My Big Fat Greek Wedding is one of the biggest and best-loved romantic comedy movies of all time... this week the Portokalos family are back as Nia Vardalos reprises the central role of Toula.
As well returning as Toula, Vardalos is again on writing duties while Kirk Jones joins the project in the director's chair.
We caught up with the actress to chat about the film, why the sequel has taken so long to reach out screens, and what lies ahead for her.
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is set to hit the big screen here in the UK at the end of the month, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
Well, the wait for the sequel is completely my fault (laughs). I had said no for so long because, at the end of the first film, I had written that my character was a mother and, in reality, it was a very difficult journey for me to become a mom. Suddenly and very instantly I became a mom.
On my daughter's first day of Kindergarten, I was unprepared for the emotions that came rushing out of my eyeballs; I was sobbing and parents were looking at the wall and trying to avoid me (laughs). I was just weeping at the thought of having to leave my daughter in this classroom. Another mother, in an attempt to calm me down, said 'oh come on don't worry about it, in thirteen years they are going to go off to college and leave us,' and the room went quiet when I gasped so loudly and clutched a table.
In that moment, I realised that I had turned into my own suffocating parent (laugh). It was right there when I got the idea for the sequel; the overarching theme is not, do we become our parents? But when do we become our parents.
- Once again, you have penned the script, how tricky was it to decide where to pick up the story? The movie is set ten years after the last moment of the first film - did you consider other times in Toula's life to explore?
Yes, definitely. Over the years when I was contemplating a sequel, I would this and think about that but nothing ever felt right. But somehow, the moment that I realised that I never want my daughter to leave me was an echo in my head of my own parent's always saying 'why do you want to leave me?' as I was going away to theatre school. That is when I realised that it is a universal thing where all parents just want to keep their children close. It felt right. However, I was missing elements of it and so I worked on it for about four years.
A couple of years ago, it was very cold in Canada, where I grew up, and my own parents came to live with us in California to wait out the winter. While they were with us, I watched their dynamic; the argued for seven minutes over whether a peach was ripe or not (laughs). That is when I had my third generation storyline. I just said 'please excuse me, I will be in my office writing about you.'
- The first film was such a huge hit was there ever any trepidation about making the second film?
Creatively, I don't think that I can respond to that kind of pressure because... first of all, I have always been a fearless idiot and I tend to take on things that would be more prudent to leave behind (laughs). I just don't worry about things like that. I was more concerned about the cast being comfortable, that there was enough to eat on set, and that we were having fun; those are the things that I worry about.
- How much did the script and the character change from the initial idea that you had for the story to the film that we see on screen?
The entire cast is back but that is an awful lot of characters to write for. I felt that they were with me the whole time in my tiny writing office. I felt that I had to make sure everyone was taken care of, had an arc and something to say because, just like in my own life, my own cousins have had things happen to them and I wanted to reflect... there is a subtle thing where Gia Carides - who plays Nikki - has a different husband.
Things have changed within families, we have all lost people, we have all had children and I wanted to subtly shows that life goes on and I wanted this family to reflect my own family.
- How exciting for you was it to return to this character at a different period of her life and explore a different side to her - I suppose it is not a chance that you get very often?
Yes. When we entered the set of Dancing Zorba's it was like the whole cast was sleeping walking within the same dream. All of us looked at each other and said 'how are we here? How did this happen?' The same way that I am revisiting Toula, I am myself ten years later and experiencing life. Again, it is just a reflection of what is going on in my own family life.
- The movie sees Kirk Jones in the director's chair, so how did you find working with him, both as an actor and as the writer?
Having Kirk Jones brought into our family is something that I am very proud of. I met Kirk several years ago and I have always admired his work; Waking Ned is one of my favourite movies and I loved Everybody's Fine. I just like how he explores familial relationships.
I went up to him at a party and said 'I know who you are and I am going to work with you one day' (laughs). I know that I sounded like a stalker but I am very relieved to report that he did not take three steps back, which is the way my usual social interactions happen. He was really sweet about and was like 'are you?' When we had our first meeting and I told the producers... we have the same producers, same cast, same financiers; everything is same but we are just being released by Universal but we are still an independent film.
We had the luxury of getting to decide who we wanted to bring into the family. I told them about Kirk, we brought him over and it was apparent from the first meeting when he talked about his family. He didn't talk about his credits or the famous people that he had worked with, he talked about his children and his wife and that really resonated with us.
- The movie brings together a whole host of familiar faces, so how did you find reuniting with the cast - especially John Corbett?
I got to call Jon Corbett on his birthday to tell him that I had completed the screenplay and we were about to shoot. He was like 'what?' I was said 'so, the question is do you want to kiss me again.' And he was like 'always baby.' (laughs).
- It is hard to believe that it was 2002 when the first film was released. How surprised were you by the success of the film and just how much it is still loved over a decade later?
I think it was like therapy for me in that I realised that my family is your family. I found out that everybody has a crazy aunt or parents that make who make them cringe a little and, if we are lucky, parent like mine who are always so close; my parents are in all of my movies (laughs).
I always make them be background actors. It is joyous and a gift to have my parents still with me and it is so great to then experience that extra layer and get to be a mom is lovely.
- You have also served as executive producer on My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, so how much does behind the camera interest you? Would you ever return to the director's chair?
I do. I am actually developing an off-Broadway play as well at the moment and I have directed, produced and written. My first love will always be acting. As for the director's chair, I don't know. I watched Kirk zipped up in an overcoat directing something when I was sat comfortably in a warm car and I would think 'it is a tough job.
- How did you find the experience of making your directorial debut?
I remember the mistake that I made with that, they said we have a $7 million script but we only have $700,000 to make it. Ever the plucky soul, I was like 'that's ok, we can make it work.' I have since found out no, if you have a script that requires $7 million, make sure you ask for the $7 million budget, otherwise, your camera will never move.
- Finally, what's next for you?
I am doing a series next year for Epic, where I will play a political consultant. My husband and I got to host a spin-off of The Great British Bake Off, we brought it to America as a four episode holiday show. It was hugely successful and you know why? We had Mary Berry.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is released 25th March.