Holywood, CA.- The star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the big fat sleeper hit of 2002, mines her Hellenic heritage for laughs once more in My Life in Ruins, opening May 8. She’s Georgia, a tour guide who has lost her kefi— or mojo — and finds it again, thanks to a ragtag group of travelers led by Richard Dreyfuss and an inscrutable bus driver.
Greek Wedding’s Toula was in the travel business and romantically challenged, too, but Vardalos insists this is no sequel. “Georgia moves on a whim to Greece, and this is the only job she could get,” she explains. “She is a history professor who is all about facts and figures,” which only bores the tourists. “All they want is a T-shirt of the Parthenon.”
The major difference: location, location, location.
“It was a dream come true to shoot in Greece,” says the actress, 46, who persuaded authorities to allow filming at such sacred historical sites as Olympia and Delphi. “It was surreal on the set, to stand by the Acropolis, close my eyes before they say ‘Action’ and feel the wind blowing through the columns. It doesn’t get any better.”
That she had celebrated the culture in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, shot in Chicago and Toronto, bolstered her cred with the locals. “A journalist explained to me the reason why the film was so popular in Greece: ‘We love to make fun of you Greek Americans.’ ”
That favor is returned with the casting of Alexis Georgoulis as bus driver Poupi (pronounced “poopy”), Georgia’s unlikely love interest. Described by Vardalos as “the George Clooney of Greece,” the model-handsome 34-year-old makes his American film debut hidden behind a bushy beard and a tangled mop of hair.
But don’t be fooled by his appearance. When women on the production team saw his audition tape during a lunch break, “we didn’t move, breathe or chew,” Vardalos says. “When the scene was finished, everyone jumped up and down and said, ‘We’ve found him!’ ”
Reuniting with the actress as executive producers are Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, who has a brief role in the film. This is the fourth time Wilson and her husband have collaborated with her fellow Greek. “We don’t have a deal with Nia,” she says. “We just love her. Actually, the script came to us, and it just happened to take place in Greece. We wanted her to rewrite it, and it was just serendipitous.”
Vardalos briefly lost her own kefi with her Greek Wedding follow-up, 2004’s Connie and Carla. The musical farce, a distaff Some Like It Hot in which she and Toni Collette posed as drag queens, was mostly ignored by the over-40 fans charmed by her first scripted effort. “It was for a different audience,” she says. “I have no regrets about doing a film about an issue that is so close to my heart — equal rights for our gay brethren.”
Wilson has her own theory: “Sally Field told me this a long time ago. You have to allow people to know who you are before you make a change. If a change is made too quickly, people aren’t going to accept it.”
With My Life in Ruins, Vardalos is firmly back on familiar turf. But the film faces different challenges: namely, Spock and Kirk. The rejuvenated redo of Star Trek opens the same day.
“They think it’s a movie for women,” she says about the counterprogramming proposed by distributor Fox Searchlight. “Based on the strength of Sex and the City, they know if women want to see a movie, they will go.”
Not that Vardalos has anything against Star Trek, especially since director J.J. Abrams hired her husband, Ian Gomez, for the TV show Felicity. Still, she does have a message for female filmgoers who crave summer alternatives: “Women, take off your Spock ears.”
MY LIFE IN RUINS
Donald Petrie (Director)
Mike Reiss (Writer)
Michelle Chydzik Sowa (Producer)
Nathalie Marciano (Producer)
Jeff Abberley (Executive Producer)
Julia Blackman (Executive Producer)
Peter Safran (Executive Producer)
Rita Wilson (Executive Producer)
Tom Hanks (Executive Producer)
Gary Goetzman (Executive Producer)
Nia Vardalos (Georgia)
Richard Dreyfuss (Irv)
Rachel Dratch (Kim)
Harland Williams (Big Al)
Alexis Georgoulis (Poupi)
Sheila Bernette (Dorcas)
Maria Botto (Lala)
Ralph Nossek (Barnaby)
*** From USA TODAY