Nia Vardalos says 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' was initially rejected
There's a good chance you can quote lines from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" by heart — if not the entire movie. The 2002 rom-com, about a Greek-American woman falling for a long-haired non-Greek, much to the chagrin of her parents, produced some legendary lines — mostly thanks to Andrea Martin's Aunt Voula (it's OK if you don't eat meat; she'll make you lamb).
But the movie's journey to becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time — without studio backing or a major star — is just as memorable.
On the 20th anniversary of the film's initial release, writer and star Nia Vardalos reflected on how "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was very nearly a big fat … nothing.
As Vardalos recalls, she was fired by her agent and manager after turning in the script for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Instead of giving up, she changed the script into a one-woman show.
Rita Wilson, a Greek-American actor and singer, attended Vardalos' show in Los Angeles, then recommended it to her husband, Tom Hanks. "Rita Wilson saw the play and said, 'This should be a movie,'" Vardalos recalled.
On April 20, Wilson posted a picture on Instagram celebrating the movie's anniversary, writing, "This movie brought so much joy to so many!" She said she was "proud" of Vardalos "for her screenplay, humor and comedy chops."
And wouldn’t you know — Vardalos had the screenplay ready. Vardalos' screenplay, which her former team said "wasn't good," per her tweet, went on to be nominated for an Academy Award.
In addition to writing, Vardalos was also able to cast herself as the lead. She plays Toula, a 30-year-old unmarried woman living with her parents and working in their diner. Her life begins to brighten when she starts taking classes, gets a different job, and meets Ian Miller, played by "Sex and the City's" John Corbett.
The show's tension comes not from the relationship, but from Toula's family's reaction to the wedding. With the "big long hairs on top of his head," Ian was not what Toula's family was expecting. The Portakalis family's ensuing antics are the most memorable part of the film.
After a limited release built up through word-of-mouth, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was released throughout the country in August 2002. The movie, which cost $6 million to make, went on to gross a worldwide box office total of $368.7 million.
Twenty years on, and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" continues to live on in references to Windex's healing powers, and echoes can be found in other cross-cultural rom-coms. The movie phenomenon's sequel came out in 2016, and there are rumors of a third movie.
For Vardalos, the occasion of her movie's success has a lesson: Believe in yourself and write your story.
"Some people who don’t create anything including jobs to make situations better, will tell you that what you do is wrong. You can’t make anyone embrace change, marginalized voices or new ideas. So love yourself. And write your story," she said.
We'll raise a glass of ouzo to that.
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