The struggle to impress your close-knight large extended family with your personal and professional decisions can often be a harrowing experience, whether you’re trying to inspire them for the first time or awe them once again after your previous accomplishments. That endeavor can be even more daunting when you’re also trying to thrill a national audience who wants to be both emotionally and sentimentally entertained. That’s certainly the case with the intriguing and nostalgic new romantic comedy, ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.’
The film, which Universal Pictures is set to distribute in theaters nationwide today, began filming in Toronto in May 2015, 13 years after the successful release of its predecessor, ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding.’ ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting‘ helmer Kirk Jones took over the directorial duties of the successor to the 2002 indie film, which is the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. The sequel was once again produced in part by Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson through their production company, Playtone. The follow-up also saw the return of lead actress and scribe Nia Vardalos, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the original movie.
Set ten years after the ending of its predecessor, ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ follows Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) as they’re trying to take a more laid-back approach to raising their 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris). Toula is once again working at her family’s diner, while Ian is now the principal of his daughter’s high school. While the two parents are struggling to reconnect over mutual interests that aren’t related to their daughter, the high-spirited Paris is contending with normal teenage concerns, including her crush on her shy classmate, Bennett (Alex Wolff). The Greek teen is also contemplating where she’s going to attend college, as her parents and extended family continuously express their desire for her to remain close to them in Chicago and attend Northwestern. However, she secretly wants to try branching out on her own, starting by attending NYU.
As Toula and Ian struggle with the idea of their daughter wanting to leave home, as well as ways to reconnect, the couple is also shocked to discover that the priest who married her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan), in Greece forgot to sign their marriage certificate. Realizing that they must have another wedding in order to make their marriage official, Maria expresses her desire for her husband to properly propose to her this time. But Gus stubbornly refuses to accommodate his wife’s wishes, which initially puts a strain on their relationship. But after Gus suffers from a minor accident, Maria realizes how much she truly loves him and wants to officially marry him, so preparations on their wedding quickly begin. As the family members face the next conflicts in their lives, they all soon realize how important they all are to each other, as well as the significance of supporting each other during any difficult situation.
To help promote ‘My Big Fat Geek Wedding 2,’ several members of the cast and crew generously took the time recently to participate in press conferences at New York City’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Kampouris participated in a solo interview, before actors Joey Fatone and Andrea Martin graced the stage together, and Vardalos, Corbett and Jones concluded the trilogy of conferences. In addition to other things, the lead actress-writer, supporting actors and director discussed the process of re-capturing the chemistry that made the first film so successful and endearing, while also bringing new characters and more modern conflicts to the sequel. Vardalos also sentimentally chronicled how emotional and rewarding it was for her to adopt and raise her young daughter over the past few years, and how her duties as a new mother inspired her to pen the screenplay for the follow-up film.
“The wait for the sequel is entirely my fault,” Vardalos admitted as she began her portion of the press conference with Corbett sitting on her left and Jones on seated on her right. “I had written that Toula and Ian were parents. In reality, the struggle to become a parent was real for me,” the actress and writer candidly revealed. “But then I did become a mom, which was a happy ending.”
The Canadian-born actress also sentimentally chronicled the emotional journey of adopting her daughter. “I didn’t meet my daughter until she was almost three, and she was in American foster care. So in the same way, I’m so grateful that the idea for, and the desire to make, the sequel didn’t come to me” until she adopted her daughter. “What I went through (in adopting her) informed my writing,” Vardalos revealed.
The scribe added that on her “daughter’s first day of kindergarten, I was crying so hard and loud that other moms were backing away from me. Somebody said to me, ‘Come on, in 13 years they’re going to go off to college. What’s the big deal?'” Vardalos admitted that that “was the moment that I may have had the idea for the sequel. So I started writing it that day.”
The performer also divulged that she “worked on the script, off and on, for four months, because I wrote a book (‘Instant Mom’) at the same time. Then on the book tour, I saw myself” in the women who were standing on line to meet her. They were also mothers, who had “a child on one side, and aging parents on the other. We’re the sandwich generation, and that really informed my writing.”
The writer added that through writing and releasing ‘Instant Mom,’ “there’s a power of just putting things out there. I try not to offer advice, but I wrote about what happened to me.” But if someone decided to adopt a child after reading about her own personal experience, she would support their decision.
While Vardalos, who herself is of Greek descent, embraces her decision to adopt, and encourages people to do the same if they feel desired to, she added that it’s not necessarily the right decision for everyone. “The first film was labeled as the poster child for getting married and making babies, but that may not necessarily be the life for everyone.” She emphasized that there are other avenues in which people can help society, like “going to Africa and helping to save the giraffes.”
Kampouris, who is also Greek in real life, also chimed in on the experience of relating to the parent-daughter relationship in her nationality’s culture, particularly while filming ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.’ “I’m half-Greek, as my father’s side of the family is Greek. My mom’s side is French-American. So growing up in a Greek family, you know what it’s like growing up with family members who are very loud, and only speak in one volume. We also talk with our hands and feet. Since I’m so used to that lifestyle, playing Paris felt very natural,” the up-and-coming actress revealed.
The young performer also noted that she thinks her character feels the same way her mother felt in the first film. “She has to deal with overwhelming family members. But she doesn’t want to disappoint them, because they care about her, and only want what’s best for her,” Kampouris explained. “But Paris is also trying to figure out what she wants to do. So she’s conflicted, but is learning to embrace the Greek side in her.”
Everything in the film mirrors my family to a T,” Kampouris added. “Ever since I was little, my father has instilled in me that I need to marry a Greek boy and have about 20 kids…So I have my expectations in place!” The actress added that “Nia has really captured what the Greeks are like, and added humor to it.” But the actress added that she doesn’t think that audiences need to be Greek in order to relate to the sequel’s story and characters.
While Kampouris emphasized that she loves her Greek family, she has also rebelled against her relatives at times. “My Greek father is super dramatic, and always in my business. But he means well and loves me. But he can be overwhelming with me, so I’ve often fought with him.” The performer added that when that happens, she’ll seek comfort from her mom, who she described as being “calming. She understands what I’m going through, because she was once an outsider who was coming into this Greek family that my father has….I’ve definitely learned how to embrace my Greek roots, and I’m so proud to be Greek.”
In the movie, Paris similarly goes to her father in their school’s library to talk about her issues, because he was also once “an outsider who was coming into this crazy family. He didn’t really know how he fit in,” Kampouris noted.
The actress added that it’s “heartwarming for me to be a part of this movie. I still can’t believe that I’m a part of it. It’s surreal for me, because I have a Greek family. I’m glad I get to make them proud.”
Besides Kampouris noting her admiration for Vardalos, the scribe also discussed her fondness for Jones and his work, and the satisfaction she received when she finally was able to meet him four years ago. “I was a huge fan of Kirk’s movies,” the lead actress divulged. “So I approached Kirk at a party and said, ‘Hello, I’m Nia Vardalos,’ and (Jones) said, ‘Are you?,'” which received laughs from the crowd. “I said, ‘I’m going to work with you one day,’ in the creepiest way possible. I was way too close to you,” the performer said as she turned to her director. But as soon as the film was ready to move forward, the actress told the producers that she had someone in mind who she wanted to helm the sequel. “I said I wanted to work with Kirk Jones, and you said yes,” she added.
After Jones traveled from England to meet with Vardalos about the possibility of him directing ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,’ the decision to hire him was immediately made. “When Kirk came into the meeting, he talked about his family. He didn’t talk about his body of work or anything like that…and that was good! At Playtone, we’re affectionate and sentimental with each other,” the writer explained. “So we felt like Kirk was the perfect addition to the ‘Big Fat Greek’ family.”
Corbett then pondered the process of recreating the magic that made ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ so successful when it was initially released in 2002 in the new follow-up. “To come back and try to recreate that magic wasn’t something that was in my hands at all; it was mostly in (Vardalos’) hands as she put pencil to paper. It was also in (Jones’) hands as he tried to make it all happen,” the actor explained. “But having seen the second movie myself, that magic somehow happened twice.”
Martin also explored the process of maintaining the natural connection between the cast that they first developed on the initial film, while also updating the story to appeal to today’s audience. The Tony Award-winning actress noted that she thinks that Vardalos wrote a really funny script that once again captured the actors’ chemistry.
While the cast from the original film reveled in reuniting in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,’ Kampouris was a newcomer to the follow-up’s cast. The young actress admitted that she was “super nervous going into it. It was very daunting and intimidating for me.”
Following up on the casting process for the sequel, Kampouris described it as being very interesting. “When I got the audition, it went to my mom’s email,” the performer noted. “When I saw it, it was a jaw-dropping moment. I thought, they’re making a sequel after all these years? It was the last thing that I was expecting.”
The actress admitted that she didn’t feel like her chances of being cast as Paris in the series’ second installment were that high. She described herself as not looking like the typical Greek young woman, as she has light hair and eyes. Kampouris added that when she first read the email about auditioning for the comedy, she thought, “If I didn’t get the role, which is likely, and if I ever see the movie, it’s going to taint the way that I see it. I would think, that could have been me!”
Kampouris also noted that since she felt a lot of pressure going into the audition, so she didn’t initially want to tell her father about it. “He’s the Greek father who’s very proud. He played the first movie over and over as he raised me,” the performer divulged. “He’d say, ‘This is the finest film in all of filmmaking history! You should be in this movie-it would be perfect for you!'”
The performer added that she told her mom not to tell her father about her potential audition for the sequel. “But of course, as a Greek, he found out about it. He said, ‘Call them, and tell them that you’ll do the movie!’ I told him, ‘It doesn’t work like that-there’s a process.'”
Kampouris continued by noting, “He then said, ‘But you’re Greek! Tell them that you’re Greek, and they’ll let you do the movie.’ I told him again that there’s a process, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have the privilege, after five or six callbacks, to audition for Nia in person. But he didn’t understand that.”
The actress then explained that after putting a preliminarily audition on tape, she “went in for a chemistry read with Alex Wolff…After that chemistry read, we were flown into Toronto for the day. We went in to meet Nia, Kirk and all of the producers,” Kampouris said. She also revealed that it helped that she and Wolff were able to get to know each during the plane ride to Canada.
After the two young actors read together for Vardalos and the filmmakers, “we were asked to leave the room and wait in the waiting room. They called us back in, and Nia sat in the middle. She said, ‘Okay guys, we’re going to do some improv together,’ and I thought, I hope this is a good sign. Just as we were about to get started, she said, ‘I’m just kidding; you guys got the roles.'”
Kampouris than admitted that she started crying when she heard the news, but she tried to remain composed, as she’s “in awe of Nia; she’s such a presence. We then had the best plane ride home together, and Alex and I were celebrating. That experience was very magical.”
Despite her excitement over being cast as Paris, the performer added that “In the first movie, (the cast was) so close-knit, and you can feel their chemistry. So I thought, what if they don’t accept me? It would be pretty awkward if they don’t take me in. But during the first day on set, they took me in like a member of the family with open arms…Shooting with them was incredible…especially to see them breathe life into these characters again.” Kampouris also revealed that “it was hard to keep a straight face while shooting my scenes with them. We were always cracking jokes on the set.”
Also exploring the process of keeping the follow-up emotionally connected to its predecessor, Fatone said that I think keeping the magic was in large part due to Nia being the writer. She learned from her own experiences, including her having a child now.” The actor added that Vardalos wouldn’t have been able to write the story that’s featured in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ before she adopted her daughter. “Now that everything has settled in 14 years later, it’s definitely been a treat to see how things have happened,” he also stated.
The comedy’s director also chimed in on sustaining the charm from the original movie, revealing that people continuously ask him if he also tried to put his own mark on ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.’ “I always say no, because that’s the last thing that I wanted to do. It worked so well before, and was perfect on every level, that I felt a responsibility to come in and do whatever I could to try to recreate” the magic from the original film.
“There was no way I was going to go into this project and say, ‘Okay guys, I’m in control.'” So it was a unique project for me. Instead of saying, ‘This is how I’m going to do it,’ I had a different role,” Jones explained. “I had to guide everyone to a place where they were, both emotionally and comically, 15 years ago. In all honestly, that was not difficult; the script and performances were absolutely wonderful.”
Also discussing the lasting effect the original comedy has had on audiences for the past decade-and-a-half, Vardalos revealed that “We have had the benefit of receiving letters from people all these years, and they have told us all about their lives. What I went through in my quest to become a mom doesn’t compare in any way. But in the quiet time I took to reflect on it, it made me a better person.”
Martin also chimed on the enduring influence ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ has had on viewers. “For all of us, I think the (first) movie has been kept very alive over the past 14 years, because it was so successful, and people have a great love for it,” Martin noted while discussing the legacy of the first movie.
“Over the years, people have come up to me and said, ‘What do you mean he don’t eat no meat?’ I (was recently) performing in a play (‘Noises Off’) at the Roundabout.” The actress elicited laughs when she then said, “So I’ll finish this two-and-a-half-hour play, and people will say, ‘What do you mean you don’t eat no meat?’ It’s like, haven’t I done anything else in my life?!?”
While the original film garnered several ever-lasting and memorable quotes, Martin noted that the cast largely followed the script that Vardalos penned for the sequel. “I may have done some comedic flourishes in my interpretation. During the first movie, we didn’t improvise at all…But you don’t need to improvise with her script,” the actress explained.
While neither Martin or Fatone are Greek, the two chimed in on what they came to appreciate about the culture that Vardalos incorporated into the script while shooting the film series. “The humor’s always there,” the actor explained about bringing the Greek comedy into his own life. “I think everyone can relate to the family through their kind of humor. There’s always that member of an older generation who says, ‘Well, back in my day…’ For Michael’s character (of Gus), he’s always saying, ‘Give me any word, and I can trace it back to how it’s rooted in Greek.'”
Fatone added that every family has a member who’s similar to Martin’s character, as they’re strong “and always giving their two cents. As they get older, they have no filter whatsoever. Like my dad has no filter anymore, and I’ll say, ‘Dad, you can’t really say that. It’s not a good idea.’ But with Nia’s writing and Andrea’s performance, her character (of Aunt Voula) is great,” the actor praised of his co-stars.
Martin then revealed that she “wishes I can be as confident as Aunt Voula in my real life. It would be great to go through life, not caring about what anybody thought of you. I love that quality in her. She does go through life with great affection and love for everybody around her, but I don’t mean that she’s self-consuming. But I like that she’s an authoritative figure.”
Kampouris also spoke about the importance of featuring strong female characters in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.’ “What I love that Nia did with this movie was make these characters so strong.” The young actress added that “A lot of people have asked me if we’re going to make a third film, and if Paris is going to get married. I don’t think that would be the case.”
The adolescent character’s arc isn’t about seeking a potential husband. “When you’re a teen girl, you’re expected to get married when you reach a certain age. But you don’t have to; you can do what you feel is right for you…I like that Nia makes that point,” Kampouris admitted. “I aspire to inspire creativity and empowerment, and not just in women, but in everybody; I think we should all feel equal. I think Nia really infused that into the movie, especially with the Paris character, and I love that.”
“We weren’t afraid to show what a real marriage can be like. We also weren’t afraid to show that this family has aged, and that’s okay,” the writer added. “Families go through things, and Kirk wasn’t afraid to show that. He also created a very safe environment on set.” The director would suggest the actors try things in different ways while they were filming. “Since the cast was so comfortable in their characters, they would try things different ways,” Vardalos also noted.
While the family has progressed between the two comedies, Martin emphasized that Aunt Voula, as well as all of the other female characters in the series, are still strong. While the actress said she’s not entirely like her character in the films, she based Toula’s aunt on one of her own great aunts. “I’m Armenian, and in the Armenian community, she was the one person who was always the fixer. She always carried herself with great confidence,” the actress divulged. “She prided herself on assimilating into the American culture. So I really thought about her when I created the character.”
Corbett also chimed in on the process of continuing to showcase the real experiences and connections that people go through with their families in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.’ “This is a feel-good movie…it’s more of the same” type of story that’s built upon from its predecessor. “That’s what people are going to expect as they walk into the theater. I believe that they don’t want something truly different.”
While Toula is presented as being strong again in the sequel, she is struggling to maintain the spark in her marriage to Ian while also caring for their teenage daughter and extended family. Vardalos admitted that she feels finding a “balance is a quest…The only way to know if you’re off balance is to lose it a little. So I’m actually happy for those dark places in my life, because I can then appreciate the light moments so much more.”
Jones added that he thinks “it’s increasingly difficult to find a balance in life. You would think that if we’re so smart and advanced in our evolution, then we’d only be working three days a week, and we should be spending real quality time, during those other four days a week, with our families, and also improving ourselves.” The director added that society’s ever-increasing dependency on technology will “create a backlash. I think in about 10 years, young people will think, we just need to get out and live our lives. But it’s really difficult to keep that balance.”
While the cast and crew noted that social media media has weakened relationships in some ways in recent years, Martin expressed her appreciation that the writer allowed all of the characters to embrace the ever-evolving technology that’s presented in the sequel. The actress noted that technology has become such an important necessity in today’s ever-evolving society. Martin specifically pointed to the scene in which Aunt Voula uses an iPad, but not all of her relatives really understanding how to use it and similar devices. “Although this isn’t directly explored in the movie, I think that Aunt Voula is the kind of person who prides herself on thinking that she can fit into any culture,” Martin revealed. She laughed as she added that in the sequel, her character is “the only Greek person who really understands what an iPad is.”
But Vardalos praised Corbett for deciding to stop using social media. “It breaks my heart to walk into a coffee store, and everyone’s got their heads down as they’re looking at a screen. I know I sound old school…but we’re missing out on so much,” the actress emphasized. “Not that I don’t love Twitter-I do! But I limit my time.”
Written by: Karen Benardello