Prizm News / May 28, 2019 / By Ken Schneck

Photos by: Shanna Fisher

Grey’s Anatomy actor Jake Borelli returns to his Columbus roots to partake in Pride

By Ken Schneck

If your heartbeat starts to race during Columbus Pride, fear not! Dr. Levi Schmitt will be on hand to make sure you’re ok. 

Jake Borelli, who plays Schmitt on television’s juggernaut Grey’s Anatomy, returns to his Columbus roots on June 14-16 to partake in a series of Pride events, from hosting the Pride Tea Dance and Pride Brunch to judging the Pride Parade. For Borelli, the return to Ohio is another milestone in an incredible year that has seen his character become part of the first ever gay romance in the show’s 15-year history, followed by Borelli himself coming out on Instagram in a post that was as touchingly honest as it was powerful for legions of fans to witness.

 

In advance of his Columbus homecoming, Borelli spoke with Prizm’s Contributing Editor (and Grey’s Anatomy superfan!) Ken Schneck about his recent promotion to series regular, his expectations for Pride, and how to most effectively play man’s best friend on stage. 

Ken Schneck: I should tell you at the start, because I don’t want to scare you: I am definitely one of those crazy Grey’s superfans.

Jake Borelli: I am too! So you’re good.

But I’m three episodes behind, so if Schmitt is in a coma, please don’t tell me. 

<laughs> You missed a lot. You definitely need to catch up. 

Ok, but Schmitt’s not really in a coma, right?

Should I tell you? No, I can’t tell you anything. You’re going to have to watch to find out. 

Fair enough! Well first, congratulations on being promoted to series regular. 

Thank you. I’m just so freakin’ excited. 

How did you find out?

There has been this conversation for a while now about making Levi a regular, but we had to wait to see what happened with Grey’s being picked for another season. When it was announced that the show was renewed for another two seasons, they were able to announce that Schmitt was coming back. 

Was there a big celebration?

I certainly celebrated! I jumped up and down and freaked out. It’s been a great couple of years. I’m really excited to continue the journey.

When little Jake Borelli was running around the Columbus area, was acting always the dream?

You know, it really was. I started acting super young, when I was around 9 or 10. I started out at the Columbus Children’s Theater and did something like 15 shows in just a few years. Which was crazy. In high school, I started working with CAM Talent, one of the regional talent agencies in Ohio. But going to LA was always the big dream. I didn’t dream quite as big as what has happened though! 

What were the big breakout roles back then at Columbus Children’s Theater?

Oh gosh, let’s see. I played Wiley in Wiley and the Hairy Man and I also played the main guy in Holes. But my first role ever was the dog in Henry and Ramona. I crawled around on stage and barked a whole lot. 

Is there some sort of method acting that can prepare a nine-year-old for all of that barking?

<laughs> I remember that we had a lot of back-and-forth about the dog barking. I mean a lot of back-and-forth. I remember practicing in my backyard, barking and barking until I had it down. 

Flashing forward, you mentioned earlier that you were a big fan of Grey’s Anatomy. How do you even begin to wrap your mind around the past couple of years actually being on the show?

To be honest, I’m still wrapping my mind around it. I don’t think it has fully set in. It’s been on for so many years, but I only started watching recently. When it came out, I was 12 or 13, so it was too scandalous for me for me to watch. But Grey’s is just this iconic piece of television history. When I had the audition, I completely didn’t think [my being on the show] would be a possibility. I felt so fortunate to be able to audition, but then I just forgot about it. Then, once I booked the part, I had to have hundreds of people pinch me. That’s when I started watching the show. I binged like 300 episodes in a really short amount of time. Now that I’m all caught up, I’m still a little baffled that I get to be a part of this incredible experience. 

So now that you’ve seen all 300+ episodes, I would think that gave you an even greater appreciation for how big it is that Schmitt is an out gay male on the show. 

Totally. When Krista [Vernoff], Grey’s showrunner, pitched the idea of Levi coming out, I knew how massive it was going to be. I felt represented by Callie and Arizona (two longstanding lesbian characters on the show) and the queer representation they brought to the show, but I never felt 100% represented. So when Schmitt being gay was pitched to me, I knew immediately how big this was. 

Your own coming out on Instagram was just beautiful to read and the response has been incredible. What has that been like on your end to receive all of those reactions from people across the world?

It’s overwhelming frankly. I am surprised still on a daily basis by the vulnerability of people telling their stories. And I know that feeling personally. I know from experience how hard it is to open up your heart in that way. I have countless queer youth sending me messages all the time with their stories. It brings me so much hope to be able to receive all of that.

Does it also come with some pressure to represent more than just yourself?

There is 100% pressure. But we’re all doing the same thing, just trying to live our lives, and that helps alleviate the pressure. I don’t have to put anything on to represent a whole community. Me being myself authentically is the way I can help others. I don’t feel like I have to be a leader because we are really all so different. I am focused on being honest and telling my own story.

Well part of that story involves Columbus. What does it feel like to be returning for Pride?

When I got the invite, I was ecstatic. It will be a full circle moment to celebrate this event, and to be fully in my body and my story in Ohio. For a lot of my years growing up in Ohio, I was closeted.

So will this be your first time attending Columbus Pride?

I never have been to Columbus Pride! I left when I was 18, and moved out west. I have come back to Columbus a few times a year, for a cousin’s wedding or a family visit, but I haven’t really been back in June. 

Wow. What a first introduction to Columbus Pride this will be! 

I know! It’s going to be a great weekend. There are so many events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and I am so excited to be a part of them. 

Give us the inside scoop: any special Jake Borelli criteria you’ll be using when judging Pride Parade entrants?

<laughs> I’m going to go with my tried and true answer and say that I will be authentic. I do like big, bright colors, and I like artistic flair. I just hope people are cheering as loud as they can. But for judging, I will go with my gut. 

Finally, any advice out there for all the LGBTQ+ youth engaged in their own coming out process? 

I would say that coming out can be one of the hardest things to wrap your head around. First, a massive step is to be authentic to you. Coming out to yourself is a triumph. If you are not in a safe space to come out to others, coming out to yourself really is a huge step. But something that is really important to remember is that you will find people out there who will support you, be there for you, and love you for you. You really will find them.

Well, we are excited to be there for you at Columbus Pride. 

It’s going to be an amazing time. See you all there!