Nia Vardalos stars in My Life in Ruins as Georgia, a lonely, Greek-American tour guide living in Athens who has simply lost her passion for life. She struggles to get it back while working on a tour bus with "Group A", variety of annoying tourists, such as Irv (Richard Dreyfuss) and Kim (Rachel Dratch). Her bus driver has the name Poupi Kakas (Alexis Georgoulis). Nia Vardalos has previously starred in and written Connie and Carla and the hit comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She will soon be seen opposite John Corbett in I Hate Valentine's Day, which marks her directorial debut. It was a real pleasure to interview her.
Fox Searchlight Pictures releases My Life in Ruins nationwide on June 5th, 2009.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it filming in Greece?
NV: When we first started investigating the possibility of filming in Greece, everyone told us that itís impossible and [that] we will not get the rights to shoot at all the ancient sites. So, we went to Greece, asked a lot of questions, shook a lot of hands, and found that people were very helpful. The Minister of Culture, the Minister of Tourism, the Minister of Highwaysóeverybody helped us. They gave us a few parameters, such as, not to close the ancient sites. They said that people come from Japan and canít walk up to the steps of Delphi and see it closed. So, we put up signs saying that if you enter the site, youíll be on camera, and people were fine with that. In fact, while we were shooting, they would try to get on camera.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Did you cast any of your family members in the film?
NV: I always make my husband and my parents to be in my movies because the films last forever. When [Georgia] is standing in line, the woman who gives me the dirty look is my mom. On the night of the premiere, April 3rd, [I was given an award for Honorary Ambassador and I wept because my parents were there.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about sex scenes in films?
NV: Iím okay with sensuality, but Iím not okay with demeaning sexuality in films. I always feel that itís not necessary unless itís a movie about sexuality. But, for the most, part I find it embarrassing in movies.
NYC MOVIE GURU: If you were a tourguide in Greece, where would you take a tourist?
NV: I would take you on a walk through the streets of Athens. You can really get a feel for the people in the city and thereís good, good shoes to be bought. Iíd take you on a taxi ride. This is a lover, a poet and a chef all in the front seat. If a taxi driver in Greece does not come on to you, youíre not so cute. [laughs] He will definitely tell you his personal philosophy and poetry in his life. Heíll ask you if you cook and youíll tell him what you cook.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What have you learned through your various experiences in the film industry?
NV: When Playtone did my first movie, [My Big Fat Greek Wedding], they let me be involved with everythingówhat the marketing and editing process was like. When I directed I Hate Valentineís Day, almost everything I learned was because of what I learned from these people. With My Life in Ruins, as well, they let me jump in. I got to be part of shaping and forming the script. I just added things [to it]. Mike Reiss wrote this movie. For me, it takes a village. When I directed I Hate Valentineís Day, I asked a grip to hold something out-of-frame for me, [but] it was not her job. I need that on every set.
NYC MOVIE GURU: At what point in your life did you know that comedy was meant for you?
NV: My whole family is funny. In my family, to get any attention, you didnít have to be the prettiest or the tallest or the skinniest, you just had to be the loudest and funniest. Iím the only one who gets paid for it, but everybodyís funny.
NYC MOVIE GURU: In what ways did you contribute to the screenplay by Mike Reiss?
NV: It was very much about his travels as a tourist. The things that I added to it were the authenticity and my homage to Greece. The thing about going through losing your personal mojo, itís just something that I was going through at the time. I couldnít find a script to be in, didnít feel like being on camera, absolutely was trying to adopt, lost my mojo and layered it in. I always just write what Iím going through.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important was it to have the movie set particularly in Greece?
NV: I donít really think of this as a Greek movie. Itís about traveling and going outside your comfort zone, dropping your problems and just learning to re-enjoy life. Itís a romantic movie in the sense that itís about a character who has given up on finding romance. I really layered that in because Iíve had a lot of girlfriends in their later 30ís or 40ís who have just given up [as well]. Itís troublesome for me because I think that thereís a lid for every pot.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What are the basic elements that turn a comedy into a classic?
NV: What turns a comedy into a classic is the audience. We did not know what we were doing with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Iím not that smart. The audience turned that movie into a success. We didnít have the money for marketing. They told their friends. Everyone saw themselves in it. I didnít know that when I wrote it. I just thought I wrote about my crazy family.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What are some of your favorite comedies?
NV: My favorite comedies are Sliding Doors, Broadcast News and I Love You, Man. I just love funny ways that people act. Tom Hanks said it best: that itís not saying funny lines, but saying lines funny. I like relationship [comedies].
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about My Life in Ruins closing the Tribeca Film Festival?
NV: Thatís an honor. My husband, [Ian Gomez], is a New Yorker. Weíre a little movie against great big movies, [so] we can use all the help that we can get.