"'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' was the story of my life. It was real"

Hallmark channel is going the sitcom route in a bid to add diversity to its programme line up. One of the shows lined up is My Big Fat Greek Life, which airs every Friday at 6:00 pm. A follow up to the surprise box office smash film from last year , My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

The writer and star of both the film and the television show Nia Vardalos is now a famous star, courtesy the movie of course, with an Oscar nomination for the screenplay early this year.

During an interview conducted via email by Indiantelevision.com correspondent Ashwin Pinto, Vardalos dwelt on the appeal of the concept, the differences between writing for television and the big screen.


Let me start with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It did what few independent films managed to do. It captured the mainstream audience's fascination. What was it about the story that connected with movie audiences across the globe?

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the story of my life. It was real. It was about Greek family values and culture. It was something that anyone and everyone could relate to. Besides, it was a comedy… and that works real well!


How did you manage to rope in Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson to produce the film?

Actually it was slightly the other way round! I always wanted to do something different. I was very proud of my Greek culture… and when Ian and me decided to get married - we had all the ceremonies in the traditional Greek style, I am also brought up in a 'strictly Greek' family.

I wanted to tell everyone what I knew, and hence started to write a little on it and it shaped up so well that Ian pushed me to make it into a play. We actually had to use up all our savings so we could manage a theatre show.

I was extremely lucky that Rita came for the show-watched me-liked me. We met after the show and she praised the show and my performance. On her recommendation, Tom Hanks came to watch the show. Lucky for me he liked it and then wrote me a beautiful letter, praising me and offering to make it into a movie.

Coming to the part of envisioning the success, I did not think it would be that 'big' but I knew I had the backing of the best producers and hence knew the outcome would not be disappointing.

"I did not start out or plan to become an actress"

What sets My Big Fat Greek Life apart from other sitcoms on the telly?

It's a comedy that takes off where My Big Fat Greek Wedding left. It is entertaining and hilarious and yet has a balance of the seriousness of the Greek culture. It's great…and leaves you asking for more. You must watch it to know what I mean.


Which of the characters on the show are based on your family members whom you are close to?

Well, most of the characters are. My husband, my father…my cousins, aunts, uncles. Gosh! Everyone! It's the story of my family and has my family in it!


What are the differences between writing for television versus writing for the big screen?

For me, writing just came from the heart. I put it down on paper and then my producers worked it out! Actually when I had written it, it was for theatre, then it went on to becoming a movie and then now a series.

On the big screen though, you need to make sure the story does not drag and you need to ensure people are glued for the two hours. On TV, the series is broken into bits and parts and hence I can get more into details.

"On the big screen though you need to make sure the story does not drag and you need to ensure people are glued for the 2 hours"

You had wonderful chemistry with John Corbett in the film. Why isn't he on board for the television series?

John had too tight a schedule to accommodate. Steven Eckholdt came along and he seemed good. He is a very talented actor and has done an excellent job!


Could you elaborate on the unique word of mouth campaign that was used to create awareness among movie goers about the film?

Initially people kept telling me that there was no real 'Greek Community' within the US that would appreciate and support the film. I was however very confident that I would get all the support that I required and that they were underestimating the number of Greeks.

The response was overwhelming! The Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church flew me into San Francisco for a Hellenic convention, they lauded the film by pronouncing to the audience, you won't believe what they said…. "Be a good Greek and go out there and make sure you watch this film". My support also came from the "First Friday Club," this was a Greek American Group and they came to watch it on the opening night.

Then there were Greek families who just came up to me and praised the film. There was also this 88 year old woman who came to the movie - watched it - and said "I am proud you are Greek and I'm happy with the depiction!"


Did you also use the internet to generate buzz?

Yes, we did use the internet. I did a lot of interviews online, we also had loads of reviews online!

Have the film and the show increased the interest of people about the Greek people and the country?

I would like to believe so. People always had a fair amount of deal about the French and the Italian culture, I hope in my own way, I managed to create some awareness about Greek culture.

Is it difficult enjoying a joint family in America where as a rule children don't bother to keep in touch with their parents after the age of 18?

I think you really need to live with a Greek family to believe that this is possible. I think a lot of it has to do with the upbringing! But it's great to belong to a large family.


Speaking of family, were they encouraging of your decision to become an actor?

I did not start out or plan to become an actor. I wrote quite a bit, and my husband Ian coaxed me to converting it into a play. My family was open to it and then the day Tom (Hanks) was to come to watch the shoe at the theatre I called my mom and she said "Something big is coming your way." She felt it. So yes my family was supportive.


Like Toula, you too fell in love with a non-Greek. Did you face initial resistance from your family?

Yes, and that is exactly what is depicted in the film. Like I said, it's my life.

With the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations earlier this year, how are you digesting this sudden rise to fame and stardom?

I am just grateful that I was given the opportunity and was noticed. I am thankful.

Will your next project continue with the Greek family theme or you looking to do something different?

I want to do different things. Let's see what I come up with! Or rather, what comes my way.

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