'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'
Nia Vardalos & John Corbett
Nia Vardalos was born in Winnipeg, Canada and like many of her Canadian counterparts in the industry, she has found her niche in the comedic arena. Being from a Greek family in itself will give one a sense of humor, but the talented actress honed her talents even more by joining the Toronto Second City Troupe in 1988. With many television guest appearances, Nia is now the lead in the new film 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' which she also wrote. This story was originally performed as a one woman play and after being seen by Rita Wilson (who is also of Greek heritage), Nia was approached by Tom Hanks. Nia then began work on the screenplay for Hanksí production company, Playtone pictures and the rest is cinematic history. Based on her real-life wedding to fellow television actor, Ian Gomez, Vardalos strikes a chord at the heart of a community that doesnít get enough air time.
Everything seemed to fall into place for this film and the casting couldnít have been better chosen. Although, Nia had originally wanted Olympia Dukakis to play her mother, getting film legend Lainie Kazan for the role is nothing to snub your nose about, and Iím sure Nia would agree.
John Corbett, who grew up in Wheeling West Virginia and originally went to California for steel work, received the script from his agent and thought it was completely funny. While talking with a crew member from the set of Serendipity, John met Nia who asked him to star as the leading man. John has already stated that this was a chance meeting that will probably never happen again. Although, John has had steady work on television with characters such as Chris Stevens from Northern Exposure and Aiden Shaw from Sex and the City, this is the first time that we have gotten a chance to see him as a leading man. Both actors are tremendous in this film that strikes a humorous chord of truth, which doesnít happen that often and it is a must see.
After some conferencing technicalities to get everyone on the phone at the same time, we finally got the ball rolling and I got the chance to ask the two stars a few questions about their new found success:
John Corbett: "Hello Gee-nee-a. You are on the air. Hello San Francisco. Hello Denver, Colorady. How many listeners do have out there today ?"
I have to say that at this point I was a little confused as to what was going on, so I just decided to get the interview started !
GP: Hi Nia. Hi John. John I think Iíll start with you
JC: "You are a bad radio host !"
GP: I know. Iím sorry. Iím not used to being 'on-air.' How did you get involved in this film ? How did the opportunity arise in the first place ?
JC: "I was in Toronto making a movie called 'Serendipity' and my agent sent me the script and said that I would think that it was funny. And, he was dead on right. And, I went down to the local tavern in the hotel to have a little snack. It was about ten oíclock at night and I was down there talking to a crew member for 'Serendipity' and I was talking about this script and how funny it was, saying ĎMy Big Fat Greek Wedding.' Isnít that a funny title?í Then, somebody elbows me and I turn to the right and Nia said, ĎI wrote thatí. She introduced herself and about ten minutes later she said ĎWhy donít you play the roleí. That will never happen to me ever again, or to anybody really."
GP: Nia, you not only starred in the film, but you wrote it too. How did that come about ? What made you decide to write this ?
Nia Vardalos: "I couldnít get an acting job that was bigger than two lines. So, I thought rather than whine about it, Iím just going to write myself a good juicy part. And, I got up on stage and starting doing this stage play, just to be creatively satisfied. I really didnít care what was going to happen with it even though I was getting a lot of offers to do different things with it. Things like tour the stage show or take it to off-broadway or do a film or TV series of it. I was like Ďyeahí, but no one was making me the right offer. The film companies that were approaching me wanted to make it into an Italian movie or an Hispanic movie, and I was like ĎItís about Greek people!í So, I was like let me see if I can write this screenplay, not really thinking that it would get made. Then, the next thing I know, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson came to the show and said ĎWe are going to make your movie. We are going to buy your screenplay and you are going to play the lead.í"
GP: How long did it take you to write it ?
NV: "About three months."
GP: Wow. Thatís pretty quick.
NV: It is pretty quick when I think about it, but you know I knew the story and I knew the characters inside out. And, it actually happened. My husband and I actually did get married and actually did get baptized Greek Orthodox, so I really knew where to go with it."
GP: That was going to be my next question. I know that youíre Greek and I know that your husband is in the film. I was wondering how much of an influence your own family and your own wedding had on this ?
NV: "Oh definitely! You canít even spend one minute with my big fat Greek family and not get a movie idea out of it !"
GP: My friend is Greek and she watched it and said that it was totally true and she loved it !
NV: "She must have watched it and thought ĎOh my God, this is a documentary.í"
JC: "Nia, I never asked you this. Three months to me sounds like a long long time [to write a screenplay]"
NV: "Well, I was doing voice-overs during the day. So, everyday I would come home and write a little bit. Then go back and do voice-overs and then write for a few hours."
JC: "In two or three hours, how many pages do you get ?"
NV: "I would usually write about four or five pages and then go back and say, ĎOh, this sucksí then fix it and go back and forth. My friend just finished her screenplay yesterday and it took her like two years."
JC: "To write a ninety page screenplay ?
NV: "Yeah. Isnít that nuts! Itís a long long process. Thatís why I hate writing. Itís so long and lonely."
GP: Nia, this film was a surprise success. Have any big offers come your way in light of it ?
NV: "Yeah. A lot of porn !"
JC: "Sheís real good at it, trust me !"
NV: [Seriously] "Yeah, but not necessarily a lot of things that I want to do. There is a difference between the experience that I had with Playtone, where nobody touched a word of that script but me. I had a completely creatively satisfying experience. Versus, going into a studio where somebody might say, ĎHey, letís make it into an Italian familyí again. So, Iím not too sure what Iím going to do. And, you know, all of the success has completely gone to my head. So, I need to sit back and make a decision in the next couple of weeks."
GP: John, have any offers come your way because of this film ?
JC: "You know, Iím in a different league than I was two months ago. No offers have come in, but Iím having some opportunities. I donít want to say, in case it doesnít work out. Iím having bigger opportunities than I probably have ever had because of how well the movie is doing, that is for sure."
GP: I know that you are also on Sex and the City. How does that compare with this or any of your other TV work ?"
JC: "Well, TV is really quick. I mean when we do Sex and the City, it takes about eight days to shoot the show and itís on TV two weeks later. Itís sort of a different process because you donít really have the luxury of time. Well, on a low budget movie like this, which cost about what two episodes of Sex and the City would. We didnít really have the luxury of time to stop production and just talk about where we are going. We just had to jump in and do it. Every scene moves to the next scene. So, it just took longer for this movie to come out, it took about a year as opposed to two weeks with TV."
GP: How long did it take to actually film the movie ?
JC: "How long did it take ? Five weeks ?"
NV: "Six weeks !"
GP: Your husband did a great job in the movie by the way. How was it having him on set ? Did you look to him for any advice or direction because of the experience you had with your own wedding ?
NV: "You know, Ian and I have a pretty unique relationship where we donít mix our marriage with work. I wanted him in the movie because a movie lives forever. So, I thought that he had to be a part of it in some way. But, we donít believe in directing each other or getting into each otherís work. It just doesnít make for a good marriage. He was just there being morally supporting and fabulous as always."
GP: John, you were my favorite character on Northern Exposure. How did that experience shape you as an actor ? Chris (Northern Exposure) was an intellectual and your character in this film is a teacher. Did you use any of that for this film ?
JC: "No, not really. The only time that you have to really work hard on a movie is when you are trying to make it better than the script is. And, this film, like Northern Exposure and like Sex and the City, is already there. Man, if you just show up and you got a good nightís sleep and you just say the lines as written, it pretty much just takes care of itself. I mean, thatís really true with most well written scripts that are well-cast. I mean I was really right for this role. I would have had to work really hard to mess it up."
GP: This is for both of you. Like we were talking about earlier, this film is going to lead you to bigger things. Do you feel that you want to get into the more big budget Hollywood scene or do you want to stay more on the Indy level ?
NV: "I have nothing against big budget projects at all. I think that if the role is right and itís the story that you want to be told. I would want to get involved. It doesnít matter if it is big budget or small budget, magic can happen in both worlds."
JC: "Yeah, and I want some of that cash. Because, big budget means big paycheck. You know, Iíve been at this for twenty years on the low budget scale. So, I want some of that cash. I want to be in a big giant movie like Men in Black. I want a couple million dollar pay day, and thatís that Ö You agree with me Nia ?"
NV: "I agree with everything that you say, John !"
JC: "What city are you in right now ?"
GP: "Detroit. Well, Royal Oak actually."
JC: "We went down to old Hockey Town."
NV: "That was fun. We went on the big Jumbotron there."
JC: "Yeah, we were on the Jumbotron Ö"
GP: Did you guys spend any time in Royal Oak at all ?
NV: "I donít think so. Unfortunately, we didnít have too much time per city, but we had a good time. John and I like to drink !"
JC: "We love to drink and we love to meet old Detroit ha-haís !"
NV: "See, in LA we are on a twelve step program. But, we have a rule, when we go on the road no AA comes with us. Right, John baby ?"
JC: "No AA comes with us and whatever happens on the road, stays on the road."
NV: "Thatís right. See, we donít have a big budget, so we have to share a room."
GP: And that can spell disaster right ?
JC: "It doesnít spell it, it is it !"
NV: "It sucks sharing a razor though !"
JC: "We are such dead drunks on the road."
NV: "I love it when you shave my back !"
JC: "I love it when you clip my nut hairs !'
NV: "I could do them from here !"
JC: "Iím Indian. Pakistani."
GP: Okay John, Phoenix Underground. How did you like being part owner in that ? Did you ever go there Nia ?
NV: "No, because the earth quake leveled it about a year ago !"
JC: "I did not know that. Thatís what a bad business man I am. I thought it was in full swing."
NV: "Johnís all like, ĎWhy havenít I gotten a check from there in a while ?!'Ē
JC: "No, I had it for about ten years and we had that big earthquake in Seattle last year that rocked the town for about eleven seconds, and ours was the biggest casualty up there. It was in a one hundred year old brick building, so it basically took half the building down."
GP: Are you looking to do anything like that again ?
JC: "No, Iím out of the rock and roll business in Seattle. My partner is actually going to open another club, so the Phoenix will rise. But, Iíll just go there and get free drinks forever."
Well, you canít beat that and so on that note these are all of the questions that I have. It was an awesome movie and you guys were awesome in it. It was great to talk to you and hopefully we will see you back in Detroit in the near future.
Interviewed By G.M. Pasfield
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