Picking out furniture, barbecuing, painting walls, cheering on the Toronto Raptors via Instagram and now virtual wine-tasting and drag queen bingo – “Grey’s Anatomy” star Giacomo Gianniotti is making the best of quarantine! The Italian-born, Toronto-raised actor has spent recent months settling into a new home in Los Angeles, California, with his wife, Nichole, but as his “Grey’s” downtime nears an end, he’s focused on giving back to those in need.
The couple were in New York helping launch Gianniotti’s campaign with Canadian outerwear brand Nobis when the coronavirus pandemic halted normality and shut down “Grey’s Anatomy” production in March.
“We landed back in Los Angeles right as everything was happening,” Gianniotti tells ET Canada ahead of his latest quarantine project – the My Friend’s Place Summer Festival, which launches on Sunday evening with an online concert featuring JoJo, Mario and Kenzie Ziegler. “We just escaped New York then with lockdown regulations on both sides, we quickly realized it would be incredibly difficult to go back to Canada – or Italy where all my other family is.”
“I’m a big family person, so the hardest part of all this has definitely been not seeing loved ones,” Gianniotti, 31, adds. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s something everybody’s experiencing.”
While separation from family has been difficult, Gianniotti has found positives in the pandemic, like extra time with Nichole, a photographer and hair/makeup artist. The two tied the knot in a flowery, fairytale Rome setting in April 2019 and celebrated their first wedding anniversary in quarantine at their new home, joined by a cute new addition to their family – adopted pitbull, Jazz.
“We’ve been doing great and finding ways to keep busy and keep up hobbies,” Gianniotti says. “We moved into a new place when all this started, so we had a fresh slate in terms of having to decorate, get furniture, paint walls! We had never-ending projects, so were uniquely-lucky in that way.”
“The other positive is that as artists in Hollywood, we move so fast – the pace of our business doesn’t lend itself to slowing down, smelling the flowers and enjoying life,”the “Acquainted” star continues. “The pandemic’s forced everyone to slow down, appreciate those smaller things and pay attention to things they were neglecting. That’s the silver lining I’ve tried to hold onto.”
During quarantine, Gianniotti also launched an Instagram poetry reading series, “Poetry in the PM”, which featured “Grey’s” costars including Martin Henderson. He says the idea, which he’ll consider reprising if fans demand it, was a fun way to aid his mental health during the early days of the pandemic.
He now hopes to give viewers the same kind of “mental health break” via Sunday’s Standing Together concert, streaming on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube from 5 p.m. PST. The show and following days’ events will benefit My Friend’s Place, a Los Angeles resource center helping homeless youth build self-sufficient lives, whether it’s by providing food, hot showers and clothing for job interviews, or running workshops on fashion design and music.
Citywide homelessness is something Giannotti was struck by after moving to Los Angeles from Toronto, and through his former “Grey’s” costar, Jerrika Hinton, he became involved with My Friend’s Place. In 2016, the nonprofit named him their Champion of the Year for his efforts, which have included serving meals, donating clothing and fundraising through events like Tough Mudder. He and Nichole also generously donated $13,000 of funds they received in lieu of wedding gifts to the organization.
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Todays lunch was a huge success, we got to present @myfriendsplace with $13,000 and feed the youth an incredible healthy and nutritious lunch made with so much love. This meant alot to my wife Nichole and I.Thank you to Eleazar our captain and Chef, and to my Mama for all your incredible help in the kitchen. We all made made a great team today. Lots of laughs were had and lots of seconds and thirds were served. Thank you to all the staff and volunteers @myfriendsplace for your help today and to those I only met today it was a pleasure to meet you all. If you have anything to give to @myfriendsplace they would really appreciated. Money or donated goods. They have a housing campaign that just launched and donations are being matched you contribution will go twice as far! Sending love to all our youth today and to all the amazing staff and volunteers that make this magical place go round! @myfriendsplace #youthhomelessness #endyouthhomelessness #dogood #giveback #spreadlove #onlylove #13000 #bigcheckday 📸: @jeffreymkatz
As the pandemic wears on, Gianniotti remains troubled at the impact the crisis is having on those without a home. “When this broke out, officials were telling us to shelter in home, but what if you don’t have a home? How do you not feel insulted or made fun of?” he says. “It’s also very scary when everyone’s saying there’s this outbreak and the only safe place is home – if you’re outside, it makes an already dangerous situation more dangerous.”
Gianniotti notes that those who My Friend’s Place assists have been further disadvantaged due to the donations and handouts they rely on from pedestrians and tourists on Hollywood Blvd grinding to a halt. Many are now solely-dependent on drop-in centers like My Friend’s Place.
“They haven’t shut down for a single day, which I’m proud of,” Gianniotti says. “They’ve moved workshops and resources outdoors to make it safer, but the lack of foot traffic and tourism has taken a big hit. The crisis has also forced people living paycheck-to-paycheck into homelessness, or into relying on resource centers to feed their families. So, these places are overcrowded and in need of donations.”
Following Sunday’s concert, the Summer Festival will continue virtually with a yoga class run by Anna Cantwell on Monday, before the fun factor kicks in with Tuesday’s drag queen bingo. On Wednesday, there’s a family art class, then wine-tasting with Zach Negin from L.A.’s Tabula Rasa. Conscious of the financial strife many are experiencing, most sessions are $25. The festival concludes with Thursday’s A Night United gala, which is hosted by Gianniotti and will honour actress/activist Rosanna Arquette and CAA agent Ann Blanchard.
And, when he’s done hosting, playing bingo and wine-tasting, fans will be thrilled to hear that Gianniotti’s preparing to return to playing Dr. Andrew DeLuca on “Grey’s Anatomy”, tentatively in September.
DeLuca’s mental health challenges became a focal point of abruptly-halted season 16, and spin-off series, “Station 19”, later appeared to confirm his bipolar diagnosis. While there’s more to tell of DeLuca’s struggles, the season will launch with a time jump, which sees Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital facing the pandemic. “I’m excited to get back to work soon!” Gianniotti says.