'GREECE IS HOME'
A successful actress, screenwriter, director and producer, Nia Vardalos has stolen all of the Greeks’ hearts around the world, due to her movies ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ 1 & 2, in which she highlighted, in a humorous but also moving way, one of the basic characteristics of Greek DNA, which is nothing more than the love of family.
With disarming honesty she confesses in our interview about her relationship with her own family, about her father Konstantinos Vardalos, about how she felt as a teenager, about the visits to her village of Drymos in Kalavrita, but also what makes her feel today, 100% Greek.
Mrs. Vardalos, you are a very successful and well-known actress, screenwriter, director and producer. In Greece, however, we have more reasons to admire and love you. First, you are of Greek descent. And we Greeks always feel proud when another Greek succeeds and his/her talents are internationally recognized. And secondly, because through your movies ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ 1 & 2, you depicted the Greek soul, in a humorous but also moving way. How much Greek do you feel? Which attribute of your character do you believe is linked to your Greek DNA?
I feel 100% Greek even though I was born in Canada to Greek parents. I think one of the traits that has made me who I am is that I appreciate family. Loud family! I also think Greeks accept and celebrate that we are emotional. We laugh a lot and we yell and cry. I will cry at almost anything, including that my niece graduated with her Masters during this pandemic, and that my mom makes the best keema ever and I miss her. I think my love of family is very Greek and do think and hope it translates to other cultures as well. It is a beautiful thing to be part of a connected culture and for us Greeks our community and family are everything. My siblings and I – there are four of us – are very close. My favorite picture is of us all on the red carpet at the premiere of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ 2, in Sydney, Australia. My sisters and brother are remarkable, loving, funny people and if we weren’t related, we would be friends. Greeks also embrace people, the lovers-of-Greece, as ours. This includes anyone who visits Greece, or learns a few words of Greek, or even just likes feta cheese. We are warm people, full of philotimo and laughter, and we especially send love to all people who love Greeks and Greece.
I know you were very close to your father, I wanted to express my heartfelt condolences for your loss. I have read he was the basis for the character of the adorable father Gus in your movies. How many resemblances did they actually have, did he also love his homeland that much?
Thank you, he was a big presence and we feel his loss. When I was writing the film, I based the character of Gus Portokalos on my dad Constantine Vardalos who was born in the village of Drymos in Kalavryta, immigrated to Canada in the 1950s, and really could prove to anyone that any word was Greek. While my real dad really did use the product Windex on everything, and also was a church chanter, he was not antieducation for his children. I made that up to create conflict in the screenplay. The fact is that my dad loved education and wanted us all to be successful and happy. And yes, married to Greeks!
Central in the movies ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ 1 & 2 was the strong family bonding, which, however, reached a certain point of strong parental intervention to the children. How did you feel as a child and as a teenager growing up in a family of Greek expatriates in Canada?
When I was growing up, I did not want to be different from others. I wanted to be blond and Anglo-Saxon like my classmates. I did not want to visit the horio in Greece to watch Pappou skin a goat for Easter. But wanting to fit in is what many teenagers go through in the years of hormonal angst and as we grow up, we realize that our family, our ethnicity, our traditions…are the very best aspects of us that make us unique. Now, I love being Greek and it is my honor to tell our stories.
You have been a strong advocate for raising awareness – as well as funds – to help motherhood and the whole adoption process. Through your bestselling book, ‘Instant Mom’, you talk about your personal experience. In Greece, it has always been very complicated and difficult, and they are now finally trying to change the legislation to facilitate the process of adopting a child. From your personal experience, what could you tell us to awaken consciences in our country a little?
The fact is that many adoption laws are made to protect children from going into the homes o unscrupulous people. While it might feel like an endless stream of bureaucracy the sad truth is that social workers, NGOs and field workers are horribly underpaid and understaffed. Every country must allot funds to ensure the safety of minors, plus fully vet every potential parent so that all children can be adopted. This is why I wrote my book – to raise awareness of how to adopt because it is a confusing set of rules and circumstances. Plus, this is the reason I donate the proceeds from my book to get children adopted. Every child deserves a permanent home
We are living the global crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. How has it affected you personally and professionally?
Personally, it has been difficult to stay away from friends and family I love and to know people are so isolated even though it is necessary to stop the spread of the virus. We need masks and vaccines for everyone, globally. Professionally, it has halted production on two of my scripts because it is very difficult for independent films to secure Covid insurance. However, I am optimistic we will film soon. Plus, I will not complain if we don’t get to film soon because globally, we know we have too many people who need financial assistance and their dire needs of food and shelter are a sobering reality.