'Grey's Anatomy': Jake Borelli Says Everyone Is Pushed to Their Limits in Season 16 (Exclusive)

Grey's Anatomy

The actor talks to ET about what fans can expect in the upcoming 16th season and the status of Levi and Nico's romance.

Grey's Anatomy isn't missing a beat.

On Thursday's return episode, titled "Nothing Left to Cling To," the action picks up immediately following the season 15 finale, as the doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital deal with the repercussions of Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) firing Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) and Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) as a direct result of Meredith committing insurance fraud. 

"Everybody gasped. It was just as exciting for us, I think, as it was for the fans who were watching the finale," Grey's Anatomy star Jake Borelli, who plays Levi Schmitt, tells ET of the cast's reaction at the finale table read. "The hospital has completely turned on its head now and it's going to be quite a different landscape than we've been used to. It's scary and exciting at the same time."

With the premiere just around the corner, ET spoke with Borelli about the upcoming 16th season, the status of Levi and Nico's romance and the storyline he's most looking forward to exploring. 

ET: When the new season of Grey's Anatomy starts, Grey Sloan will be missing Meredith, Alex and Richard, which isn't a reality we've ever seen before. How does the hospital cope without those three doctors? How does this affect Levi?

Jake Borelli: If we've written one thing, it's that Grey Sloan is pretty resilient. But it's going to be tricky because a lot of the head doctors have now lost their jobs and I think that it's going to affect everybody in a different way. That's where we pick up. We start to realize how one decision affects all of these doctors differently. I think we're still learning how it affects Levi. A lot of these people he's looked up to for the last couple of years and he is now seeing in a slightly different light maybe. So, we're still playing it out, but I think it's going to be exciting.

In the trailer, we see Meredith picking up trash as part of court-ordered community service, presumably as a result of committing insurance fraud. What is your take on where Meredith is now?

Yeah, it seems like a lot of people are in a load of trouble and Meredith has history of making unethical decisions. What's great about Grey's is we find our characters in precarious forks in their lives. And Grey's really is able to explain both sides of the story. And so, whichever side you might be on, in terms of whether or not we think Meredith made a good decision, I think Grey's is going to be able to pose both sides of the argument in a really thought out way.

Let's talk about Levi and Nico. After some rough patches, it appears their relationship is finally in a solid place. Is that the case?

The last third of last season, it brought about some rocky moments for Levi and Nico. I think Nico represents this doctor who has a few more years on Levi, in terms of experience, both surgically and in terms of life experience. But, I think we've also realized that Levi has loads of emotional intelligence and courage in that department. This last fight that we saw with Nico, as he was spiraling after killing his first patient, we saw that Levi also had things to teach Nico. That teaching moment is what brought them together in the end and it culminated in Levi having the courage to finally come out to his mother, so we ended in a very beautiful way. There are still some differences between the two in terms of Levi growing in experience and Nico being more courageous emotionally and learning how to navigate his inner life a little bit better.

I do want to ask you about the scene in the finale when Levi essentially comes out to his mom, when he's with Nico. Is there more to mine there with Levi's relationship with his mother and family?

That scene was such a massive thing for me because we had been waiting all year for it. Levi has such an intense relationship with his mother. In terms of his own coming out process, that was a story that I was dying to see. To see how she would react to it and to see how that would affect Levi. That's something we're definitely going to see further this season. But the reason why that scene was so important is because I had talked with the writers a bunch about the differences that queer people have in terms of coming out to different people. As you grow in the knowledge of your own sexuality and throughout your life, you're constantly coming out to new people. 

I expressed how I felt, as a queer person, that sometimes coming out can become monotonous because I have to do it all the time. Some people, you just say, "You know what? I've known that I've been gay for a really long time and this is who I am. And I hope you accept it." Other people, new people in your life, require maybe a little less explanation. You can just be like, "Oh, hey, that guy's cute over there, don't you think?" There's a gray scale of how you can come out to somebody and I told the writers before that one of the things I dreamt of when I was younger is that, at some point, I would just have a boyfriend so I wouldn't have to come out to people. I was very excited with how Levi came out to his mom. He wanted to have a conversation with her, which is something she insinuated would happen later. But then he also had this wonderful platform with a strong man in his life with Nico and saying, "This is my boyfriend. Take it or leave it. This is who I am." I was really, really happy with how everything turned out.

Because it's Grey's, I imagine it's not smooth sailing for Levi and Nico?

Grey's isn't known for completely smooth-sailing relationships. We also need to remember these are two young people and this is Levi's first relationship with anybody. We can certainly expect some bumps.

How would you describe this season?

[Showrunner] Krista [Vernoff] did an amazing job leaving everybody on their own cliffhanger at the end of last year. This summer I was reeling in my head. I was like, "How is this all going to work out? What's going to happen to the hospital and all these characters?" When that first script came in, oh gosh, I read it so fast. All I can say is you guys are going to be very excited to see how all these loose ends have been tied up. Or how these storylines have been pushed even more dramatically. It's a good first episode.

With Krista also overseeing Station 19, have you noticed an increased presence of your firefighter counterparts on Grey's and vice versa?

This year, we're all excited to truly share this universe with them. You begin to see how connected the hospital and the fire station are. They're only a few blocks away from each other, so in real life, there would be a lot of interaction. We're excited to have a lot of crossover storylines and crossover characters. It's going to be cool. It kind of reminds me of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when all the superheroes get to come together for certain battles. I've done three episodes of Station 19 in the past and I've gotten to know a lot of those people well -- and I adore them. I'm good friends with Danielle Savre and Barrett Doss. On a personal level, it's exciting that we get to play around in the same universe a little bit more often. 

Grey's Anatomy returns Thursday, Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

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