When I told my sister-in-law that I was interviewing 27-year-old Giacomo Gianniotti, aka intern Andrew Deluca of Grey’s Anatomy, the first thing she said was “Ask him if Alex is leaving the show!” Loyal Grey’s fans will hopefully find out soon. For those of you who like me don’t watch the show as religiously, I can tell you that I happily did many hours of “research” and plan to start from the top now that it’s on Netflix. Yes, I have 15 seasons ahead of me.
Just four years ago Giacomo completed his actor’s residency at Canada’s Film Centre and is now living in LA after having scored a reoccurring role on Shonda Rhimes’ longest running show. He appeared on the television series Reign and Murdoch Mysteries, and made his big screen debut last year with SNL alum Jason Sudeikis in Race.
I had the chance to speak on the phone with this warm and humble talent about “ShondaLand”, adventure, and his many creative pursuits.
You are living the dream. What goes through your mind as you drive to the set? I feel gratitude. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am. I know that I am still very much at the bottom of the ladder. I still have far to climb, not just in acting but in a lot of the things I’m interested in like directing, music, and art. I definitely feel that I’ve hit a milestone, that’s not lost on me.
LA is so beautiful. It’s very beautiful. I never imagined I’d live here. I’ve come to Los Angeles over the years to work, but I can’t really wrap my head around living here. I’ve really taken it on, I’ve had to. I like it. I’ve got a good network of people here. It’s a very creative environment.
Tell me about working with Shonda Rhimes. She is very busy. She is running over 8 shows right now. But, she is present at every single one of our weekly table reads when the whole cast is gathered together. It’s the first time for the writers to hear it performed, as well as Shonda. Shonda has a writing crew that creates the episodes. The table read is her time to hear it for the first time and then “Shonda-fy” it. We can ask her questions about our characters, she’s very supportive.
What did you bring to the role of Andrew Deluca? I think I’ve brought some sensitivity. I think a lot about the male presence on a show. I always think of the function of the character and what’s missing on the show, what the other characters aren’t doing because it isn’t their function. I try to fill in some kind of gap. I found that a lot of the male characters on Grey’s were quite strong, very confident, they are very “bad ass” surgeons. I was interested in exploring someone who was a little unsure of himself. Maybe Andrew wants to be a surgeon but is getting in a little over his head, not only in work, but in love.
Do you know if something will happen with Andrew and Jo (Camilla Luddington)? I wish I knew! I think the smart thing the writers have done is put themselves in a position where they don’t know what is going to happen. They set up a season and create forks in the road, and don’t choose which fork they are going to take until they get to that episode. I think from a business perspective they are going to listen to the fans, listen to the ratings, to what’s popular, and what’s not. They know there is a world where they might get together, and there’s a world where Alex and Jo are a very probable outcome as well.
What made you select this part over the others that came your way? I’d worked for ABC before, I really like the people. They are really kind. I hadn’t worked with Shonda before and she has become such a huge part of television. I wanted to be part of it. Shonda has so many different vehicles to employ the actors she loves. That was attractive to me, entering her world of television.
Describe your perfect day off. I’d probably get up really early and go for a hike in the canyon. I’d come back and have some breakfast. I’d shower up and take my motorcycle out. I have a Harley Davidson. I would ride out to Malibu. There are a lot of great bars where you can just get a beer and watch the ocean, it’s really beautiful.
Why are you an actor? I really like people. I like collaborating. That’s why I like music and writing music. It’s a tough thing to do alone; you need other people to make it great. When I was about 10 years old and living in Rome, I had a small part in a movie. The job came by accident. I remember being on set and I was essentially playing and I thought to myself “So I can just play and have fun and it’s a job? I get to work with all these different people?” It blew me away how many people it employed; if you watch the credits role after a film it’s quite impressive. If any of those people mess up, it’s not the same. They all have their own talent that they bring to the process, and I think that’s really cool.
What stories do you want to tell about Canadians? My father’s story is one that I want to tell. We moved from Italy when I was quite young. It’s strange coming to a new place, not knowing how to act, or what to do, not knowing the “faux pas”. There is a big learning curve. For my father it was very difficult because he didn’t speak any English. He was very lucky to come from Italy because there is a big Italian population in Toronto. There was a community ready with open arms for him. Community centers, churches, lots of restaurants. He immediately landed on his feet. I look at the landscape in LA and I don’t really see that here. Where are you from?
I was born in England and I live in Montreal, so I am an immigrant myself.
There is a really great restaurant there called Da Emma, the owner is a friend of my father’s.
In Toronto every culture is represented, there is a neighborhood for that culture, and you can try their amazing food. They have their own festivals that are all supported by the government; it’s an amazing place where every culture can feel there’s a little piece of home. I love that. I don’t feel that there is an identity for a lot of different cultures in LA; the film industry has taken it over! You can find different cultures but it’s very spread out, it’s not like there are little neighborhoods like Little Italy or Little Portugal, or Little Greece.
I think you’d love the Italian influence in San Francisco.
I hear it’s amazing, I’ve never been.
Do you use a particular acting technique? What I loved about my theater school experience is that they got us to read a lot of different books by Stanislavski, Rikowski, Uta Hagen, we even studied the Japanese theater. I appreciated that because I found that other theater schools were focused on one method and I never related to that. I wanted to build my own toolbox. When you watch Robert Redford and Paul Newman on screen it’s nothing short of magic. They are different actors, they don’t work in the same way, but they both achieve the same result using a different technique. I was always drawn to that. There isn’t one right way and one wrong way.
How do you create a character? I’ve been watching a television show called “Too young to die”, it’s a documentary on artists like Philip Seymour Hoffman. I see a reoccurring theme of bringing yourself to the character. Certain characters are more like you than others. Sometimes the reach is very far. Sometimes the reach is very close. I try to draw parallels to myself, notice where I am different, and then I try to close those gaps. If it’s someone who is a bad person, since evil people don’t think they’re evil, you can’t play him like a bad guy. I try to find humor, even in the darkest characters. I also think no character is exactly where they want to be in their life, otherwise you wouldn’t have much of a film if the character is fulfilled. I like to write out the superhero version of how the character sees himself. If he had all of his dreams come true, what would his life look like? Those are the 8 principles that are a really good starting point.
Does anything change for you from rehearsal to performance? Do you prepare and expect to know how it will play out, or are you open to what will happen on set? I’ve learnt to think less about it; I used to be like that. Now I like to not think about it too much because then I get stuck in my head. I like to go over the lines and get them in my head, understand my arguments, and then I want to leave it alone. I want to know my character well enough that I can improvise in the moment. Being with the other actors is the most exciting part. I discover a lot from what they give me. I’m able to make more concrete decisions. I think that approach is more exciting.
What are your favorite plays? David Mamet, older American classics. Shakespeare when it’s inventive, when it’s turned on its head. It needs to be relatable.
Do you ever get nervous before an audition or before you film? Sure, but it’s exciting. I think you just need to classify it differently. If you are nervous, you just need to tell yourself you’re excited.
Do you want to perform on stage in the future? Maybe when I finish Grey’s. I’d love to spend some time in New York doing plays, off-Broadway.
What makes you unique? I think I’m very sensitive. My mom raised me and I was always around her older friends, I was raised speaking with adults more than people my age, so I never related to kids my age, I always felt older, more mature than the people around me. Even to this day most of my friends are much older than me. In primary school and in high school I was always thinking “You guys are still doing that?” I was on to the next thing. I feel like I’m a little bit of an old soul sometimes.
What was it like to grow up in Rome? It was the childhood that I wish everyone in the world had. We didn’t have much, but I was so happy. We lived on the top floor of this apartment, 8 or 9 stories high. There was a real sense of community. In Italy you get your bread here, and then you walk down the street and you get your meats from someone else, and then there is the store where you buy your wine. Each store has a very specific role and you get to know the owners by name. The food is obviously incredible. The fridges are much smaller because you only buy what you will eat that day, or over a couple of days, so it’s all fresh. I think one of the reasons I became an actor was because, near a pond just outside of Rome, there were these guys who would put on little puppet shows for the kids, in this little kiosk with a small curtain. Nobody paid them. I would stand there for hours. It was incredible. They’d have to drag me kicking and screaming. All the parents would just put a couple of dollars in the tip jar. These guys were so creative and they wanted to entertain the kids. Now kids are very stimulated by screens. It was a different world. I have very fond memories of being outside in nature, and tasting fresh peaches from a tree in the backyard. These things are a little bit lost.
What is your favorite restaurant in Rome? Ai Bozzi, in Trastevere.
What is your favorite food memory? My grandmother’s cooking. Her spaghetti with meat sauce is the bees knees. She’d throw it together in 10 minutes and it was the best thing you’d ever eaten in your life. She’d bring fresh figs to the table and peel them.
What do you appreciate most about your parents? My mom was always keen on me reading, and my dad on culture. We’d go see a lot of films, or plays, or the ballet. From a young age I was exposed to a lot of art. My mom is a painter. My father played the saxophone, and when I was born he realized “Oh – now I have to get a real job!” They were very artistic people, they meditated, and they did a lot of really cool things. They loved each other and they loved me. Even though they separated, they were very present in my life. My mother lives about 3 hours north of Toronto, near lakes, brooks, and forests. It’s very beautiful. It’s where I spent a certain part of my childhood. She exposed me to nature and I have a profound respect for it. My dad lived in the city of Toronto and would expose me to theater and art. I feel like they were always exposing me to the right things, and making sure I didn’t waste my time. They were very supportive of anything that I wanted to do which very quickly became acting and theater. They said “yes, absolutely” to a class, or if I wanted to go see a movie.
What is your favorite movie? Hook by Steven Spielberg.
Why? It mesmerized me. I watch it once a year. Robin Williams is my favorite actor and that is the movie where it clicked with him. It blew me away. I understood from a young age that the pirates were a metaphor for growing up and losing your innocence, your imagination. The lost boys could fly because they still had theirs. Flying is a metaphor for adventure. That is something I live by. I try not to grow up, to keep my imagination. I watch Robin with wonderment and try to copy what he does, see if he can instill any secrets that maybe I’ve forgotten. I think kids are so much smarter than us. We lose a bit of that as we grow up. Society tells us the way we need to behave, what we should be ashamed of, how we should think. I love that story.
You have an album coming out? It’s a long process but I am definitely working towards releasing some music.
Tell me about your production company Fired Up Films. I started it with a friend because we wanted to start producing films. We thought “We know all of these amazing directors, and crews, why aren’t we using them and creating content?” Producing is a tough job, but if you really love the project you are rooting for it.
You are shooting your first feature this summer. What is it about? It’s about two couples; both are in a long-term committed relationship. The male from one, and the female from the other, meet in a bar one night and hit it off. They realize they used to go to high school together. They both admit that what they are doing is slightly silly, but they enjoy each other’s company so they decide they can be friends. They try, but they are very attracted to each other, very stimulated by each other, and they aren’t getting that stimulation from their partners. It’s a story about hitting 30 and not really being happy with where you are. When something exciting comes along, do you jump ship, for this new and exciting thing, or stay in this relationship that you’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and love building? Who is to say that if you leave this person, and take the risk, that the fireworks won’t fizzle out and become exactly what you already had? It’s a film about relationships and how difficult they are.
What is your painting style? I don’t consider myself a painter but it brings me joy. I am moving into a bigger place and I would like to have the space to have a studio. I am looking forward to taking some painting classes and getting back into it. My mom and I talk a lot about painting. She shares observations with me. It would be abstract.
What drives you to climb to the base camp of Mount Everest for earthquake victims and raise money for charities? My mom has always been a very giving person; she was involved with a lot of different charities, she always performed charitable acts like buying presents for kids who didn’t have any at Christmas. Those were values that were instilled in me and the problem before Grey’s was that it was difficult to get people involved. Now that I have a bit of a following, it’s very nice that when I ring the bell, a lot of people are listening. There is a lot of power that comes from that responsibility. I like that. Now I finally have a platform where people listen and I’ve been able to do a lot. I like to help where I am, where I come from, and in some way, the world. The way I help where I am is with My Friend’s Place. We help homeless youths, which is a huge problem in LA. The way I help where I come from in Toronto is with Rev It Up For Sick Kids. They raise hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. We ride our motorcycles from Burlington to the hospital in Toronto. When we arrive, we all rev our engines and the kids come to the windows. It’s really cool. They know that we’ve arrived with funds that are going to help them. The way I help the world in my small way is with All Hands Volunteers, which is present all over the world. They deal with the after effects of natural disasters. I got involved with them a year ago by going to Nepal. I found really positive and cool people there. In Italy this summer I got a chance to go on the ground and assess the damages, to see if there was a possibility for us to help. It’s an immensely informative job. It feeds me as a human, as an actor. It’s massively rewarding, and I never question it for a minute.
What is your dream role? James Bond. I’m going to be James Bond one day, you heard it here first.
What would you do with that part? I think it’s one of the most fascinating male roles. Ever since I was a kid I loved watching 007 and watching each actor pass the torch. There’s nothing else that has gone on that long. It’s still one of the most successful franchises. Playing James Bond would be such an honor, such an amazing opportunity to someday carry that torch. I think I could bring a little Italian-ness to him, maybe he wouldn’t be British, but he’d be Italian.
I love it.
More of a Casanova.
So he’d cook you some pasta…
And then kill you. (laughs)
Photos of Giacomo Gionniotti by Brian Kaminski.