The doctor is in!

Back in 2017, Jake Borelli joined ABC’s long-running Grey’s Anatomy in a recurring role as Dr. Levi Schmitt, a med student dubbed “Glasses” by his peers because, well, for one he wore glasses! But also he was a bit of a klutz and his specs once fell into a patient during surgery.

From such humble beginnings, Schmitt has grown into a true fan favorite, and Borelli is now in the middle of his sixth season with the award-winning drama (which was just renewed for a 20th season).

Along the way, Schmitt has found himself—and Borelli has, too. When the character came out as gay in a landmark 2018 episode, the actor came out publicly, writing on Instagram, “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.”

Since then, Borelli has been a proud and vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, and has appeared in a number of other projects, like Freeform’s charming gay rom-com The Thing About Harry.

After catching up at the GLAAD Media Awards—where Grey’s was once again nominated for Outstanding TV Drama—we invited Borelli to the hot seat as the latest guest in our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. In our conversation, the actor touches on everything from his early childhood crush to his ideal roadtrip playlist to all the ways Dr. Levi Schmitt has changed his life.

Is there a piece of media—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, games, etc…—that you consider a big part of your own coming-out journey, or that has played an important part in exploring your own queerness? Why does it stand out to you?

To be honest, I grew up watching Survivor and I’m still obsessed. Survivor was one of the first television shows where I saw queer people as a child and these were REAL queer people with full lives and flaws and huge assets. They were strong and intelligent and they gave me an idea of what a queer person could be outside of the stereotypes I might have heard as a kid.

Re-watching the show now, it is easy to see how blatantly homophobic society (and even pop culture) was in the early 2000s. The show also tracks how society and culture has changed (if it has) and points to where we could be going. 

In a 2018 episode of Grey’s, your character, Levi Schmitt, came out as gay, which prompted you to come out publicly in an Instagram post. At the time, you wrote that Levi’s “courage and vulnerability” inspire you every day. What else have you learned about yourself from playing Levi over the years?

I’ve honestly learned so much from playing Levi. His vulnerability and courage are definitely still at the forefront, but I’ve also seen him grow in his power and seen how he can use his “differences” to really excel as a surgeon. Once he started accepting all the parts of himself, he really started finding power in things that he never believed were powerful. 

In an alternate reality where you didn’t become an actor, what career path do you think you might’ve pursued instead?

I almost went to college for fine art. I was obsessed with painting when I was younger and took as many AP art classes as I possibly could. My dream, at the time, was to work in the art department at Pixar Animation Studios because I loved their movies and was fascinated by the way they blurred the lines between cartoon and reality.

I could also have seen myself being a good flight attendant. So many of my family members worked/work in the airlines, so traveling has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve also always looked up to flight attendants. As a kid I always felt like they were the perfect balance between power and authority as well as care and compassion and empathy.

Who’s a fictional character you had a crush on at a younger age? What do you remember loving about them?

I definitely had a crush on Simba from The Lion King, but I haven’t really met anyone who didn’t as well, so that’s totally normal. Also, I’m just gonna say it: Casper The Friendly Ghost was HOT. I also feel like there won’t be much of a debate about that.

You’re a big fan of camping, adventures, and road trips, so what’s your ideal road trip playlist? What genres might be included, or what overall vibe are you going for? What are some songs that have to be included?

I mean, you can’t beat driving through the mountains listening to Phoebe Bridgers. Also Keiynan Lonsdale’s album Rainbow Boy really gets the blood pumping on a long road trip.

I will also sing every single lyric to the Wicked soundtrack on a really long drive. One time I even sang my version of the entire album when I was out of service in the middle of the desert. (My own little abridged Wicked recital). There’s a video of that somewhere hidden in my camera roll. 

Where’s one of the first places/spaces you can remember that made you feel a part of a queer community?

I didn’t know it at the time, but there was such a queer support system at the Columbus Children’s Theater where I did almost 16 plays when I was a kid growing up in Ohio. I didn’t know I was gay at the time and I definitely wasn’t out, but looking back, I had so many mentors that were queer (unbeknownst to me). They gave me a strong foundation of what it meant to be a good hardworking person and were all strong role models for what being queer could be. 

I also used to go to this 18-and-over dance night in Hollywood called Tiger Heat. That event was probably one of the first big queer things I ever did and it was certainly liberating and eye-opening for a 19-year-old gay boy. 

Who is a queer or trans artist/performer/creator that you think is doing really cool work right now? Why are they someone we should all be paying attention to?

I’m pretty obsessed with queer musicians and singer songwriters because I didn’t grow up with songs that reflected who I was. So, singers like Myylo, and Troye Sivan, and Jordy are always on repeat in my house. The band boygenius is also really exciting to me right now. 

Actor Jake Borelli wears a floral=printed button-up shirt and grey slacks while sitting in front of a yellow backdrop
Image Credit: Jonny Marlow

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