Nia Vardalos: life not in ruins

The Hollywood success story Nia Vardalos speaks to EUGENIA PAVLOPOULOU about her latest movie, her experience of working in Hollywood, the joys of working in Greece, her recent adoption of a child and her dislike of sex scenes.

Nia Vardalos, the Hollywood Greek Canadian American (that is what she calls herself) does not fit into the standard mould for a Hollywood star. Why? She is just too Greek.

Over the last seven years she has established herself in Hollywood on her own terms. Through her actions she has forged a place for himself in the glamorous world of Hollywood. The secret to her success: “Do what you believe in and do not deny who you are”.

Vardalos was in Australia recently for the premiere of her latest movie, the comedy My Life in Ruins.

I was offered 15 minutes for an interview.

Despite the limited time we managed to cover a range of topics.

Her responses to my questions were rapid, loud and raucous; in other words, a classic Greek.

You are a Greek Canadian America. To what extent has your Greek heritage informed your personal life and career?

In many ways. In terms of my career it started with my agent who asked me one day, “You are dark skinned, but you are not what is called a visible minority? What are you?”

“I am Greek” I said and honestly I did not get the best of responses on that.

“I don’t know what you do with that? There are no Greek parts,” she said.

So I thought if that’s the problem I am going to find a solution.

I am going to write something and hopefully play one of the bridesmaids.

That’s how My Big Fat Greek Wedding started.
I realised at that moment that you are who you are and that you should never try to stir away from who you are.

You see all my life I tried to fit in.

When I went to drama school I tried to pretend that I wanted to do Shakespeare; it didn’t work.

I found the improvisational theatre was the perfect match for me.

Then I go to Hollywood and I try to fit in these roles that I do not fit.

I had to remind myself, “don’t try to fit in; be who you are.”

Aren’t you worried that you might be pigeonholed as an actor who can only be cast in Greek roles?

No.

Think of how many Italian roles Robert De Nero has played. Think of how many Italian films Martin Scorsese has done. Did they get pigeonholed? No. It’s crazy.

I am going to do some Greek or some non-Greek roles.

What is it with comedies?

I like comedies. I don’t deal very well with dramatic prose. Nor do I like shit humour and I do not get offered interesting roles.

I got to make two movies back to back, which just happened to be comedies.

But of the movies I have written the last four years, some are thrillers and some are dramas. It is a matter of chance.

Share with us your experience of working in Greece

Look, it was great. The Greek Government had concerns about us shooting at a number of historical sites.

I was very touched when they told me that they can’t close the sites for the shooting.

They pointed out that there are people that come all the way from Japan and Australia and rightly said that we could not close them for a day in order to make the movie.

I was really taken aback of how respectful the Greeks were of the tourists.

And then you found Alexi.  A very hot choice…

Alexis Georgoulis is such a good actor and he is ridiculously good looking.

But he is such a good man; he is my friend for life.

It is funny because all the paparazzi were there taking photos of Alexi and me saying that I had an affair with him.

I was thinking «Σιγά! Με τη μάνα μου και τον πατέρα μου να με παρακολουθούν»; (What, with my mum and dad watching me?)

Any plans to do more movies in Greece?

In a minute if there was the opportunity.

You have something with sex scenes I heard…

I would rather do a movie that my parents would not be embarrassed to see.

But that’s not why I said I do not like confronting sex scenes.

As an actor I would do an interesting role, but I think sex scenes in movies are cheap.

You rarely see one that is beautiful and necessary.

What? I’ll simulate sex on screen? No if it’s not necessary I will not do that.

You recently came out and made public your long term fertility issues and your recent adoption of a three year old girl. What has your experience of that been?

The time came for me to realise that I had to abandon fertility treatments.

I could not abuse my body anymore.

While grieving I’ve realised there is another option.

That’s how I came to adoption.

You adopted a three year old girl. How did your peers react?

You know there was a stigma attached to it. My family was very supportive but other people said very strange things to me.

You see I adopted a three year old daughter. Someone told me that adopting a child at that age was a bit dangerous; that maybe she was damaged.
I answered back: “Maybe but not as damaged as you are.”

You know the first time we took her to church in LA-

So did you find the Greeks in Greece you worked with to be lazy?

Lazy? Working with Greeks was fantastic. They worked so hard, they never stopped, they worked all the time, they were so dedicated.

All the staff was fantastic. Do you know how rude some people can be, talking to extras in Hollywood?

Nothing like this in Greece. Everything went perfectly well.

The sky was so blue and the weather was with us.

And the best part, me standing there and as we were preparing a shot and I rolled my eyes around and who would I see? Mum and Dad.

We looked at each other for a moment and thought, “How do these impossible things happen?”

Are you a regular church goer?

Yes. It was so touching when we first went to church together. People knew what I went through to have a child and some of them were literally in tears seeing us there.

So how is it to be a mum?

I love it, love it, love it. She is here in Australia with me. I will go nowhere without her.

Our conversation comes to end when the publicist gently reminds us our time is up. As I depart Vardalos calls out “Thank you mate.”