My Life in Ruins marks the return of Nia Vardalos to the big screen after a five year absence following Connie and Carla, but that’s not what makes it significant. Rather, the film stands out because of its timing. As movie comedies grow ever more sophisticated and cynical, trading in ironic detachment, it’s rather jarring to see one that’s completely wedded to an earlier era.
The film, from director Donald Petrie, relies heavily on broad humor, obvious characterizations and simple vaudevillian puns. It never probes below the surface of such clichéd conceits as “Americans are loud and stupid,” “Greece is For Lovers” and “Greek men are ridiculously handsome or whiny, talkative stereotypes.”
Nonetheless, it’s truly Nia’s show. She appears in every scene as Georgia, a tour guide leading a motley crew of misfits to many of Greece’s iconic locales. Every moment of the film is about her; her insecurities, her romance and her love-hate relationship with her homeland. Film School Rejects joined colleagues at the film’s recent New York press day roundtable, where Vardalos spoke about her return to acting after a five year layoff and, uh, the joys of motherhood.
Rachel Dratch just told us you’d worked together before. Why is it important to you to work with old friends?
I love working with old friends and I just think it’s an opportunity now to just kind of reach a hand out and go, “Would you like to be in this, would you like to come to Greece with me?” And it was really great. I put her in my other movie too. I directed a movie called I Hate Valentine’s Day and I asked her to be in it, and she was a trouper. The great thing about Rachel is you can give her a couple lines and she’ll improvise it and just make it ten times better than anything on the page.
Tell us about I Hate Valentine’s Day.
We just found out we’re getting released by IFC, which is so exciting because it was so low budget and we shot it in less than three weeks and we wanted to see if we could do it. It was an opportunity to direct that I just grabbed, but I had to be in it for the financing so I asked John Corbett to be in it with me. I just went and asked him and he said yes without even reading the script. He’s so lovely. And it was really interesting to do.
(At this point a representative interrupts and insists that we stick to My Life in Ruins. So we promptly start talking about Nia’s adopted child.)
Tell us about your daughter. How’s motherhood?
She is from American foster care. We were matched with her. She’s under the age of five, is what we say, and she’s an incredible child. It changed my life. And I’m actually trying to tell people about this. There’s 129,000 kids in U.S. foster care that are legally free for adoption. You don’t have to fight the court or do anything.
Is it difficult to be a working mother?
No, it’s lovely because my mom is one of my biggest role models. I can multi-task and I don’t do two things at once. Does that make sense? I can do all these things, but when I’m with my daughter I’m her mom and that’s it. I don’t take calls. I don’t write scripts.
Is it still special for you to go to Greece?
Oh God yeah. We just went a couple weeks ago for the world premiere and I still get that shiver when I walk up to customs. You see the word Coppertone written in Greek and you’re just like, “Aww.” It’s great.
What was the premiere like?
Oh my gosh the premiere in Greece was so [intense]. Every family member, everybody was like, “But I have to come” and I was like, “Oh no, oh no.” The theater sat 1700 and I still was begging for tickets. But I got them all in.
Have you, like your character, ever lost your kefi [a Greek word for Mojo that figures heavily in the film]?
I lost my kefi for the last couple of years. I didn’t want to be on camera and I had come to the end of a very long infertility battle and just stayed off. Just quietly withdrew and wrote scripts and tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And it really was quite meaningless, all the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and all the doors that opened and all the options that came my way didn’t have the value that they do now because I wanted to be a parent so badly and it was very difficult for me. While I was writing those six scripts, while I was taking time off, this script came to me and I layered in the things about the kefi and the career angst because I was personally living it. And that’s why this movie is so special to me, because Georgia comes through it without everything perfect, and in the end that’s perfect for her.