Nia Vardalos visited New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus last week for a private screening of her hit film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, followed by a Q&A with students. After training at Chicago’s famed Second City, Vardalos was struggling to find work as an actress. She says she was told she “wasn’t pretty enough to be a leading lady, and not fat enough to be a character actress.” Determined to forge her own path, she wrote her own one-woman show in Los Angeles, based largely on her own upbringing in a Greek family. Rita Wilson came to see it, and returned again with husband Tom Hanks. The couple would soon give her the opportunity of a lifetime: to write and star in her first feature film.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding became a sleeper sensation, becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, and earning Vardalos an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. She followed up by writing, producing, and starring in Connie and Carla, and co-starred with Richard Dreyfuss in My Life In Ruins. She made her directorial debut with 2009’s I Hate Valentine’s Day, and co-wrote the box-office hit Larry Crowne.
Vardalos shared stories about her rise to fame with New York Film Academy students, and even brought prizes that she gave away throughout the night. “It was amazing how she was so humble and down to earth,” said MFA Filmmaking student Edrei Hutson. “She was willing to share her experiences and gave great advice on writing and filmmaking in general.”
Vardalos answered dozens of questions from excited students, and said, “Learn the rules, so you know what you’re breaking. Be true to yourself and find people who support what you want to do.”
She is currently working on a project at Paramount, which she describes as an anti-romantic comedy for single people. Vardalos also recently released her first book, Instant Mom, in which she opens up about the heartaches, headaches, and humor of becoming an adoptive parent.