Interviews: Flashback to Nia Vardalos, Lainie Kazan of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’

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CHICAGO – The second biggest release of the 2016 Easter Weekend is “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” The sequel to the 2002 mega-hit, the film rolls out the same weekend as a certain “Bats v Supes,” but is a bit quieter – and more Greek – than its weekend neighbors. In anticipation of the new “Wedding,” HollywoodChicago.com reruns a couple interviews from featured stars Nia Vardalos and Lainie Kazan.

StarNia Vardalos, Actress & Screenwriter, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”

The Nia Vardalos story began with the first “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002). She was doing a one woman show version of the story, when Rita Wilson – wife of Tom Hanks, and a Greek actress herself – came backstage and told Vardalos that it would make a great film. With that, Vardalos gave Wilson the already completed screenplay, and the rest is film history. Since then, Nia Vardalos has written and starred in several films, most notably “Larry Crowne.” This interview was first published in 2009.

Nia Vardalos
Nia Vardalos in 2009
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: You are one of the notable graduates from Chicago’s Second City troupe. What lesson or lessons from those years has sustained you in your career?

Nia Vardalos: There is no crying in comedy. [laughs] You’ve got to be tough, and the Windy City sure teaches you that when that wind takes you, push back.

HollywoodChicago.com:One of the legends of ‘Greek Wedding’ is that you pioneered a type of hyper-local marketing, literally building an audience town by town, screening by screening. Do you think that type of promotion is less possible now or can it still work?

Vardalos: I think it is less possible now because the theater owners gave us a long time to hold ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ and now you have less of a chance to do that. We now have to urge people to go to a film early in the run, but when you’re up against goliath films it’s a little more difficult. But at the same time you can’t stop making little movies – we have to do what we can. We put them out there, if people find them, great, if not there is always the DVD release.

HollywoodChicago.com: You are doing a column online for The Huffington Post.’ What do you find most different in blogging versus doing screenplay or stage writing?

Vardalos: You know what I love about blogging? It’s actually less difficult because nobody edits you on The Huffington Post and on Anderson Cooper. I wrote a piece for Arianna [Huffington] titled ‘The List’ and a second piece for Anderson Cooper called ‘What’s the Big Fat Deal’. They are not like a studio, that’s for sure. It was like my first screenplay, nobody edited it.

HollywoodChicago.com: You are probably one of the most representative members of the Greek heritage. How has it informed through your career and your philosophy?

Vardalos: Not to compare myself, but like Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese, I like to explore my heritage. My next movie, ‘I Hate Valentine’s Day’ has nothing to do with a Greek holiday, but I figure since I’ve got this nose, [laughs] I want to tell Greek stories.

StarLainie Kazan, Featured Actress in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”

Lainie Kazan has been an actress for over 50 years, but got a late career boost by portraying Toula’s (Nia Vardalos) strong mother in both ‘Big Fat Greek Wedding” movies. She began her career in 1961, and famously understudied Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” on Broadway. She was a favorite guest on Dean Martin’s variety series in the 1960s, appearing 26 times, and infamously posed nude for Playboy in 1970. She established her comedic character actor chops again in 1982 with the film, “My Favorite Year,” nearly stealing the movie, and repeated the feat 20 years later in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” This interview is from 2012, and is published here for the first time.

Lainie Kazan
Lainie Kazan in 2012
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

HollywoodChicago.com: You understudied Barbra Streisand in ‘Funny Girl’ on Broadway. What do you think you understood about the role of Fanny Brice that Streisand did not?

Lainie Kazan: Barbra was magnificent, and it was a long time ago, but I will say that there was a joy in Fanny Brice that Barbra didn’t capture, and I think I was able to capture that because I had joy in my life. I had the hunger to give that role, and Barbra was more of a receiver of it. I had a lot of vulnerability, and Barbra was a bit harder.

HollywoodChicago.com: I was surprised to see that you posed for Playboy magazine in the 1970s. What was the background of that shoot.

Kazan: I was compared to Barbra during the 1960s until the cows came home. I was so through with it. So I thought, what can I do that Barbra would never do? There wasn’t much, but I was a hippie, and believed in the body beautiful. I did these pictures as a separate session, and didn’t realize they would appear in Playboy, for men in their closets with the magazine. [laughs] It was art to me. One time, I did a television appearance with a bunch of other centerfolds. They talked about what they all got, there were cars and money and jewelry. I got nothing!

HollywoodChicago.com: You guest starred on Dean Martin’s variety TV show a number of times. What was the origin of your connection to Martin and what do you remember about him the most?

Kazan: I loved Dean. He was so generous, kind, funny and a wonderful supportive person to me, he really helped my career. I was on the show 26 times, and he always looked forward to me appearing on it. We used to ride around in a little MG car that Dean owned, and during his last variety show season he gave it to me for my birthday. He was just so great for me.

HollywoodChicago.com: You did a memorable comedic turn in ‘My Favorite Year.’ What did you bring to the character of Belle Carroca that wasn’t necessarily in the script?

Kazan: I used my mother and aunt as models for the role. My mother was like a Jewish Blanche Dubois. [laughs] She was from Brooklyn and Jewish, but you would have thought she was a Southern Belle. I thought that’s how the character should be, and I think I brought that quality to the character.

HollywoodChicago.com: There were a lot of Hollywood rumors concerning the difficulties of converting ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ into a TV series. What is the inside scoop on why that series didn’t work, in your opinion?

Kazan: John Corbett was missing, and the writers didn’t get the ethnic humor of the original movie. They were talented, but the ethnic sensibility was missing – they kept advising us to have no accents and no authenticity. I’m of the opinion that when something works, use it. Also when they first cast it, it included none of the original movie actors – Rita Moreno had my part. It was when they started shooting the pilot that they realized maybe the cast had something to do with the success of the film. But even after it was recast, it simply never worked.

HollywoodChicago.com: Finally, between your rich career on Broadway, in films and singing, which part of your talent do you most like expressing and why?

Kazan: Definitely my singing, it’s who I am, it’s all of me and it’s my soul. The self expression of using your vocal equipment is not only physical and spiritual, but it’s something you can’t explain. It’s your heart and soul together. Yes, I enjoy acting, but I portray other people. But when I sing, it’s just me on that stage, communicating how I feel, how I think and what I believe.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” is in theaters everywhere on March 25th. Featuring Nia Vardalos, Lainie Kazan, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone and Bess Meisler. Written by Nia Vardalos. Directed by Kirk Jones. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Writer, Editorial Coordinator
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2016 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Jos Laniado's picture

Tango Shalom

Lainie Kazan is playing a leading role in the up-coming hilarious comedy called Tango Shalom. She plays a Hasidic Jew from Crown Heights, her original ethnic background. All her work in films is amazing and original. She could play any ethnic group, as she did in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

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