AWFJ Women On Film – Nia Vardalos on Movies and Motherhood – Jenny Halper

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The huge box office success (US$ 356 million, if you’re counting) of My Big Fat Greek Wedding made Nia Vardalos one of the few women in Hollywood whose name can green light a movie. In two new movies releasing this summer–My Life In Ruins and I Hate Valentine’s Day, Vardalos emerges as a slimmed down version of the vivacious Greek-American gal with whom audiences have fallen in love. But she’s tired of discussing her weigh, and prefers to comment on her commitment to help women get ahead in moviemaking and the good cause she‘s adopted: adoption of children from foster care.

Nia Vardalos in person is as charming and vivacious as she is on screen. When we meet to talk about My Life In Ruins, she gleefully confesses her actor crush on Richard Dryfuss, whom she giddily plied with Jaws questions between takes, and expresses befuddlement over the media’s obsession with her dress size. But quickly she sheers the

conversation to her new passion: motherhood. After years of fertility tests and adoption agency waiting lists, Vardalos stumbled upon foster care in the U.S., and is now the proud mother of a four-year-old girl and a strong advocate for adoption from the foster care system.

JENNY HALPER: Ten years ago, would you have seen yourself adopting a foster child?

NIA VARDALOS: I always wanted to have one child and adopt one.

JH: What would you say to potential parents worried about adopting a

child that is not an infant?

NV: I’d tell them that all those media contrived and created stories are untrue. There are hundreds of thousands of adoptions that are well

adjusted beautiful forever families. The once in a while where there’s some horrible story and you find out “oh that child was adopted from foster care,” we know how the media likes those stories but doesn’t write about nice ones. My daughter called me “mommy” two hours after she met me. I didn’t suggest it, she just said it. And I stopped in my tracks.

JH: She just knew?

NV: Yeah. She did. She really did. It was very interesting. My first

thought when I saw her was, “oh, I found you.” I don’t even know why that thought went through my head. It was just meant to be. I live in plastic LA, and the beautiful thing about the people (who helped us adopt her) is that they devote every single minute of their lives to matching children with families. They don’t discriminate against single parents, sexual orientation, or income level. The press would rather talk about the woman who has octuplets.

JH: That or bash Madonna and Angelina Jolie.

NV: I’m disgusted by the way the media disparages Madonna and Angelina Jolie. They’ve done more to raise awareness than most bubble headed celebrities promoting water bottles. They should be lauded and applauded.

JH: Since so many people don’t know about foster children in the US, are they more neglected or in need than children overseas?

NV: No. A child is a child. There’s nothing wrong with adopting a child from China, or finding a baby in Africa. But if you don’t have the time or money to go overseas, we also have children here, and a lot of people don’t know that. A child’s a child. Any child anywhere deserves a home.

JH: You’ve been doing quite a lot to get the word out.

NV: I’ve been doing fundraising. I’ve been raising awareness, spreading information on how to (adopt). You can go to adoptuskids.org, or google “foster family agency.”

JH: Is there a trait or a lesson you want to pass on to your daughter?

NV: My daughter goes to this hippie school, where if one kid takes another kid’s toy they don’t just chastise them. They say, “Look at Bobby. You just took his toy. Doesn’t he look sad?” They try to get them to actually think about their actions.

JH: That’s unusual.

NV: Yeah. Also, in LA there’s so much stigmatism around words like “ugly” or “fat,” and so many parents try to shield their kids from

them. My daughter’s going to hear those words, so instead of ignoring them I try to explain them to her. They don’t have to be negative. (I’ve read her) this book called Loukoumi, by Nick Katgoris. It’s

about doing good deeds. So often the words “smart” and “pretty” are emphasized, and there should be more emphasis on the world “kind.”

JH: Career-wise, how have you adjusted?

NV: I have a rule that I have to sit down at my computer – email off, cell phone off – at ten am. Because my daughter goes to school at nine. So I get everything done that I can until she comes home.

JH: Audiences know more about you now. Not only are you a movie star, you’re well-known as an adoption advocate. Do you worry that this will affect perceptions of the characters you play onscreen.

NV: That’s an interesting question. The beauty of My Big Fat Greek Wedding was I was this anonymous person telling stories about my family that audiences saw their families in. Now it’s more of a leap. The truth is, you really only play characters slightly separated from yourself.

JH: And the public sees what they want to see.

NV: It’s funny, I had one of those years – in a fourteen or sixteen

month period I shot this movie with first ever permission to shoot at the ancient sites, I adopted my daughter, and I directed my first movie from my original screenplay (I Hate Valentine’s Day), and the first thing journalists always asked me was, “how did you lose the weight?”

JH: When you have a year like that, do you feel you are an example to

or inspiration for other women?

NV: I feel like I wish more women had the opportunities. It’s that thing I keep saying, when journalists say, “Aren’t you proud you’re the only women that writes your own material?” No! I feel sad – I’m not the only woman who writes her own material. I’m the only woman that gets her stuff produced possibly, and gets to direct, and that is

sad. That’s why I mentor writers, I look for new material, I go to every one woman show I can possible find. I try to read a new script every day, just try to nudge along other women writing in the industry. One woman I’m mentoring is very close to selling her script to a studio. In the same way Rita Wilson reached out a hand to me, I’m looking as well. I’m trying to suggest to women, “let’s reach out our hands to each other.”

My Life in Ruins is opened in the U.S. on June 5, and is soon releasing throughout Europe. I Hate Valentine’s Day opens July 3rd in the US, with releases in Europe following shortly.

For information about US adoptions, including grants available for foster families, photo listings of children, and state specific

guidelines, visit AdoptUSKids.org or google “foster family agency.”

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Jenny Halper

Jenny Halper is the film editor of Spare Change News, a Cambridge bi-monthly dedicated to empowering the homeless. She's written for the Boston Phoenix, Boston Now, NewEnglandFilm.com, amNewYork, Beliefnet, Cinema Confidential, Park Slope Reader, and Knit Simple Magazine, among others, and has served as a film critic/entertainment reporter for Track Entertainment and ClickFlicks.net. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Smokelong Quarterly and New England Fiction Meeting House, and has been a finalist for prizes from Glimmer Train and the Sonora Review. A graduate of Northwestern University, she is currently earning an MFA at Emerson College.