It wasn't long after My Big Fat Greek Wedding exploded at the box office that Hollywood began pestering its star Nia Vardalos for a sequel.
The Winnipeg-bred breakout declined, turning instead to other comedic followups including Connie and Carla, I Hate Valentine's Day and My Life in Ruins.
But none had the impact of her surprising family-friendly smash, which centred on an unassuming Greek woman who falls in love with a non-Greek suitor, played by John Corbett.
Vardalos adds she was also focused on other matters, including efforts to become a mother that resulted in the adoption of a little girl — a sometimes painful process she detailed in the book Instant Motherhood.
Now older, wiser and inspired by her own new family adventures, Vardalos reprises her role as Toula Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, while Corbett, Andrea Martin and the rest of the gang are back.
Vardalos chatted with The Canadian Press by phone from New York about motherhood, working in Hollywood and battling sexism onscreen.
Q&A with Vardalos
The Canadian Press: What took so long for this movie?
Vardalos: It's a really simple answer: I was waiting for motherhood.
CP: Yes, Toula and Ian now have a teenage daughter ready for college.
Vardalos: In order for me to do the sequel, of course I would have to show family life because of course the film is about a family. I didn't understand or know any of the emotions of motherhood so I just said a very quiet, "No," continued to do other projects with (producers) Playtone and then luckily became a mom.... On my daughter's first day of kindergarten I was wailing much louder than the other parents and I realized, "Ugh, I have morphed into my own Greek mother."
CP: How hard was it to get everyone back together?
Vardolos: I only made three calls ... The first phone call I made was John Corbett, it was his birthday. And then the next calls I made were to Michael Constantine who plays the dad, and Lainie Kazan who plays the mom. And then I never actually got to make any more phone calls after that because my phone started ringing! Everybody had called each other so everybody knew.
CP: Just like their characters.
Vardalos: Yep. We really, really are like a family — everybody knows everything. We all stayed in the same hotel in Toronto, there was constant knocking on each other's doors, hanging out, just drinking wine, laughing, talking, it's really wonderful. These are people that if I wasn't working with them, I wish I was related to them.
CP: Did you approach things any differently, knowing how big of a hit the first film was?
Vardalos: I mentor writers ... and I'm always saying to them: Please don't go look at what the marketplace is buying or what movie is successful, because a studio executive will come to you and say, "Can Kevin Hart be Red Riding Hood?" So you must always push everything aside. I have a little writing office where I don't even have Internet access, I just keep my head down and write what I want.
CP: Tell me about some of those other projects over the years that haven't been able to take root.
Vardalos: I definitely lost control and then gained it and lost it. It is a process and getting a film made is difficult, period. Hollywood is still the most archaic place. It is the one place where a review can talk about a woman's looks and you can not get a job simply because you're female. It's outdated and we have to push through.
CP: Can you describe some of these scripts you've been asked to rework?
Vardalos: It will say about the female: "Late 20s. Beautiful but doesn't know it. Kittenish, sexy." (And then) it'll say: "Guy, 40s. A sense of being that far exceeds his years." You know, there's no reference to being handsome ... It'll never say: "Chiselled jaw line, pecs to die for." Can you imagine reading that in a screenplay? It wouldn't be written and people would laugh out loud. But it's certainly written about the women. And we just call them on it, we just laugh.
We've had symposiums at the Writers Guild with men and women there talking about how when it comes to a place where we have to incite peril for a woman during sweeps' week the writers will pitch, 'OK, so let's get her raped'. And it's rough. It's really, really bad. We're creating a rape culture. And we're trying to pull back from it and that's what these meetings do where we have to call each other on what we're doing wrong. And try to get things out there.
It's really, really hard to get a family comedy made, especially a PG-13 one.... If this movie doesn't do well there will be another 15 years where we wait for another one. And that's a bummer.