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Growing up, Jake Borelli was always interested in pursuing acting. “I’d watch Barney and I used to say, ‘I want to go there.’ I then started taking acting classes in Ohio and then later at Columbus Children’s Theatre, where How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor also went. It was an incredible training ground, and then I moved to L.A. right after high school,” the 31-year-old exclusively tells GRAZIA USA.

Despite starring on the hit drama Grey’s Anatomy, the actor was “obsessed with sitcoms growing up.”

“I would watch them at Nick at Nite, and I became fascinated by the comic timing and where the jokes were written. I always wanted to dabble in sitcoms, but now playing Dr. Levi Schmitt on Grey‘s, it’s the perfect balance because its drama acting but we do comedy, too,” he says.

Though Borelli has a significant part in the ABC series, he recalls almost not auditioning for the part of Dr. Schmitt. “I didn’t think it would be possible,” he shares. “I had been out in L.A. for eight years at that point, and I remember everyone wanted to be on the show, but I never got an audition for it, ever.”

However, Borelli soon got the call that would forever change his life. “I had just come off a Nickelodeon show called The Thundermans, where I played this exchange student in high school. I was like, ‘There’s no way I can play a doctor on an ABC drama!'”

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Fortunately, the Ohio native proved he was born to be part of the acclaimed series, which has been on the air since 2005. Not only does Borelli get to work with some of the greatest actors in the industry, but his character made history, as fans witnessed the first kiss between two male doctors, making it the first major gay (male) romance the show has ever had.

“Levi and I have definitely grown in our queerness together,” Borelli, who publicly came out as gay on his Instagram page in November 2018 — just moments before his character came out on the sixth episode in the fifteenth season, says. “I was able to accept myself better and learn how to communicate my queerness better, and it has been a wild journey.”

“I was out to my family and friends, but I was never out publicly and not on Instagram. I knew I wanted to join the conversation with people because when they were figuring out if Nico is gay or flirting with Levi, I was getting messages from young queer people about how excited they were,” he says. “I was having all of those same emotions, and I really wanted to join them. I immediately posted on Instagram, and it meant so much to me.”

Borelli also got a chance to help Levi in his coming out journey. “Levi and I are living parallel lives, and it’s one of the reasons I gravitated toward him,” he adds. “We’ve gone through so much together, and one of the great things about Grey’s and the writers is that they are open to inviting us to talk about our own experiences. We wrote a storyline of Levi coming out. I talked about my own queerness with the writers and things I would want my character to say. We crafted this idea in coming out would be rooted in power and accepting himself and growing as a human being instead of it being rooted in shame, guilt and torment. It was really beautiful.”

Fans also couldn’t get enough of Levi’s romance with Alex Landi‘s character, Dr. Nico Kim, the show’s first gay male surgeon. So much so, viewers went on to ship “SchmiCo.” “It was the first guy he kissed and the first love he ever had — and that was so beautiful for me to watch and be a part of,” Borelli notes. “It was a story I hadn’t seen as a kid. It would have made me feel completely different about my queerness at a younger age.”

“I’m really grateful to the writers for creating Nico and exploring Levi’s queerness even more this season. It’s interesting to see how he reacts with different guys and different queer guys in the hospital. I love seeing him grow in his relationship to his own queerness.”

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He continues, “Levi’s so courageous, and I think that’s something people missed because he’s kind of a klutzy neurotic nerd in a lot of ways. But the things he’s done in his life and the power he’s gained by being authentically himself are so courageous and so inspiring to me. It’s been really nice to lean into those aspects of myself, but with a little bit of a barrier because I get to do it through Levi.”

Screenwriter Krista Vernoff was the one to pitch that Levi would come out of the closet. “I knew how big of a story it would for people — especially young queer guys who watch the show,” he says. “I was scared and overjoyed, and it ended up being way bigger than either of us imagined.”

So big, in fact, that GLAAD recognized the show, as it was nominated for the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Drama Series. “It’s an instant family and community that I was a little bit afraid to step into before I came out publicly,” he admits. “It’s incredible, and I’ve been welcomed with open arms.”

Over the years, Borelli has gotten to work with some amazing Hollywood stars, including Jesse Williams and Sarah Drew, to name a few, and it’s still something he never takes for granted. “It feels like a master class in television,” he says. “I’ve been surrounded by the best actors in television and gotten to work with them and practice with them. There’s so many wonderful patient storylines that allow us to have these incredible gay actors come in. Every single episode I am excited to see who is coming to the show.”

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On this current season, Borelli is looking forward to Levi now teaching interns and being in charge of others. “It’s a huge shift in how I play him and how he deals with power and having authority,” he says. “It’s been really fun.”

Borelli has a big episode debuting on Thursday, March 16, that he is looking forward to people seeing. “There’s so much I’d love to talk to you about, but there’s a lot that happens!” he reveals. “I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”

Going forward, Borelli, who was also named one of USA Today‘s “Best Dressed Male Celebrities” in 2019, is shadowing some of the directors at Grey‘s to learn how the set works. “I would love to keep moving in the director role,” he says. “I am going to be working on a short film this summer, and as a director, I’d love to see how that could be used into television.”

But most of all, Borelli isn’t giving up on his dream of being part of a sitcom. “Maybe one day I can try appear on one!” he quips.

Grey’s Anatomy airs on Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.