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Life Lessons from Actress Nia Vardalos

‘I’m just a normal person from a small city in Canada. And if I can do it, you can do it.’

Video run time is 4 minutes.
Peter Yang

Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated actress, writer, and director Nia Vardalos, 61, uses all three talents in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, in theaters on September 8.  Here she shares some life lessons with AARP's Natasha Stoynoff.

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Blame Canada

Canadians are funny because if we’re not making each other laugh, we’re going to freeze on the spot.

Be Yourself

I was told by an agent in L.A. that I was not fat enough to be a character actress and not pretty enough to be a leading lady. She sent out my headshot and no one wanted to see me. “You’re not Hispanic, you’re not Asian, you’re not Black. What are you?” she asked. And I said, “I’m Greek.” And she said, “Well, that’s the problem.” I dropped her, and that’s when I decided to just be me.

Find a Mentor

Actress Rita Wilson is a fairy god-sister to me. When the studios returned my screenplay for My Big Fat Greek Wedding unopened, I turned it into a solo stage show. Rita came to the show and said, “This should be a movie.” She saw something, liked it and thought other people would like it. If you have an advocate, like Rita Wilson and my mom, who believe in you and find what you do is valid, you’re going to go pretty far.

Embrace the Uncool

When you’re from a funny, loud Greek family, you don’t fit in at school. I wrote Greek Wedding from that outsider perspective. What I found out is that no one fits in. No one thinks they’re cool. The people who think they’re cool peak in high school. We know them. And then we see them later and they’re working someplace depressing.

Write a Poem

I write every day. I have to — it’s like a muscle. Occasionally I’ll jot down just how I’m feeling and make it into a song. But my poetry is not really to be shared. It’s just for me, to get it out sometimes on a page.

Give Kids Space

My teenage daughter, Ilaria, was home during the pandemic. She was doing homework; I was writing. We’d have breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, and we got really close. But I hated the loss of freedom for her and her friends. I hosted art days where they could sit in the backyard with masks on and do art. I’d sit far, far away, even though I love nothing more than teen drama, and I want to hear it all.

Give and Take

After the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I decided that with every contract I signed, I’d donate to charity and give back, and I’d celebrate myself and buy myself a piece of jewelry. So, I’ve given back and I’ve celebrated myself. And that’s a way of achieving wholeness.

Share Your Grief

The inspiration for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is simple: I lost my dad, and then we lost [actor] Michael Constantine. I took all the grief and I wrote what was happening — not only to me, but to people who lose a parent. In the film, the father’s last wish was that we go back to his village and off goes the Portokalos family!

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