Back in 2002, The New York Times described Toula Portokalos as "a radiant Hellenic butterfly with designer clothes and contact lenses" emerging "from her cocoon." Toula happens to be one of the most iconic rom-com characters of all time, and multi-talent Nia Vardalos is the genius who brought her to life from the page to the stage to the screen. Vardalos penned "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" as a screenplay and revamped it as a one-woman stage show after struggling to get the original movie made. But years later, the film has become so much more than a beloved romantic comedy: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" told a story Hollywood hadn’t seen before, and the popular flick’s legacy wouldn’t be possible without its creator.
Vardalos is a professional who’s equally driven by her instincts and confident in her skillset, whether she’s taking on the starring role, writing the script, or both, and she works hard in her field and uses her voice to leave things better than she found them. With an impressive 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and having pulled in over $368 million at the box office, the success of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" appeared to set Vardalos up for superstardom, but she hasn’t exactly been the loudest person in the entertainment industry — in fact, she’s been noticeably quiet, at times.
So, what is Nia Vardalos’ life like these days, and why haven’t people seen as much of her in more recent years?
‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ was born when Nia Vardalos needed a job
The success of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" didn’t go unnoticed, and Nia Vardalos had a jovial interview with Katie Couric about the film’s origin story on Today back in 2002.
Vardalos was struggling to find work in entertainment before she developed "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." The actor-writer said, "I couldn’t get a job and more than two lines on a sitcom, and I thought, ‘How can I get four lines?’" The answer, of course, was in the stories of the performer’s own Greek family. As she was writing, Vardalos didn’t even have enough money for a computer, so she borrowed a friend’s after writing the text out "longhand," she later shared on the "Busy Philipps is Doing Her Best" podcast in 2020.
After seeing "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" as a play, beloved actor Tom Hanks — at wife Rita Wilson’s strong recommendation — called Vardalos to turn it into a movie (finally, what she wanted all along!). Back in 2002, Couric prompted Vardalos to confirm that the producers of the film originally wanted it to be the story of an Italian family starring Marisa Tomei or Sandra Bullock. Thankfully, Wilson — whom Vardalos called her "fairy godsister" — stood by Vardalos to retain the Greek heritage of the film and told them, "No, Nia’s gonna star in it." Ultimately, it was worth it for the creator to have the movie independently financed in order to make it the way she intended.
The movie’s success led to an unsuccessful, short-lived sitcom
Toula Portokalos’ story resonated with the ordinary people who watched it, but "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" unfortunately wasn’t right for television — at least, not in the way that it was presented. Fans of the movie may even have no clue that a CBS sitcom called "My Big Fat Greek Life" existed in 2003. For the series, Nia Vardalos reprised her role … sort of: Toula’s name was changed to Nia. Meanwhile, with most of the original cast also signing on, Steven Eckholdt took over as her fictional husband since the movie’s star, John Corbett, was not available.
The series garnered poor reviews. With a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the critics’ consensus reads: "The honeymoon swiftly sours in ‘My Big Fat Greek Life,’ which swaps the earthy charm of its big screen predecessor for a derivative adherence to sitcom clichés." Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly succinctly wrote, "’Greek Life’ is a big fat bummer." Um, yikes. In the end, the show only made it to seven episodes.
So, what went wrong? A previous EW piece outlined alleged problems on set, reporting that Vardalos "begged a CBS honcho to cancel her comedy" after a consensus couldn’t be reached regarding the series’ "direction." Still, it couldn’t have been easy for the star to see this television adaptation flop so quickly.
The rest of the 2000s were about motherhood for Nia Vardalos
Following her short-lived sitcom, Nia Vardalos would go on to take a substantial personal break from showbiz while looking to expand her family.
The actor-writer wrote about her road to motherhood in her 2013 book, "Instant Mom," which details the process of adopting her daughter, Ilaria, with then-husband Ian Gomez, after going through 13 rounds of IVF (via HuffPost). In an interview with Chatelaine, Vardalos said, "I think parenthood in general isn’t an easy transition. I didn’t want to sugarcoat adoption or just being a mom." She added, "I had such a fairytale vision in my head [before adopting]. I think I said this on a talk show — in my mind I saw myself in skinny jeans and a crisp white blouse with my hair pulled in a ponytail and so happy that I didn’t even need makeup — just a little clear lip gloss! And I would be skipping through a field of daisies with my daughter in tow."
But after painting that idyllic scene, Vardalos continued: "But the reality of it was so completely the opposite that I thought, ‘I have to write about it. I have to be honest and just say that yeah, at times I am skipping through a field with my daughter and at other times she throws a milkshake at me.’" It sounds like Vardalos was still able to fulfill her writerly needs as a new mom, even though it came in the form of a book instead of a screenplay.
Nia Vardalos didn’t want a second ‘Greek Wedding’ film before becoming a mom
14 years is a long wait for a movie sequel, and Nia Vardalos knows that. The actor and creator has spoken freely about why Toula’s follow-up story in 2016’s "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" took so long.
In a virtual Los Angeles Greek Film Festival masterclass, Vardalos revealed that daughter Ilaria’s adoption happened "at the end of a very, very long process of trying to become a mom," which she admittedly "kept very quiet, very private, and never talked to anybody about." Vardalos noted, "It really is why I disappeared from screens, from theaters, for approximately five to eight years. I was in the pursuit of motherhood, and it was really hard."
However, the space between these movies had an artistic purpose, too. "The wait is entirely my fault. … I wanted to wait until motherhood," Vardalos told Today. She explained that "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" — in which Toula’s daughter, Paris, applies for colleges on the other side of the country for some space from her family — was even informed by the star’s experiences as a mom: as Vardalos cried on Ilaria’s first day of kindergarten, another mom asked what she would do when Ilaria went to college. "That’s the moment I had an idea for the sequel," Vardalos told The Hollywood Reporter. "I started writing that day and finished the script over four years. It was only a decade until I started writing."
The ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ franchise went against the grain
Nia Vardalos doesn’t bow to Hollywood norms, and navigating Hollywood hasn’t been easy for her. During a 2020 masterclass for the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, she revealed that she was told she was "limited" for not looking "like Nicole Kidman." The actor was "really surprised" to learn that her appearance as a Greek person could affect her opportunities in showbiz, but she took a theatre school teacher’s advice and began writing based on her experiences.
For Vardalos, then, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" isn’t "about romance," but rather "about a woman empowering herself." As Toula was being empowered onscreen, so was the actor behind the scenes. She explained to The Hollywood Reporter, "When Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman said, ‘We’re going to make this movie’ — the audacity that I had to say, ‘I want to play the bride,’ that is the same tenacity I carried over into [adoption]." The Hollywood Reporter asked her about the changing rom-com genre, and Vardalos was glad to see its evolution, saying, "I fought so hard not to wear makeup in the opening scenes — I don’t even have moisturizer on. We’re breaking the rules, and that’s a great thing."
Unfortunately, "breaking the rules" hasn’t always been celebrated in the entertainment industry, which could make it challenging to keep reaching "My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s" height of success. ”I still struggle. I still have difficulties," Vardalos said on Busy Philipps’ podcast. "I get offered every Greek role that’s ever been written, and little else."
Nia Vardalos and husband Ian Gomez are no longer together
Nia Vardalos married fellow actor Ian Gomez in 1993, before either entertainer had become well known in Hollywood. However, after 24 years of marriage, the couple quietly separated in 2017, and Vardalos eventually filed for divorce the following year, citing "irreconcilable differences." Both requested joint legal and physical custody of their daughter, Ilaria.
At the time, Vardalos and Gomez jointly told People, "We’ve been respectfully separated for a lengthy period of time. Our relationship became a friendship so the decision to end the marriage is completely mutual and amicable." Their statement went a step further to stress, "It is our hope that decency will prevail on the reporting of this story which will soon be yesterday’s news. Thank you for respecting our privacy."
In 2019, Us Weekly caught up with Gomez, who said that he and Vardalos were thankfully still "on great terms." Honestly? We love to see it! But we imagine that this change in their marital status once again may have led to Nia Vardalos focusing more on her family life than her Hollywood prospects.
Nia Vardalos takes time to help others understand adoption
Nia Vardalos spoke at multiple virtual events for HelpUsAdopt.org in 2020, including the "Faces of Adoption Virtual Benefit & Silent Auction," as well as "Building a Family" with actor Willie Garson, during which both stars discussed their respective adoption experiences. The "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" star was enthusiastic about the latter event via her Instagram account, where she wrote in part, "My goal is to de-mystify the adoption process and spread the word about the 500,000 children we have living in US foster care."
Vardalos previously expressed to Chatelaine that in writing "Instant Mom," she wanted to offer readers information, not advice: "I heard myself announced as an adoption advocate and even though I would say it about myself before, I actually heard it for the first time last week and I went, ‘wait a minute.’ I actually feel that I am a spreader of information about adoption but I’m also a personal happiness advocate because we only have one chance at this life." She elaborated by saying, "So, if not having children is your personal bliss, great. If trying IVF over the 13 times that I did is what will make you happy, great. And if adoption is what will make you happy, great."
We imagine that people who are a part of foster care and adoption communities must appreciate Vardalos’ candor, but fans outside of those communities might have no idea that the celebrity is making such an impact.
She has been staying safe and staying home throughout COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic undeniably altered life for everyone, including Hollywood stars. Some used the dry months of no social events to reflect on the fun they’d had before on the red carpet. Nia Vardalos, for example, posted a throwback picture of herself on Instagram from a 2020 Academy Awards viewing party in April 2021, where she enjoyed "a super fun night … before the shutdown." The event in question was a fundraiser for The Elton John AIDS Foundation, and, as Vardalos mentioned in the caption, "I haven’t gone out since!"
On a more relatable note, Vardalos also used Instagram to address collective anxiety around the pandemic: "I get it," the compassionate star said in a May 2021 video. "I know that we’re all wondering, ‘Is this ever gonna end?’ … You’re not alone. I feel the same way. I am an optimist. I do think everything is going to be okay."
Nia Vardalos has an interesting connection with voiceover work
Nia Vardalos hasn’t publicized her voiceover work too much, but she has been heard (rather than seen) in several different programs for multiple ages over the years.
As she was working to find a place on camera in Los Angeles many years ago, Vardalos took voiceover gigs to earn money. However, her more recent voiceover credits include the "DuckTales" reboot, "Star vs. the Forces of Evil," and a Netflix project called "Charming." Her character on "DuckTales" is Selene, who naturally happens to be a Greek Moon Goddess and appears in four episodes. In 2020, the actor took a moment to repost a picture of herself with writer Megan Gonzalez on Instagram, which she captioned with, "What an amazing experience this was! Thank you for writing such a funny script, I had a blast working with you!!!" The episode in question was titled "New Gods on the Block!"
Perhaps Vardalos doesn’t talk about voiceover as often these days, because the medium was a source of income before "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," but she definitely seems to appreciate the work. In 2021, she retweeted a post about her "Star vs. the Forces of Evil" experience, exclaiming, "What a ride!" and thanking series creator Daron Nefcy "for bringing me into the fold."
‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3’ is facing delays, but isn’t out of the question
Back in 2019, actor Ian Gomez revealed to Us Weekly that his ex-wife, Nia Vardalos, did "have an idea for" a third movie in the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" franchise … but he wouldn’t spill anything juicy. Half a decade after the sequel premiered in 2016, fans will jump on basically any news that a third installment could be on its way — so Vardalos decided to set the record straight in April 2021 on Instagram.
"I wanted to clear up a rumor … Yes, it is true that for over a year, we have been trying to film a script that I wrote called ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,’" she said in an IGTV video. "But what is also true is that we are not filming, because even though we are distributed by Universal Studios, as usual — and, of course, the entire cast is invited back, and we are trying to employ hundreds of people — the fact is that we are an independent film. And apparently, independent films cannot get insurance." Vardalos added, "And by the way, if you know otherwise … you are cordially invited to this wedding and to slide into my DMs."
Vardalos also had to ask viewers to stop phoning her mother with requests to be in the movie, but she remained lighthearted. As soon as the insurance is secured, she said, "We are going to Greece to film!"
Nia Vardalos is still a playwright
Nia Vardalos is a multitalented performer and writer, but fans of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" could have missed some of her other work since she was out of sight for awhile. "After I was in the pursuit of motherhood, the phone stopped ringing, and at that time, it was a relief, because I just wanted to write and get off camera and just be left alone," Vardalos said in the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival‘s masterclass. "I didn’t leave acting, I didn’t quit — I just didn’t want to act at that time."
She jumped back into acting with the 2009 movie, "My Life in Ruins," but another medium has always been there for her. As Vardalos told Broadway World in 2019, "I had always worked on stage. I am classically trained and made a living doing plays, Shakespeare, musicals and, of course, waitressing."
One reason people might not be aware of Vardalos’ most recent play is because it was just as long a haul as her breakout movie once was. The actor adapted Cheryl Strayed’s book, "Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar," for the stage, and has also performed in the production as the lead, a dating advice columnist named Sugar. She told Broadway World about initially "reaching out to Cheryl Strayed in the early Fall of 2013," and the play finally opened Off-Broadway in 2016 at The Public Theater under the direction of "Hamilton’s" Thomas Kail. At the time of this writing, the show is currently playing in Hawaii and in Mexico.
Her Greek heritage is forever an important part of her life
It’s pretty obvious that Nia Vardalos cares about her Greek heritage. After all, she built her most successful franchise on it and even filmed her 2009 movie, "My Life in Ruins," in Greece (and Spain). The actor appears to take every opportunity to participate in events throughout the Greek community, and has stayed enthusiastic through virtual events during the global pandemic, as previously mentioned.
However, Vardalos got very emotional when she was able to physically inhabit a space again. For Greek Orthodox Easter in 2021, Vardalos snapped a touching Instagram photo of candles raised among her congregation. "I went inside our beautiful church tonight for the first time in over a year," she wrote in the caption. "… I felt a peaceful recovery wash over me, remembering my traditions, my youth, my life. I am so very grounded by my Greek roots and so very tethered and grateful for the community and church."
Understandably, staying active in the Greek community means a lot to Vardalos, but it also keeps her busy.
The star organized charitable donations in her father’s name
During her Los Angeles Greek Film Festival masterclass in 2020, Nia Vardalos opened up to the participants about her father’s death: "We lost my dad in March, and of all the amazing outpouring of love and just people being so supportive … I got the most beautiful note from Michael Constantine." Constantine played Toula’s father, Gus, in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Vardalos continued, "I have so many pictures of Michael Constantine and my dad, Constantine, on set together. My dad plays the psaltis in the two ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ movies, and Michael Constantine wrote me a note that said, ‘Love, your other dad.’"
According to Variety, Gus Vardalos’ "funeral was livestreamed from the same church of which he was once president" a week following his death. Sadly, daughter Nia Vardalos was unable to go home to Winnepeg, Canada due to the coronavirus pandemic, so she told her father goodbye via FaceTime. Thanking her late father "for an incredible life," she said that he was "a gentleman" and "a great dad" as they communed virtually.
Around this time, the star organized charitable donations in her father’s name. Pals Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks also donated money to the church Gus belonged to, which sponsored an elderly outreach program. Nia Vardalos said of her fundraising projects, "People in our industry, we’re fortunate, we’re privileged, we’re pampered and some of us want to use our voices to do something … We have to do some good or we’re going to go nuts."