Nia Vardalos became a household name with the 2002 indie comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which broke records and even scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
In years since, Vardalos has become a familiar fixture on TV as a character actress with notable guest appearances on everything from Grey’s Anatomy to Law & Order: SVU. While it’s been great seeing her go toe-to-toe with Mariska Hargitay, we’ve been waiting a long time for a sequel to her breakout film.
Now, over a decade later, Vardalos is back with a new film–playing a hovering mother who outs her son in order to help his popularity in the new comedy, Helicopter Mom–and working on My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which starts filming in May.
Vardalos talks to ETonline about why it finally felt right to make the sequel, her connection to the gay community, and why she’s upset with the media’s coverage of Bruce Jenner.
ETonline: You play the ultimate overbearing mom–with good intentions. Was that at all familiar to you?
Nia Vardalos: It was something different. I really enjoyed playing something I’ve never done before. Plus, the movie is largely improvised. There was a loose script every day and then we would just sort of play. Because I’m from Second City, that was a lot of fun for me.
So it must have been nice to get back into the improv world–because you probably haven’t done much of that in some of your more recent roles.
No, but I write through improvisation. I never card out a movie. You know how people will outline or card? I don’t do that. I tend to start with an idea and go. For example, when I was writing Connie and Carla, I was writing about two women on the run and then it occurred to me, “Ooh, what about if we become drag queens?” There’s just no way I would have come up with that idea unless I just sort of went with it. Now, conversely with improv–if you’re willing to fall on your face a lot–sometimes I’ll start with an idea and be like, “Noooope. There’s nothing here.”; And then you throw out 65 pages of a script. [Laughs]
Now that you’re a mother, do you ever have to stop yourself from hovering?
I think it’s probably a universal experience that all parents think they’re not hovering, but perhaps we all are.
In your book, Instant Mom, you talk about how your daughter made the case why everyone should be able to marry everyone. How has your daughter’s comments furthered your views on gay marriage and equality?
The candid and honest and pure heartedness of children has strengthened my views that we are all equal and should be afforded the basic human rights that we all deserve. My feeling with the gay community is we all pay taxes. There’s no reason whatsoever that some of these states have these incredibly discriminatory laws. There’s no reason whatsoever that we can’t use our money to speak up for ourselves when we’re talking about discrimination. Why I say “ourselves”; is because it’s not a gay issue or a straight issue, it’s a human issue and we’re all connected in it.
Between this film and Connie and Carla as well as a few of your TV appearances, you’ve touched on a number of gay stories. What is it about the gay community that you feel connected to? Has it always been a part of your life?
It’s always been there. From the time I was in theater when I was seven and I saw my colleagues struggling to be honest with their families and the difficulties that children face living an authentic life. And now the incredibly serious situation we have with bullying and with children not being able to live a full transgender life. It’s heartbreaking and it’s sickening. We absolutely have to support our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We just must. It’s not fair that they don’t get to live an authentic life.
I’m pretty passionate about it–always have been–but even more so as it gets more and more serious. When I open my computer in the morning and see another teen has committed suicide it breaks my heart, as it should. I can’t be the only parent feeling that.
It’s amazing that we’ve had a more open conversation about transgender issues in the media this past year.
Yes, I’m very angry when people are at all dismissive of the situation that Bruce Jenner is going through. We need to absolutely support him–the only reason I’m even commenting on it is because he’s going public. It’s a private issue, but you get one chance at this life and you have to be happy.
Switching gears: You said that you’re about to start filming My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. What can fans look forward to with that film?
We’re keeping the plot and the script under serious lock and key. I’ve even written fake audition scenes. The most exciting thing for me is that the entire cast is coming back. Even though we’ve remained friends over the years and gone for dinners together and seen each other, when we had the table read–about four weeks ago–it was the first time we were all in the same room with the new director all together and I just cried. I thought, “Wow. I had said no for so long to doing the sequel.”; But you really know when it’s time, because I feel right about it now.
Obviously, the story is about me being a mom. And as you know from my book, I had written I was a mom at the end of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but the struggle to become a mom was so difficult for me that there was no way I could do the sequel directly after the film because I was in a private, secret hell of trying to become a mom. After the book tour I felt so healed, going out there and talking about the difficulties I faced without feeling sorry for myself. That happened! And then I got to adopt to my daughter. I’m so grateful I couldn’t have a biological child, because she’s my daughter. I’m thrilled that what happened happened to me. It healed my brain. And I thought, “Oh! It is time to write about what it’s like to be a mom.”; And that’s why I wrote the sequel.
Helicopter Mom is in select theaters and on Video on Demand this Friday, April 24. Watch an exclusive clip from the upcoming comedy below: