Nia Vardalos, the woman behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding, is wrapping up an interview with a columnist at the Carlu in downtown Toronto.
The columnist is telling Vardalos about his book. She locks her big brown-eyed gaze on his as she smiles and laughs and says: And theres a voice in your head saying: Youre a fraud.
They laugh together, the columnist nearly falling off the couch, reluctant to leave but knowing his time is up.
Good aftershave too, Vardalos calls after him as he stumbles out of the room, seemingly in a state of wonder.
Vardalos, 47, is charming indeed. She looks fantastic in a short black cocktail dress with lace sleeves covering her Obama arms, as sleek and muscled as Michelles. The only fat thing about her is her hair, falling in curls around her face. She welcomes strangers warmly.
Her first movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, released in 2002 and based on her one-woman stage show, earned more than $241 million (U.S.), making it the most successful independent movie of its time. Her second movie, Connie and Carla, did mediocre box office and got lukewarm reviews.
My Life in Ruins, about a Greek-American college professor who retreats to Athens to work as a tour guide, was similarly received. It was released in June and is on DVD.
Last week Vardalos, a native of Winnipeg, was in Toronto to host a new awards ceremony, launched by Procter and Gamble, to recognize writers who write stories about beauty products. We caught up with her for a 10-minute interview. This is an edited version.
Q: How easy or how tough is it to live the rest of your life after youve written a blockbuster movie and dined with the Queen in Winnipeg? How do you match that?
Never aspire to match it or recreate it because creatively youd be dead. What I think the best thing to do is just go, Okay, that happened. Everything else in life is gravy.
Q: What are you working on now?
Im writing a movie for Tom Hanks. I sang on Broadway on Monday at a benefit and met Sir Paul McCartney and Im writing another movie for myself and two other women and Im just being a mom as well, and its just a very interesting phase.
Q: What can you tell me about the movie youre writing for Tom Hanks?
Not much actually. The plot is under lock and key. All I can say is, its about a guy.
Q: How do you feel about the reception My Life in Ruins received?
People like it. Is that what you mean?
Q: It got mixed reviews.
I dont read reviews….My Big Fat Greek Wedding got terrible reviews too. So, you cant really think about it.
Q: You adopted a 3-year old last year. Have you added to your family since then?
Im open to it. If the phone rings again, I would definitely do it.
Q: Entering motherhood over 40 is a different experience from entering the game at 25. How is being a mom different from you thought it would be?
I think I definitely have more wisdom, more time, more patience. The best thing too is, after My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I can pick and choose my projects and so I have time to be at home with her and to take her to school and pick her up. Thats a gift I could not have had in my 20s.
Also, I dont believe in bad words. I dont believe fat is a bad word, skinny is a bad word. A lot of people wont even identify another kid by the colour of their skin. I dont have a have a problem with that and that is something I have learned in time, and probably I would have been more sensitive and politically correct in my 20s.
Q: Now, I know you dont like to reveal her name or have her photographed, but can you tell me where shes from.
She is under the age of 5. Shes in preschool. She is from American foster care. She was relinquished to foster care. There isnt any abuse or neglect in her background. I say that because I am now the national spokesperson for adoption. When I was going into the foster care system, I had the same prejudices most people have.
Q: Do you know why she was relinquished into foster care?
It was a situation of a too-young birth mother and that happens a lot. There are 129,000 children legally free for adoption and she was one of them. We worked with a foster family agency in the States who connected us with her.
Q: You have said you struggled a long time with infertility. Do you have any wisdom to share with women who are going through the same thing?
I think that your process is your process. You know when youre ready to say, Thats not working, and to go on. Its a privilege to have your own child, and its also a privilege to be chosen by the cosmic forces to adopt.
Q: Ten years is a long time for a drama like that to unfold. How do you maintain your marriage through something like that?
It just depends, I guess, on the person. We were on many lists to adopt and it just wasnt happening and I get it. I know why.
I think why My Big Fat Greek Wedding happened to me, why we didnt get matched with an infant, is because Im supposed to be talking about these foster kids. When I got matched and was made the national spokesperson, the woman said: Weve been waiting for someone like you for a long time. And all the pain and all the time I waited suddenly made sense.
Q: It has been said you can be difficult to work with. Are you?
Thats ridiculous. You cant believe tabloid rumour. There isnt a woman I think in the industry that that isnt out there about.
Q: Are you living in L.A. now?
Q: Whats that like?
Luckily, my husband and I have had the same friends since high school and before. All our friends are from Toronto and Chicago. And I tend to work with the same people over and over again, which is lucky that we all love each other so much.
Ive made two movies with Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks. Ive had the same lawyer, the same agent, the same manager. Why? Because it can be a daunting and alienating place.
So you kind of want to keep your friends close and to have a history with them, to have people who honestly say, Hey, in that interview you came off as a little spacey or You werent really focused on the answer. You need people who will be honest with you.
Q: I think we have time for one more question. Now, after you had that huge success, you had that year where you were sued twice and the cast were asking for more compensation. Have all of those things been settled?
The cast never asked for compensation – thats a tabloid rumour. And I wasnt sued twice. This is what I mean about these are stories where fiction becomes fact.
Q: Whats it like to be back in the city? Does it feel provincial? Does it feel like home?
Its very cosmopolitan. I was walking around Bloor St. saying we have fashions here that we dont have in Los Angeles.
I came here with hopes and dreams of being an actor and not only did I go to theatre school here, we shot My Big Fat Greek Wedding here. My sister and brother-in-law live here, my best friends live here. For me, this city is comfort and a place of security, and a place where my dreams came true, so Im happy here.