begin to feel that way about myself. That’s why I think this role is so important.  

HC: Based on that, I’m guessing there’s nothing you can tell us about your potential relationship with Nico?

JB: I can tell you that things are definitely going to heat up between the two of them in the mid-season finale (which airs on November 15). When I read the script, my mouth dropped to the floor because of how amazing it is. I can’t say if it’s good or bad, but it’s going to be exciting to watch.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Are you a Levi or a Nico?? 🤔

A post shared by Jake Borelli (@jake.borelli) on

HC: You touched on this a little bit already, but what is your favorite part about playing Levi?

JB: The thing that scares me the most about playing Levi is how similar he is to me, and how vulnerable it makes me to sort of tap into his psyche and his mannerisms, but it’s also one of my favorite things about him. Of all of the characters I’ve played, he’s certainly the most similar to me, so that’s really interesting.

HC: Where do you see him in five episodes, or five years?

JB: I hope that he begins to feel more empowered, and I hope that we get to see a new side of Levi and how he’ll manage situations, and deal with his job and love life once he has become comfortable with himself. I think it will become a completely different story.  

HC: Have you learned anything about yourself since taking on the role?

JB: Since taking on the role I’ve learned, and I think continue to learn, that being vulnerable, honest and authentic, and really just breathing deep and telling your truth, is one of the most important things to do as a human being. Yes it’s scary, and yes bad things can happen, but when you begin to tell your truth, so much good can come to you that you didn’t even know was waiting on the sidelines. I just want to perpetuate that message to people, because it’s something that I’m living right now and I want to encourage people to live their own truth, even if it’s just to yourself. Even if it’s just telling yourself how you feel, that’s enough sometimes.

HC: If your character could have existed at any point earlier in the Grey’s Universe, which episode and/or departed character would you have wanted to be a part of/work with?

JB: I think Levi, and I, would probably want to go hang out with Dr. McSteamy. I think that would be fun, he was so cool! Let’s do the days before the plane crash.

HC: You post tons of pictures on your Instagram with your Grey’s castmates, definitely looking like one giant family. What is the dynamic like on set?

JB: Some of my best friends in my life right now are from this set. Jaicy Elliot, who plays Taryn (Helm), is one of my best friends—we talk far too often, and we’re usually hanging out in each other’s trailer instead of our own. Same with my friend Jeanine Mason, who was one of the interns with us last year. She played Sam Bello, and she’s one of my best friends, too. On top of that, a lot of these people are my mentors now. I look up to them as actors, and I look up to them as people who can sort of help me through the process of being on this show. We’ve certainly gotten a lot closer over the years.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

That bar scene was only a liiiittle different from last years premiere... 😜🍺🙃

A post shared by Jake Borelli (@jake.borelli) on

HC: I also noticed that you brought your childhood best friend to the wrap party last season – how has your career and this role affected your relationship, if at all?

JB: I did! Lara has been my best friend since 3rd grade—she is my other half, she’s like the light of my life and she’s amazing. She was the first person I came out to when I was 18, and it was basically her and I for half a year until I came out to my parents. She has always been so supportive and so helpful, and we now both live in LA, which is amazing. We just keep getting closer and closer. She helps me edit my Instagram posts! That’s how close we are.

HC: Before moving to LA, you performed in a number of stage productions with a children’s theater – do you see yourself going back to the stage anytime soon? What would your dream role be?

JB: Yeah, I grew up studying theatre and doing plays at Columbus Children’s Theatre back in Ohio. I am SUCH a theatre nerd, I love it so much. I would go do a play in two seconds, hands down. In fact, I’m trying to get a play done this summer. It would be fantastic if it works out schedule-wise. It’s part of the reason I moved to New York two summers ago, because I really wanted to get more into theatre. So yeah, I would kill to get back on the stage. I would love to be in Red by John Logan, playing Ken. It’s an amazing play about Rothko the artist and his assistant Ken, and I think that that would be amazing.

HC: You were pretty young when you moved to LA and started landing guest and supporting roles—what did you do for work before or during your early career, if anything?

JB: I had just graduated high school when I moved, and I got out to LA and got a manager because I was 18, so I could work as an adult, but I looked like I was 14. Within the first week or so I booked a small role on iCarly, and that year I booked co-stars and guest stars on various shows and was able to live off of acting for a while. Then, all of a sudden, the jobs stopped and I ran out of money. I was 19 or 20 like, “oh gosh, what do I do?” so I started picking up day jobs here and there, trying to make ends meet in between residuals, but look at where we are now. It’s been a struggle, but it’s a dream come true.

HC: What advice do you have for young people that are pursuing a career in acting?

JB: If you’re trying to pursue a career in acting, or really a career in anything, I think the first thing to do is to get down and study. Learn as much as you can. In acting specifically, go to class, get a good acting coach, read plays, read really good material and familiarize yourself with that. You should always be in class—I’m in class right now! On Wednesday nights I’ll go from filming all day and drive straight to class and I’ll put up a monologue. I think in any field it's crazy to feel like you’re at a point where you can stop learning, because I don’t think that’s true. That is my advice for anybody, frankly—just keep learning.