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Beyond the Big, Fat, Greek Wedding: Nia Vardalos a Mom in New Film

By Scott Huver
NBCNewYork.com

NEW YORK – Nia Vardalos has moved on to parenthood, on screen and off. After getting famous as a big screen bride in her breakout indie film a decade ago, Vardalos takes on her first movie role as a mother, in “An American Girl: McKenna Shoots For the Stars,” which debuted on home video July 3 and aired on July 14 on NBC. The film, based on the wildly popular doll brand, casts the actress as the mom of a competitive young gymnast who struggles to find balance between her everyday life and her big dreams. {50030}
This mustve been a rewarding project to get involved with.
I saw Debra Martin Chase, the producer, at a party and like all good things that come my way, theyre always not from an audition or a meeting thats set up. Its always by some sort of socializing and this is exactly what happened. She said, Im doing a movie in Winnipeg. I said, Oh, thats my hometown. If you need anything, heres my cell phone number – because of course all Canadian middle children, all we ever want to do is help people. She took my cell phone number and she called the next day, and she said, Nia, theres a mom role in this movie. I went, What? She said, Its the American Girl movie. I went, Stop talking! I was so excited.
Im sure he made certain you didnt.
I have to tell you, I wouldve done it for just a week of dolls. My daughter thinks that Im cool and thats all that matters.
Where were the American Girl dolls on your personal radar, in your life, before this project?
Actually, its almost too tied in. Ill tell you what happened. We were at The Grove. We had adopted our daughter when she was three years old, and we were at The Grove and paparazzi were there and we were trying very hard – this was in 2008 – to keep her privacy and anonymity. So we ducked into that store, and this was a store that I avoided like you wouldnt believe. Motherhood for me was hard to come by, and so I would never have gone into the store before that. I was so charmed by the place because of how its about child empowerment. Whats your talent? Oh, its horseback riding. Mine is gymnastics. Oh, youre a reader? Im a writer. I just love that about the whole American Girl world. So as we walked around this place, I said to my daughter, Choose a doll that you feel looks like you, in helping her form her identity and also keep who she of course is in the first place, when she came to live with us. So she chose a doll that day and the American Girl people were so kind to us and didnt even act like that it was out of the norm that suddenly I had a child with me. That was it. We left and that was it, and so its kind of beautiful and very full circle for me to be playing my first mom role in a place that helped my daughter.
Did you feel that it was almost a give back, that you got something great from American Girl and so you wanted to give back whatever you could?
No, because I still think that I win in this situation, to get to play the mom. I still win because my daughter threw her arms up in the air. She had no interest whatsoever in my career before this. Shed been seeing the ‘American Girl’ movies for years, and when I told her that I was going to play the mom in the next movie she threw her arms up in the air and screamed Thats my favorite!
Whats the thing that sticks out in your mind about how being a mom changed you, something that you never really saw coming?
I think the thing that got me the most is that Ive always been an organized person, to the point where Ian Gomez, my husband, makes a joke about how I make lists of lists that I have to make, and yet nothing prepared me for how organized you have to be as a parent. Otherwise you will slowly keel over grey and have a heart attack from the amount of goldfish crackers that you eat as your daily intake. Thats how I felt. I suddenly felt like, Im not taking care of me, and I had to really find time for exercise, taking my supplements, eating a balanced diet and go to my classes, my exercise classes. Otherwise I just wasnt present. I felt a little bit almost foggy and sleep deprived. So, that scene in the movie where the mother character talks about finding balance, finding time to do things with balance. For kids that makes a lot of sense because kids are over scheduled these days, and for parents, I think theyll be able to relate to that moment.
Did you have a toy growing up that you had an especially significant connection to?
Yes. I had a dog that was a wiener dog that I pulled on a string all over the neighborhood. I was that kid. Because of the Toy Story movies – and also now seeing how my daughter feels so incredibly safe with her dog, one that looks exactly like our real dog and certain things that she holds and sleeps with – I dont throw anything of hers out now – anything! If shes not really playing with it Ill just put it in a box and put it away, because of those movies where now I look at her toys and I wonder when the lights go out, Do they come to life? Sure. Those movies have captured something in them that makes us all relive our childhood…
Whats going on for you behind the camera these days? Any projects as a writer or director on the horizon?
Yeah. I have a project with Rob Riggle that Ive written, and also a film called For A Good Time, Call… that Im in that comes through Universal Focus in the fall, I think. Just all these different things: John Corbett and I just sat down and said, Hey, we should do something together soon. You never know. Our ideas are always so far-fetched. Were like, Hey, maybe were in a spaceship and were looking for alien planets! Yeah, maybe thats it – and we play guitars!
It seems that with everyone that you became close to on ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” like John, youve remained professionally and personally very close to. Whats it been like to have that extended Hollywood family and have those bonds really last over this time?
Very, very lucky. The beauty of My Big Fat Greek Wedding is that first of all Rita [Wilson] and Tom [Hanks] treated me like gold before the movie made a dime, ever. They were absolutely on my side, and then the cast, we became friends on the set because we didnt know we were low budget. We were just having a blast. There was catering. We were happy. Then the movie came out and that explosion happened, but it didnt really affect us because we were already friends. Subsequently, every movie after that… Rachel Dratch, we were friends from our days at Second City. I just made her be in two movies with me just so we could hang out.

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