Giacomo Gianniotti: From The Mouth Of The Wolf
The Italian-Canadian actor found acclaim for his role in Grey’s Anatomy. Now, he’s keen to try his hand at directing.
When we speak with Giacomo Gianniotti he’s calling from a hotel in the northeast of Italy. “We haven’t got snow yet,” he says, looking out over the historical city of Trieste. “But it’s cold.”
With an Italian father and Canadian mother, you could say Gianniotti is somewhat acclimatized to the cold, but it was their travels that served as an early inspiration. “I was very lucky,” he says. “I was taken to Italy many times growing up. I was exposed to this other world and that was part of wanting more in life. I knew what was out there waiting for me. I knew there were other places begging to be visited that could enrich me in so many ways.”
Another impact was Steven Spielberg. “He’s one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. There’s a reason he is where he is, and why he continues to make great films,” Gianniotti says. “I’ve only known my parents separated, and he was always making films about disrupted families, or families that were apart. Films can always be about what you want them to be. It just depends where you’re looking.”
In 2015, Gianniotti joined the hit TV show Grey’s Anatomy to play the character of Andrew DeLuca. It wasn’t his first role, but it was one he’d end up being in for seven seasons.
“When I joined Grey’s Anatomy it was a big, established show, so I didn’t have the luxury of starting something new and setting the tone,” he says. “As an actor your role becomes how do I fit into this thing, and what can I add? What’s missing or not dialled up enough that I can shine? That was something I was always fighting for.”
Clearly, the fight paid off, and he was made into a series regular and started having deeper conversations with the writers about how they could develop the character and make him more three-dimensional. “We got my character’s sister to come on to strengthen his backstory. His father came on the show and we eventually led to a diagnosis of bipolar in this character.”
Portraying a disorder like bipolar on screen comes with responsibility. Gianniotti explains how he embarked on a process of deep research, reading articles and books, but also seeing how bipolar disorder had been depicted in film and TV to date, to see if there was a different or more powerful way to represent it. “I think where a lot of pieces of art fail is that they’re not bringing anything new to the table.”
Alongside meaningful conversations about mental health on the show, Gianniotti ensures they have an impact in his personal life. He’s candid about it, sharing how his career is “extremely stressful. It’s crippling some days, and others it’s a cakewalk.”
Most importantly, he just wants the conversation to continue. “For me, it’s never enough,” he says. “It’ll never be enough because the statistics show us we’re still losing people every year and people are struggling. I don’t think it’s ever been better, but it’s great to keep the conversation going.” His role as DeLuca only elevated this. “A lot of the time the focus was on me and my character, but I think the most important thing we did was show a support system for DeLuca,” Gianniotti explains.
“Films can always be about what you want them to be. It just depends where you’re looking”
As a natural philanthropist, Gianniotti is a global ambassador for Canadian outerwear brand Nobis. Gianniotti was part of launching their #NOCOLDSHOULDER campaign, which is a global initiative that collects gently worn jackets and donates them to vulnerable communities. “There’s a big emphasis on the homeless community and shelters, but there are also people who are living paycheque to paycheque, where a jacket can be a huge expense,” he explains.
When asked what the most surprising moment from his years on Grey’s Anatomy was, he shares how it lit the fuse that pivoted him from acting to directing. Though he always had an interest in directing, reading books and watching others at work, he always considered it “a pipe dream.”
When he watched Kevin McKidd (who plays Owen Hunt on the show) directing an episode, “it opened a door in my mind that made me believe I could do that.” Seven years later, he was given the opportunity to direct an episode on his final season. “The man and artist going in was very different to the man and artist I am now, having left the show.”
Currently, Gianniotti can next be seen in the upcoming Netflix Original limited series From Scratch, opposite Zoe Saldana. The series is based on the book of the same name by Tembi Locke and was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club and Hello Sunshine’s May 2019 book pick. After meeting the film’s director, Nzingha Stewart, he auditioned, armed with his favourite Italian saying, “in bocca al lupo,” (used to wish performers luck that translates to “into the wolf ’s mouth”) and got the part.
“It’s a beautiful story about a woman from Texas who moves to Florence and wants to study art,” he says. “Along the way she meets the love of her life. It’s both romantic and tragic, and there’s so much poetry in the beauty and the pain. I get to play her first love affair in Florence before she finds the love of her life.”
From all the experiences Gianniotti has, there’s one piece of advice he’d give his younger self. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Not necessarily take your time, but don’t be so concerned by having everything resolved by tomorrow, or by age 30. Take the pressure off. It takes time to build. Have patience and trust in the process.”