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Vardalos, Nia 1962–

Vardalos, Nia 1962–

(Antonia Eugenia Vardalos)

PERSONAL: Born September 24, 1962, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; daughter of Gus (a land developer) and Doreen (a bookkeeper and homemaker) Vardalos; married Ian Gomez (an actor), September, 1993. Education: Attended Ryerson University.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Writer/Actor Mail, My Big Fat Greek Life, CBS Broadcasting Inc., 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: Writer, comedienne, actress, and producer. Second City, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, began working in the box office, became cast member; Second City, Chicago, IL, performer; appeared in comedy clubs in Los Angeles, CA; actress in films, including No Experience Necessary, 1996, Men Seeking Women, 1997, Short Cinema, 1998, Meet Prince Charming, 1999, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, 2002, and Connie and Carla Do L.A., 2004. Guest appearances on television programs, including Saturday Night Live, The Drew Carey Show, and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

AWARDS, HONORS: Jeff award; Independent Spirit award; Golden Globe nomination for best performance, and Academy Award nomination for best sreenwriting, both for My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

WRITINGS:

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (one-woman, one-act play), c. 1999

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (screenplay; adapted from the author's play), Playtone, 2002.

My Big Fat Greek Life (television series), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 2003.

Connie and Carla Do L.A. (screenplay), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Nia Vardalos defied the Hollywood establishment and wrote and starred in the biggest money-making independent film of all time to date, the romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The film, which cost relatively little to produce, spun off the short-lived television series, My Big Fat Greek Life, which included the entire original cast, with the exception of Vardalos's movie husband John Corbett, who had a previous commitment.

Vardalos—born Antonia Eugenia, after her grandmothers—grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and she performed at the Second City there before being transferred to the club's Chicago location, where she met her husband-to-be, actor Ian Gomez. They married and moved to Los Angeles, where he found work on The Drew Carey Show and Felicity, but Vardalos found it more difficult. She did not fit the profile of the type of actresses then being hired; she was too heavy and was frequently told that she should consider a nose job. She related to Entertainment Weekly interviewer Nicholas Fonseca, "I had an agent say to me, 'You're not pretty enough to be a leading lady, and you're not fat enough to be a character actress. You're Greek. There's nothing I can do with you.' I was so frustrated that I just did what I knew. I got up on stage and told stories about my family." To her credit, she rejected the idea of reworking herself to please her critics, and instead created a one-woman comedy act based on her own life, family, and marriage to Gomez.

When she performed her act, she was approached by producers who thought it should be adapted for film, but who suggested that the star might be an actress like Italian American Marisa Tomei or Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez. It was Rita Wilson, half-Greek wife of actor Tom Hanks, who set the wheels in motion. She told Hanks about Vardalos's act, and he came to see her. When they suggested that this could be a film, Vardalos presented them with her finished screenplay, and Hanks and Wilson, along with Hanks's partner, Gary Goetzman, agreed to produce it, with Vardalos in the starring role.

The story is about Toula Portokalos, a single woman who lives with her parents. The setting is changed from Winnipeg to Chicago, but the film was shot in Montreal. Toula is a hostess at Dancing Zorba's, her father's (Michael Constantine) restaurant, and her life is uneventful until she becomes the object of English teacher Ian's (Corbett) affection. They decide to marry, but her family has a problem accepting the vegetarian non-Greek into the fold. Ian agrees to be baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church, as did Gomez, who is half Puerto Rican and half Jewish. Gomez plays Ian's best friend in the film, and during shooting gave little warnings to Corbett over what he considered to be overly long kisses. When Vardalos and Gomez viewed the finished film, he covered his eyes during those scenes. Several of Vardalos's relatives, including her mother, sister, and a few cousins, have cameo roles in the film. Her father plays the chanter during the wedding scene, a role he regularly fills at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Winnipeg.

Back Stage West writer Les Spindle wrote that "there are moments when the film recalls Funny Girl in its rich depiction of an ethnic milieu and its charming ugly-duckling-to-swan story. Vardalos is a gifted actor/writer, and she is as endearing and amusing in the early scenes (a bespectacled plain-Jane waitress) as when her character blossoms into a woman radiating both inner and outer beauty."

USA Today reviewer Wes D. Gehring wrote that the film, "like many other instant screen classics, works on several interrelated genre levels. First, Vardalos's character begins as the proverbial ugly duckling, under-appreciated by a large extended family who see her as an aging (she's thirty), unmarried failure. Her selfdirected makeover into an attractive, politely assertive young travel agent scores points as a modest, but very entertaining, ethnic American take on My Fair Lady." Gehring noted the strong performance by Lainie Kazan as Toula's mother, a woman "who equates love with overfeeding the family," an iconic representation of mothers of large ethnic clans. Gehring felt that the film "embraces basic populist tendencies—the belief that people are inherently good and ultimately do the right thing," and added that the film reminded him of Frank Capra's You Can't Take It with You.

Vardalos's talent and hard work brought her fame and considerable wealth. As Redbook contributor John Griffiths wrote, "more important than all that, says Nia, forty, is how her story has struck such a chord with everyone, especially women who may not have been blessed with Nicole Kidman's cheekbones or Cameron Diaz's backside. But even celebrities who were seemingly born near perfect have approached Nia with their own tales of insecurities." When asked by Griffiths how much her life has changed, Vardalos replied: "I'm expecting any moment for this to all turn into a big fat pumpkin and be over. But it doesn't make me fearful. It makes me think, grab it while you can!"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Back Stage West, April 11, 2002, Les Spindle, "Grecian earned," p. 13.

Entertainment Weekly, July 26, 2002, Nicholas Fonseca, "Classic 'Greek,'" p. 19.

Maclean's, August 5, 2002, Patricia Hluchy, "Big Fat Breakthrough," p. 42.

People, March 31, 2003, Jill Smolowe, "Midas Touch: Nia Vardalos Strikes Gold with a Hit TV Sitcom and an Oscar Nod," p. 57.

Redbook, April, 2003, John Griffiths, "Greek Goddess" (interview), p. 124.

Spectator, September 21, 2002, Mark Steyn, review of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, p. 59.

USA Today, January, 2003, Wes D. Gehring, review of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, p. 73.

ONLINE

Femail.com, http://www.femail.com.au/ (February 18, 2004), Annemarie Failla, interview with Vardalos.

Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (May 5, 2004).

KTVU.com, http://www.ktvu.com/ (August 23, 2002), Tim Lammers, interview with Vardalos.

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