Two weeks ago, adorkable Dr. Levi Schmitt’s months-long flirtation with fellow surgeon Nico Kim (Alex Landi) culminated in one of Grey’s Anatomy’s trademark elevator make-out sessions. Moments later, Jake Borelli, who plays Levi, came out publicly on Instagram.
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As a gay guy myself, tonight's episode was so special to me. This is exactly the kind of story I craved as a young gay kid growing up in Ohio, and it blows my mind that I'm able to bring life to Dr. Levi Schmitt as he begins to grapple with his own sexuality this season on Grey’s Anatomy. His vulnerability and courage inspire me every day, and I hope he can do the same for you. To all of you who feel like little Levis out there, know that I do too, that you are seen, and that we're all in this together. And to everyone who has supported me over the years, I can't thank you enough, and I love you more than all the stars…
But long before his big announcement, the 27-year-old actor was already out to family, friends, and co-workers. Borelli recalls telling a friend that he wished he had a boyfriend if for no other reason than to be able to mention him in conversation or show up with him at premieres and parties, no big announcement required.
Of course, that’s not how it worked out. Ahead of the show’s midseason finale, NewNowNext chatted with Borelli about his character’s ongoing journey of self-discovery and what the future might hold for Levi and Nico.
There have been hints about Nico and Levi all season. Did you have a sense of the anticipation leading up to their kiss?
I mean, if Grey’s Anatomy is good at one thing, it’s building tension, and we got that full-throttle with this couple! It was five episodes of teasing this relationship. Certainly, we got feedback from the audience. Everyone was dying for this to happen, and when it finally did they freaked out! I remember Alex Landi and I were on set filming during the airing of the episode, and in between takes I would refresh our Twitter and Instagram and just see all these comments pouring in.
What were you originally told about Levi?
I knew that he was a little bit nerdy, a little bit fumbley, that he would ultimately have sex with Dr. Jo Wilson, who is played by Camilla Luddington. And he was eager to be with her at the time. I had this idea that he had this nerdy side and then maybe this more suave, confident side. [Laughs] After being in his body for a little bit, I realized he leaned a little more fumbley and bumbley and nerdy, a little bit more of the comic relief.
How did you find out that he would come out as gay?
This storyline was presented to me this summer by Krista Vernoff, the showrunner. She told me that she wanted to play this idea of a character that sort of blossoms after he comes out. She felt that Levi would be the perfect character to tell that story.
You’ve mentioned elsewhere that Krista Vernoff and the writers on the show were really open to your input in crafting this story. What were some of the insights you brought to the table?
I really wanted to delve into the backstory of his relationship to his own sexuality and what the last five to ten years of his life were like in his own mind. Did he grapple with this himself? Was he not thinking about it because he wasn’t a sexual being at that time? He wasn’t very sexual until he slept with Jo, I don’t believe. And so, how much was he battling it before this season?
I also thought it was interesting that the guy he was falling for was someone who was very out and very proud. What is the dynamic in a gay relationship when one person is out and proud and one person is just freshly coming into their own? That’s something that Krista and I talked about and that I have never seen on television. It’s a story that I would want to see.
Levi is in his mid-20s and is only just coming out. Why do you think that is? Are there plans to explore why it took him so long to acknowledge that he’s gay on the show?
I hope we dive into it. I want to see the reasons behind all of these exciting new stories. I’d also like to explore that because it’s very different from my own story. I came out when I was 18, not 25, so I would be interested also to see the emotional life that supports that decision for Levi.
Nico was freaked out by the fact that Levi is only just coming out. What kind of repercussions is that going to have?
Levi was very honest and very open, and he was expecting to be welcomed with the same reaction. When Nico left him hanging in that elevator, I think he felt very abandoned, and he was shocked by it. He’s lost right now, and he doesn’t understand what to do next. That’s how we’re going to enter the midseason finale: how is he dealing with the fact that he’s just been abandoned by the person who he thought could support him in this time?
Had you thought much about whether you would come out publicly and how?
I didn’t know when I was gonna come out in terms of my career. I was out to my friends, family, and coworkers, but as I started to work more and more on Grey’s, I’ve had a chance to quote-unquote “meet” more people through social media and through the show. As a gay person, any time you meet somebody you have to decide whether or not you come out to them and how you’re gonna do it. So, like meeting somebody at a party and coming out to them, I get the opportunity to come out to them now on a much larger scale.