As you can imagine, Nia Vardalos is always up for talking about her screw-ups.
“I live for loser stories,” the actress and screenwriter tells us while promoting her new film, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” the sequel to her 2002 surprise monster hit. “When the first movie came out and all the craziness that came with it, I saw an ex-boyfriend, who had treated me badly. I’m not a vindictive person. I just want everyone to go on and have a happy life. But this dude was mean to me. So I saw him in the street and he says, ‘What’s going on, sunshine?” I thought, ‘I’m finally having a moment where I can say I have a movie coming out.’ I look back at him and a bird sh—t on my head.”
Vardalos has plenty of stories like that. She recently walked through London airport with two buttons undone. She was on carpool duty for her daughter when she realized the dress she threw on at the last second was inside out. She even reveals her tell when she’s lying: “My neck grows,” she says, laughing. “I play poker with my friends and they take all my money. When I try to hide that I have a good hand, my neck grows.”
Pain, she says, is funny. That’s one reason she didn’t want to sugarcoat “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” The sequel catches up with the same characters (and cast). Everyone’s older, including Vardalos’ Toula and her husband Ian, played again by John Corbett. Vardalos, now 53, who again wrote the script, wanted to milk getting older and being a parent of a college-bound teen (played by Elena Kampouris) for laughs.
“I just wanted people to play their ages, including John and me,” Vardalos explains. “That’s why I resisted the temptation to write us as 32. I thought it would be a little respectful of the audience who grew up with the film, to see themselves reflected on screen, again.”
Vardalos drew from her own experiences in becoming a mother between the first and second films. She and her husband Ian Gomez went through a rigorous, painful experience in adopting a daughter, Ilaria, which she chronicled in the book “Instant Motherhood.” Vardalos tries to protect her daughter’s privacy, especially from paparazzi, which can be difficult.
“We have a game where we make it fun: She hides her face,” Vardalos says. There was one time when things turned ugly: She caught a paparazzo taking her daughter’s picture. She confronted him and the man kept claiming he didn’t do it.
“I said, ‘If I find those pictures online I’m going to find you,’” she says, laughing at how bold she was. Two days later she checked online and there they were. “My daughter was shocked. She said, ‘But he said he didn’t take it.’ It was a terrible way to learn that adults lie. And yet, not a bad lesson.”
In the years since the first “Greek Wedding,” Vardalos has had projects that failed to take off, from the short-lived spin-off TV show to films like “Connie and Carla” and “I Hate Valentine’s Day.” Still, Vardalos has eked out a life as a script-daughter in Hollywood. “I enjoy it, because I can stay quiet and anonymous,” Vardalos says.
She also insists she prefers staying indie. Even “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” was made for a small company, then picked up by big-time studio Universal. One reason: She doesn’t have to deal with infamously soul-crushing studio system meddling.
“I don’t enjoy a lot of notes,” Vardalos says. “I enjoy specific sets of notes, but ones from a place of not fear. I don’t want to hear, ‘This type of movie is selling, could Kevin Hart play Red Riding Hood in your script.’ I want it to stay organic. So I tend to just make indies.”
She’s also, of course, a woman trying to create female stories in a Hollywood that’s mostly about catering to young boys. The last year has found diversity finally becoming an issue that people want to talk about.
“It was a subject that was categorized as whining as opposed to being reality,” she says. “It’s been terrible, and #OscarsSoWhite was so important. It’s not saying that men don’t have a place in the workplace, that white people don’t have a place in the workplace. We’re just saying there are other stories.”
She’s also been sad to see the rom-com start to thin out over the last few years, which was why Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” was such a godsend. “She was bringing it back. And she did it in a quirky way, with a character that clearly did not respond to the demands of a focus group,” Vardalos says. She loved that her character did things that have traditionally been done by male characters. “For years we have watched the man cheat on the woman and win her back. And we eat our popcorn and say, ‘Oh, that’s acceptable behavior.’ No, it’s not!”
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge