Monday, January 30, 2012

Nia Vardalos on "My Life In Ruins"

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Nia Vardalos on "My Life In Ruins"

(from brinkzine.com 5/4/09)

72.jpg The ninth Tribeca Film Festival concludes Sunday with screenings of the award winners, deserving and otherwise. It's strange that the closing night gala film, "My Life in Ruins," was scheduled on Saturday Nightit's like putting out the Olympic flame before all the events are concluded. I've seen more films since my posting earlier in the week, and I'd like to recommend these films to you for finals days Tribeca screenings or when they get released: "About Elly" (the world narrative competition winner), "Accidents Happen," "City Island" (a crowd favorite), "Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi," (emerging documentary filmmaker award winner) "The Girlfriend Experience," "The Exploding Girl" (Zoe Kazan was selected best actress), "Fish Eyes," "Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench," "Handsome Harry," "The House of the Devil," "In the Loop," "My Dear Enemy," "Outrage," "Queen to Play," "Serious Moonlight," "Soundtrack for a Revolution," "Still Walking," "Team Qatar," "Variety," and "Which Way Home." The films that have been recommended to me include: "American Casino," "Black Dynamite," "The Eclipse" (Ciarn Hinds was selected best actor), "Dazzle" (for the adventurous filmgoer) "Departures," "Entre Nos," "Fear Me Not," "Here and There" (New York narrative award winner) "The Lost Son of Havana," "Moon," "My Last Five Girlfriends," "North" (narrative emerging filmmaker award winner), "Partly Private" (New York documentary award winner), "P-Star Rising," "Racing Dreams" (world documentary award winner), "Seven Minutes in Heaven," "Timer," "Tell Tale," "Vegas: Based on a True Story," and "Yoduk Stories."
If you miss ""My Life in Ruins," it will go into release June 9. It stars Nia Vardalos, the charming star and writer of the 2002 megahit, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," as a tour guide in Greece, who is having as bad luck with her career as she has with her love life. The romantic comedy was directed by Donald Petrie, written by Mike Reiss, shot in Greece and Spain, and costars Richard Dreyfus, Alexis Georgoulis, Rita Wilson and Rachel Dratch. Prior to the film's world premiere, I took part in the below roundtable with Vardalos..

Q: Does "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" seem like centuries ago?
A: It really does. Just last night the producers and I were having dinner and we were telling stories of tiny things we remembered from the set or editing room. Again they made fun of me for thinking I was going to be fired when we were shooting the movie. I didn't believe that I would actually be allowed to play Toula. I had never been in a major motion picture and they had to see if I could walk and talk at the same time. There was something in the contract, having to do with insurance, which said if I made it past the first two days of shooting I couldn't be fired. So the first couple of days when I'd look at my costumes I'd look behind them to see if they made a whole new wardrobe for someone like Sandra Bullockthey could have put her in a brown wig and said, "Oh, she's Greek now!" On Day 4, I peeked of my hotel and my driver was there, so I said, "Oh, my God, I'm really in his movie!" That's when it hit me. That's the first day I sat in the chair with my name on it.

Q: Are you still amazed by the reaction to that film that continues to this day?
A: I'm amazed and grateful because I know about the indie world and how incredibly impossible it was that we got financing, I got to star in it, that we got released, and that we caught that incredible wave. I can't put into words how I feel. Sometimes I just try to absorb it and it doesn't sink into my brain. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event and I'm so happy that it happened to all of us who worked on that film and we can share it. We're all still so close. We go out for lunches and talk so long that it we order dinner, too. We became great friends before the movie got released and became a phenomenon. We all did it for a dollar-fifty Canadian.

Q: You're not looking to hit that gong again with a super smash hit?
A: I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't be great to have that box office success, but to try to duplicate it would seem to me to be unappreciative. I have to live life with whatever comes my way, but if I try to write a duplicate box-office success I'd be creatively dead.

Q: Are all Greeks really like those in your movie?
A: Of course not! That is an indication of what my family is like. However, I was approached by a lady at church who had the sun reflecting off her gold tooth and she said, "You embarrassed us a little bit. We're not like that. Here, I made you a mousaka." I want people to laugh with me; my humor isn't about making fun of people. "My Life in Ruins" is a risk again. I'm making an observation of my travels to Greece and again I hope I haven't offended anyone. But we do have to laugh at ourselves a little, don't we?

Q: "My Life in Ruins" is kind of the flip side of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," with you being transplanted to Greece.
A: We had all been offered every Greek movie that had ever been written. I just couldn't find one that I loved. Then Mike Reiss's script came my way. I wanted to layer in things that I felt in my travels to Greece, along with career angst that I hope people can relate to. To me, it's not necessarily a Greek movie. I think it's a movie about losing your mojo and about judging stereotypes, and it's set against the most beautiful backdrop in the world.

Q: Would you have done the script the way the character was written without your doing any rewrites?
A: It didnt call to me that much. What called to me was shooting in Greece. That's why I wanted to make the movie. The financing wasn't ready for the script how it was.. The first couple of years I was flying to Greece and asking permission to shoot at the ancient sites. I'd show them the script and made sure they realized we had no intention of making fun of Greece. I would have played the part without my changes. It was a clean, nice movie that had something to say about tourists. I wanted to say that about how we can be lucky to work in our chosen fields but what happens isn't as rewarding as you thought it would be. That's what happened to me and that's what happened to Georgia. For me, all the success meant nothing because I wasn't a parent. It has been the craziest year of my life. I shot two movies back-to-back and adopted a little girl. Are you kidding me?

Q: Didn't you take a break before these two movies?
A: Right. I wasn't answering that question with the depth I'll give you now, while keeping the details personal. The truth is I didn't get offered great scripts. It's not like Scorsese called me. The scripts I was offered were a bit dirty and cheap. And I was losing my mojo because I'd come to the end of a ten-year battle with infertility. So I took some time off and wrote six scripts, including for Tom Hanks and Jonathan Demme. My friends and agents understood that I had to step back. When I found "My Life in Ruins," I started to add things to it to make it authentic. As I was layering the character of Georgia I had to finally admit that I wanted to play her. I wanted to be on camera again.

Q: Did you take tours to prepare for your role?
A: For research, I took tours all over. I got on a tour bus in London. The tour guide would point out sites and various tourists took out their cameras and snapped pictures. Then he showed a window that had been in a James Bond movie and everyone snapped a picture.

Q: There's a line in the movie that I thought was a key. Georgia is told: "You're looking for obstacles rather than looking for magic." Is that your line?
A: Yes. It paralleled what I was going through as a person. I was trying to do something that was so difficult. The script is very much Mike Reiss's, but that was my line. He

Q: You said filming in Greece was a dream come true.
A: Definitely. It was a life goal and everybody told me it was impossible. That's my favorite thing!

Q: Did you improvise a lot in this movie?
A: Oh, sure. Rachel Dratch and I are old friends from Second City. The cast was chosen with that in mind. Donald Petrie was very open to suggestions that weren't in the script. Rachel is in "I Hate Valentine's Day" as well. I cast her with two improvisers and would just let them go.

Q: Are you in it?
A: I had to be in it so we could get financing. The next time I'll just direct.

Q: You're a likeable leading lady, but would you like the challenge of playing a femme fatale?
A: Yes. Offer me the part. Let me keep my top on and I'm yours!

Q: Would you like to go back to theater?
A: I'd love to, especially being in New York. I saw "Jersey Boys" the other night and I was gripping my seat, thinking, "Don't jump up there!" I'd love to do Broadway. The problem is that I'd have to commit to eighteen months. I'm married, and have a child now.

Q: Where is your daughter?
A: We're tying to give her a shot of anonymity. We adopted her in the last year and a half. She is a preschooler under the age of five. She visited the set but doesn't know exactly what I do. She just sees that people listen to me. I directed an upcoming movie called "I Hate Valentine's Day." My husband brought her to the set. She kept picking up things on the set and asking him "Is this mommy's?" I manage to do so much because I multitask. When I am with her, I'm not an actress. I don't take calls. My time with her is too precious. This is a new thing for both of us and we're getting to know each other. I don't want her first impressions of me to be with a phone at my ear or typing at my computer. I do like to put her to bed. That's my favorite thing. That's when children say the magic stuff.

Q: You have a background in improvisation, so is it hard to have the discipline to write scripts?
A: Anything with discipline is hard. I hate working out, for instance. ` I have to make myself write. I've been doing it for years now, but it hasn't gotten any easier.

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