“I had never realized this would be my career and that I would be able to connect with absolute strangers on the topic of family,” says writer-director Nia Vardalos about My Big Fat Wedding 3, that has taken the world by storm since its first chapter was launched in 2002. “It’s so wonderful that people see their own experiences reflected in mine. It makes me feel very connected to being a family and how everyone is experiencing our same issues.”
As Vardalos began conceiving a new story for the Portokalos family, she once again drew from her own personal experiences. “Soon after filming of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, I began to write the screenplay for the third film,” she says. “I wanted to explore the topic of immigration and as always, the dynamics of family. The genesis of this story is that my dad always wanted us to go to his family village up high in the mountains on the mainland of Greece,” she recalls. “But as adults, when my siblings and I would go to Greece, we would always go to the islands because that’s where the parties are. In March, 2020, after a period of failing health, I lost my dad. And very soon after that we lost Michael Constantine, who played my father, Gus. I was grieving and processing both during a pandemic. I began to find a way to manage my grief through my fingertips and the screenplay emerged about us fulfilling a father’s last wish.”
When it came to who would direct the third film, everyone behind and in front of the camera felt that Vardalos was the only choice to helm something so personal to her.
“It was a given for the producers that I would direct the third film,” the filmmaker explains. “They actually wanted me to direct the second one but I didn’t think I was ready. But ever since the first movie, I have had the privilege of being able to go into the editing room with Gary Goetzman, listen to the score being recorded live, and sit amongst the violins. So the experience has been like going to film school. I used everything I have learned but I also still ask questions, which I think is the key to being a filmmaker. I am naturally inquisitive and curious and come from a family of storytellers.”
The original My Big Fat Greek Wedding– about Toula (Nia Vardalos), a young Greek woman falling in love with a non-Greek man (John Corbett) and struggling with her family’s expectations. In 2016, the sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 brought the original cast back together as Vardalos imagined what the Portokalos family might be like with Toula and Ian struggling to parent a teen and realizing they had morphed into their own parents. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 the Portokalos family travel to a family reunion in Greece for a heartwarming and hilarious trip full of love, twists, and turns. They embark on an adventure to their ancestral home of Greece to honor the past, present and future, and rediscover their roots.
In addition to these reflective familial moments of love and loss that were making their way into the script, Vardalos had simultaneously been ruminating on the vast numbers of Syrian migrants who were settling in Greece and began to weave in a romance between two young people from different cultures facing disapproving relatives.
“Much like the whole world, I saw the news image of the drowned boy, the migrant from Syria, and I started to ask questions of my Greek friends about how locals were feeling about it. At the very same time, here in America, we had actions taken against Muslims at the border. All of this was creating a perfect storm within me of wanting to tell a story that was rooted in my message. We are all immigrants. That few migrants leave their country by choice and that so many of us are descended from someone who left their home for a better life. I wanted to write about a culture clash from the perspective of what’s happening in Greece right now. There are many Syrian migrants, there are mixed marriages, and this might be the first time Greece has experienced this on this level.”
Vardalos adds, “As I was writing the script, I researched Syrian weddings. Because I wanted to be as authentic as possible, main drumming musicians Kareem and Ayman became my Syrian advisers. I went to them repeatedly before and during filming to be sure I was respectful of their culture and traditions. We worked together on choreography so I could blend Syrian dance with the Greek dances I had grown up with. The overall message of the film is love and tolerance and rather than say it, I wanted to show it through physical movement as both cultures and all genders dance each other’s dance. I also got the opportunity to hear Kareem and Ayman’s stories. Like the terrifying images I saw as I was writing the script, they too had fled war in their country to come to Greece on makeshift boats. It is a rare occurrence to meet the human embodiment of a story I was trying to tell.”
Vardalos reflects that she hopes the audience knows how much she truly values the relationship she has built with them over the last two decades. “I try to excavate and explore my own feelings of what I’m going through and I’m quite sure they have been through something similar,” she concludes. “Because at this point, I’m sure that the audience who started with me on the first My Big Fat Greek Wedding has lost a parent, or has issues in their own family, or has felt at an absolute loss or a feeling of a lack of connectedness since the pandemic. I wanted to show what we did in my family because when we lost our head of the family, we were scattered and lost. But by staying together, talking it through, crying together, we helped each other through everything that we were going through. That’s why I wrote it all into the script. I know your family is just like my family. That is our bond.”
Nia Vardalos is an Academy Award, WGA, SAG, Critics Choice and Golden Globe-nominated screenwriter and actor, New York Times bestselling author, and New York Times Critics’ Pick playwright.
In the last year, Vardalos has starred in Netflix’s three Ivy + Bean films directed by Elissa Down, and Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities directed by Catherine Hardwicke, and The Curse Of Bridge Hollow feature directed by Jeff Wadlow. She also created, produced and starred in an original Audible series, Motivated! bringing in guest stars from Tom Hanks to Matt Bomer.
Select television roles include: Black Widow, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Graves, Law & Order: SVU, Grey’s Anatomy, and voicing series regular characters on Star Vs. The Forces Of Evil, Wonder Woman, and Duck Tales.
Vardalos wrote and starred in the number one romantic comedy of all time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress, and winning the Independent Spirit and People’s Choice Awards. She next wrote and starred in cult-hit Connie and Carla; wrote, starred in and directed I Hate Valentine’s Day; co-wrote Larry Crowne; starred in My Life In Ruins, and wrote and starred in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and 3.
Born and raised in Canada, Vardalos holds dual citizenship and is classically trained in Shakespeare and musical theater. She performed in Twelfth Night and many musicals such as Kismet, Music Man and most recently Company (winning the Broadway Award). An alumnus of the Second City Toronto and Chicago, Vardalos won Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Best Actress Award. She is a regular player in 24 Hour Plays on Broadway.
After starring in the play she wrote, the New York Times Critics’ Pick, Tiny Beautiful Things, it was published by Samuel French (Concord Theatricals) and with productions from Australia to Korea to Mexico, it is on the top ten list of Most Produced Plays.
Vardalos is also the New York Times Bestselling author of her memoir Instant Mom and donates all proceeds to adoption charities. To date, the information from the book has placed 1,700 children in permanent homes.