'Grey's Anatomy' Star Giacomo Gianniotti on What's Next for the MerLuca Romance

Michael Maloney
Exclusive ABC/Mitch Haaseth

The team at Grey’s Anatomy is pretty tight off-camera as well as on-screen. When word got around that newcomer Giacomo Gianniotti supported My Friend’s Place, a Los Angeles-based charity that helps homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 25, his cast members stepped up and helped the charitable actor come up with funds to donate to the organization.

TV Insider chatted with Gianniotti about his philanthropic efforts, whether DeLuca or Link (Chris Carmack) – or maybe neither of them – are the guy for Meredith (Ellen Pompeo). And if you think Grey’s keeps the native of Rome, Italy too busy for other projects, guess again. Gianniotti has produced and stars in an indie film, Acquainted, in which he plays a man who faces a romantic dilemma!

How did you come to be involved in My Friend’s Place?   Why is it an important cause for you?

I grew up in Toronto and was doing similar work there [with similar organizations] in high school and in college. When I got to Los Angeles, Grey’s Anatomy happened so fast it made my head spin! Once I found my place and got settled, I said to myself that I wanted to get back to this kind of work. I reached out to colleagues at the show and said I wanted to do work with the homeless. Having moved to L.A. from Canada, I was living in a lot of Airbnb’s and hotels. I moved around a lot of and I got to know the city, especially the Hollywood area. I was so taken aback by how much homelessness there is in Hollywood. There are so many people including teenagers and people in their early to mid-20s who are down on their luck. I realized very quickly what an immense problem homelessness is in L.A.

One of my colleagues at Grey’s, at the time, Jerrika Hinton (ex-Stephanie), said she had a friend at this group called My Friend’s Place. I went there and met with Heather Carmichael, the executive director. She showed me around and I became immediately convinced that the people there were doing revolutionary work. People who are down on their luck feel invisible, that they’re not connecting. [Homeless people] have said to me they feel that people look right through them. What that can do to your mental health is really horrible.

We have a recording studio at My Friend’s Place where kids can come in and record harmonies. They can be taught how to play guitar. There’s a circus company that comes in and does acts with the kids. It gives them a creative release. They’re always adding ideas, never settling. With each goal achieved, they ask how can we do more?

Has there been anyone associated with My Friend’s Place who’s influenced your life?

Yes. Ashlee Marie Preston, who is a very big voice in the trans community. Her star has really risen.  I met Ashlee through My Friend’s Place. We see each other there and have spent time together. I’ve gone on her podcast. She was a client of My Friend’s Place a long time ago; she came through the doors and used the services. We had a gala years ago and she told her story and what My Friend’s Place did for her. Now that she’s successful, she wants to give back.

How did it feel to present a check for $40,000 to My Friend’s Place on behalf of Team Grey’s Anatomy?

I’m so grateful to be in a position to have a platform where when I ring a bell, people show up. It’s the best part of celebrity and fame. I was doing work with the homeless before and would do fundraisers, but we’d only raise a few hundred dollars. To be in a position now where I have over a million followers on Instagram [is amazing]. The people who are fans of what I do are largely compassionate people. They show up to donate and help and be part of initiatives. It’s really great. I feel lucky that I can do that for My Friend’s Place.

Some of the money raised came from you and your castmates appearance on Celebrity Family Feud. What was doing that like?

That all came about thanks to Chandra Wilson (Bailey). Originally, she was invited to be on with her [real-life] family. That turned into having cast members from Grey’s come on and play against actors from Station 19. It was a very friendly competition, and Chandra was very generous. She immediately thought of me and said, ‘We’d love to have My Friend’s Place be the beneficiary.’ I was having anxiety attacks [about coming up with answers], but James Pickens [Richard] has horses in real-life. He is very well-versed in that culture. And we had all these horse-related questions that came up! How lucky were we to get that?

There’s momentum building for a DeLuca/Meredith relationship and now they’ve been stuck in an elevator together. How’d they begin and where are they going?  

When Krista Vernoff [executive producer/head writer] said that this was a direction she wanted to go in, we talked about the double standard in Hollywood in which we’d often see a 50-plus year-old man paired with a 19-year-old [woman]. It’s run of the mill to see that, but when a woman [is involved with a younger man] it’s ‘strange’ and not seen as often. She wanted to flip that on its head and see an older woman with a younger man, noting it could be sexy and empowering. I said, ‘Hey, I’d love to help you tell that story.’ From there, we embarked on a journey to see how we could do that. There’s competition from other suitors [notably, Chris Carmack’s Link].

So why is DeLuca a better choice for Meredith than Link – or anyone else?

That’s a tough one. Okay. I’m just going to go for it – I’m Italian! There’s a romance to our culture and how we approach women. Giacomo Casanova, historically, is the world’s greatest lover of all time! Maybe Meredith would be happier with a version of Casanova?

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What else can you tease us about what’s next for DeLuca when Grey’s returns on January 17?

There’s the love triangle with Meredith, Link, and myself that we’ve created and we’ve shown a lot of pros to both guys and why each of them would be good for her, but it could also be where it’s neither of us. Meredith’s open to finding love again. In the past, we’ve seen Deluca express his feelings for her, but she was overwhelmed and didn’t know how to respond. Now that she’s trapped in an elevator with him, she can’t run anymore.

In the next episode, these characters will spend time with one another and there’s going to be an intimacy to their scenes. Meredith will get to know DeLuca on a much deeper level. All there’s left to do is for them to talk. This will strengthen their bond.

What else is keeping you busy in addition to your charitable endeavors and Grey’s?

My production company and I just produced a film, Acquainted. We had a premiere at the Whistler Film Festival two weeks ago. I’m very proud of it. We hope to release it soon. It’s a romantic drama about two couples. In the story, a man from one couple, whom I play, meets a woman [played by Laysla De Oliveira] from the other couple at a bar. We have a nice talk and we quickly realize there’s some serious chemistry. The film goes on to explore how these characters can maintain a platonic relationship as they address the shortcomings of their current partners. They’re both tasked with the dilemma of asking, ‘Do I leave this relationship and risk going for something that gives me butterflies? Or do I stay in this thing that I’ve built? If I do jump ship, who’s to stay in couple of years that this won’t fizzle out and be as monotonous as my previous relationship was?’

Grey’s Anatomy, Returns, Thursday, January 17, 8/7c, ABC

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