Niia Vardalos and John Corbett talk My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Recently I had the chance to spend some time with Nia Vardalos and John Corbett, the stars of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”. Not only were they very gracious and charming, but also they were outstanding hosts as they took the time to chat with me on a variety of subjects. What follows is a condensed version of our extended conversations.
GVK: I am going to try to ask some questions that you have not been asked a million times already I am sure you get tired of the cookie cutter-remarks.
NV: Thank you.
GVK: Lets start off with Second City, what years were you there?
NV: I was there from 90-95 almost 96, I was there with Rachael, Draj and Tina who are on Saturday Night Live now, we were a really strong group of actors, and it was the best time in my life. People were fired all of the time and that forced us to create really good material and it was great training for L.A. When I got to L.A. and could not find a job, I said, ah, I am Greek, I know this stuff, so I got on stage and starting speaking about what I knew. This gave me a lot of confidence.
GVK: There has always seemed to be a pipeline between Second City and Saturday Night live, what is your take on this?
NV: Yeah, I was never there when Lorne Michaels came in to audition; it was like I was not meant to be in that show. I normally do not believe in that sort of things, but it seems as if I was destined to take another path and meet Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. Oddly, I would take my vacation and my understudy would be doing the show and Lorne would come and hire a cast member. Or, I would be shooting a commercial on the day he arrived and it is unbelievable how he never saw me, so it was not meant to happen. I am not sure I would want to do a show like that though, as with live TV, every ex-boyfriend you have ever had is watching you live.
GVK: I recall the story of John Belushi and how he would work four days on Saturday Night Live, then fly to Oregon after the show, film “Animal House” for three days and then fly back and do it all over again. It was said this is what started him down his destructive path.
NV: Yeah, it is a really crazy schedule and a lot of flying by the seat of your pants; I learned to be tough, and not to be sick. If you are in a bad mood, tough, just use it in the show and this was really good training for me.
GVK: I bet all of your improv work was a great benefit for when you were doing the stage show.
NV: Yes, I never re-wrote when I was doing the stage show, I did the material, got up read it, and I started with 40 minutes as I knew my set points, which is how we did it at Second City. I would recall a story and toss it in, my mom would call me and say something hilarious and I would toss that in as I knew how much time I had to spend on the courtship process. The last time I did it was in Montreal at the Comedy Festival and it was an hour and twenty minutes. Can you believe it? I was sick of my own voice by that time; I drank three large glasses of water during the show.
GVK: Then you met Rita after a show, then Tom Hanks, and the rest is fate as you said.
NV: Yes, they were so great.
GVK: It just goes to show that often the funniest things are the real things as real -life often transcends the best comedy writing at times.
NV: That is true as the funniest things in the movie are the truest things, the more bizarre the Incident; the more likely it is to be true.
GVK: Like what for example?
NV: The Windex, the lump on my Aunt’s neck, totally true. People think I am brilliant for coming up with it when it was just my dad and my Aunt.
GVK: I have to ask, did the film tick any of your friends or relatives off, or did they say you portrayed me in a bad light?
NV: No, Thank God, my family is such hams they kept saying Hey, that’s me.
JC: Hi, I am going to lay, listen and talk if that is ok, can you believe the view of that mountain out there?
GVK: At least it’s not quaking now so that helps.
JC: You think it’s going to rip one day?
GVK: They have been saying it will for 120 years now and it hasn’t yet so the odds are with us.
JC: That would not be good public works would be out cleaning in Seattle for weeks that’s for sure.
GVK: You were up here in Roslyn for your time in Northern Exposure.
JC: yes, on Sex and the City, we wrote in characters as Northwest quirky dudes.
GVK: How is it working on sex in the City?
JC: It’s great though I only work with Sarah Jessica Parker.
GVK: You do not get to meet the cast?
JC: Oh, I meet them, but I do not get to work with them, its cool to do that, but I work about 8 months on the show with just one other actress.
GVK: What are you doing now?
JC: I just did a pilot called “Lucky” for FX that was just picked up.
GVK: What is that about?
JC: I play a game named lucky who wins a million in Vegas, and loses it all in 6 months, his wife, everything, so the show picks up with him in Gamblers anonymous as he try’s to get his life in order. Its good man.
GVK: When does it air, in the fall?
JC: We are hoping to follow up “The Shield” when they enter their next season.
GVK: I can’t imagine the demands on your time, when you are not in front of the camera; you are looking for work or doing p/r for a film correct?
JC: True, you never stop auditioning; you have any idea how many people tried out for a film like “Minority Report”?
GVK: I hear they narrow the list to about 500 and start from there?
JC: Its crazy do you know how many people try to get in a film like “Fight Club” or you have experienced and known actors like Benjamin Bratt who are always having to audition for roles.
NV: I was amazed when we casting for the father, it makes you wonder if you ever get to a point where you do not have to audition so much. It sucks, that so many good people are looking for a job, we had such a selection and all would have been great, Michael Lerner, he was nominated for an Oscar, lets cast him, wait, he is good as well, but when Michael walked in, we knew he was the guy. He walked in with a vest, and when we looked at his headshot he was wearing a vest. When we got to Toronto to shoot, he was asking where he could get a vest.
GVK: That reminds me of something Michael Dorn of Star Trek said to me once the worst thing you can do for an actor is give them a job. When you are out of work, all you do is moan about not getting work and how badly you want it. He said he was going through that and he got a call asking him if he would do 4 seasons on “Deep Space 9”. He jumped at it, but on the first day he was saying, I hate getting up this early, I hate the hours of make up, and even though he got what he wanted, you can still complain, but not to pass up chances and jump on opportunities.
NV: It is totally true.
JC: It is hard to diversify yourself when you are doing someone’s work.
GVK: How do you manage the battle of being creative yet having to do it the way a director, then producer wants you to do the scene and they call the shots.
JC: I am ok as I am flexible I see myself as a spoke in the wheel, if parties are not seeing eye to eye, then they need to work it out and tell me, as once you place that wall up and say, “I am not doing it that way” you are only hurting yourself. I like to bend and give them what they want.
GVK Do you prefer to give your input?
JC: I read the scene and know what it is, if you want something else, I need to think about it and make the adjustment, the scene is there when you read it.
GVK: Where did you study acting and what were your early roles?
JC: I did not really study. I took a few classes and watched movies. I saw a movie and thinking that I could do that, and before long I was.
GVK: Were there any parts that you really wanted but did not get?
JC: There were many, but I learned not to name them as they can come back and haunt you. I will say this, I wanted the role that went to Chris Isaacs in “That thing you do” and our producer did not let me do it, I was ticked and wished a few bad things, NV: Your joking.
JC: Nah man, I wish bad things on all the movies that do not cast me that I wanted to be in. (Laughs)
GVK: I remember watching “Almost Famous” and thinking how well you would have been in that film.
NV: Yeah, the Billy Cruddup character, he would have been great in that. He is a great actor, and you should hear his voice.
JC: You remind me of Kevin Costner.
GVK: Is that good or bad?
JC: You got the Costner thing going on, especially the eyes and nose.
GVK: There was a time that was a good thing I am not so sure about now.
NV: Young Costner, that’s not a bad thing. (Producer takes a picture of me at this time, we all laugh)
Producer, we have you on file, come see me or Tom if you get to town and we wont give you the part, (All laugh).
GVK: What did you see of the summer films?
JC: I saw “Minority Report”, “Attack of the Clones”, and “Spiderman”. I liked
“Minority Report” but not so much the others. I rented “Made” the other day and that was great as well.
GVK: Do you find the big studious less anxious to do a character based film like yours in an age when it seems the studious think the notion of more effects and action is needed?
NV: The film about the two cops who don’t get along then do at the end, or one of them is a dog? I have not seen that yet. I do not know any big studios so it would be hard to say.
JC: I did “Volcano” for a big studio, and it was one of the worst experiences I had. There were five studio people who could not decide on how my shirt should be buttoned. I always picked my own wardrobe and this experience made me turn off big studio films.
GVK: How has your family been in the time since the film?
NV: They are great there were 49 of them at the premiere and now they are e-mailing me ideas for my next script. I had the come and listen to your uncle and I talk we are funny story. I was like, ok kill me now and save me the trouble.
NV: I would go to parties and talk about my family and do my cousin Nicky on stage
at Second City, and I finally listened to the people who said to do things about your family. The great thing was that I never fealt rushed during the six weeks of filming, I never got the we cant have this scene as we need to save money, it was very nurturing, especially for a small-budget film.
GVK: How long after you met Tom and Rita did it take to start filming?
NV: Two years, I had a year for the script, and then we had pre-production and financing.
GVK: I had the script done when I met Rita so I gave her one. I had three offers prior for it, but it was the old we will buy it, and you are not involved. I said ok, you couldn’t have it then. I recall the fourth one where I go tin the door and they said, “Here is the writer” I was stunned. I asked what have you written, and he said that he was the writer’s assistant on the movie “Mr.Wrong”. The producer said that he grew up in a Greek area. I asked what else have you written and was told nothing. I figured with all of my work at second City, I had written more than him, and figured out I was doing this all wrong, went home, and wrote the screenplay.
GVK: I have to ask, is there any talk of a sequel?
NV: Sure, if you have five million we can start shooting tomorrow. I was in Greece recently during a boat strike and I found a wealth of material.
GVK: How much input did your husband have in the film?
NV: He was the one who helped me keep it together when I had to worry if it was going to happen or not or if I was going to be replaced in the movie.
GVK: How did you handle all of your family trying to get parts in the film?
NV: That was fun, we gave my father a speaking part that was eventually cut but he got a dressing room, and he would lorded that over the family. He would go down to extras holding and do the old “is this the only food you had, I got a hot lunch”. I was like Dad, shut up. When I told him his scene was cut his face dropped, but he looked at my mom and said “ahh, its ok”.
GVK: you can always add it back for the DVD version and use that to get your way.
NV: (Laughs) that’s is funny. I will have to think about that one.