Family & Companions
Actress-writer-producer-director Nia Vardalos' ticket to success was creating films inspired by her own Greek heritage, her lively extended family, and her appealing "everywoman" quality. As the screenwriter and star of the autobiographical comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (2002), Vardalos took the entertainment industry by storm when the film came virtually out of nowhere to become a top-grossing summer hit. Vardalos' sharp observational eye for such universal experiences as looking for love and dealing with relatives struck a note with audiences, in both "Greek Wedding" and the romantic comedy "My Life in Ruins" (2009). Vardalos also wrote and starred in the female buddy comedy "Connie and Carla" (2004), but her directorial debut "I Hate Valentine's Day" (2009) and sequel "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" (2016) proved that her strength for comedy lay not in slapstick and big premises but rather in her appealing perspective on love and the modern woman.
Born Sept. 24, 1962, Vardalos was raised in Winnipeg, Canada, in an eccentric family that proudly embraced its Greek heritage and encouraged her creative energy early on. She began her professional career on stage at the local theater and used her experience to earn a scholarship to Toronto's Ryerson University. In Toronto, she joined the famed Second City improvisational comedy theater troupe, well known as a training ground for a host of major U.S. and Canadian comedy stars. She made her mark at the theater and moved to the Chicago arm of Second City, where her tireless performing ultimately led her to win Chicago's Jeff Award for Best Actress. While in the Windy City, she also met and fell in love with Second City performer Ian Gomez. The two were married, and in 1993, moved to Los Angeles to further their careers.
In L.A., Vardalos worked hard to score TV guest spots, and finally landed steady work in 1997 with a regular voice role as a chatty Mustang on the spin-off series "Team Knight Rider" (syndicated, 1997-98). Despite a decent-sized supporting role in the light romantic comedy "Meet Prince Charming" (1999) and larger sitcom guest roles - including a memorable turn as an interior decorator on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO, 2000- ) - Vardalos still had not found a role that offered a real representation of her talent. She decided to create her own, and penned a one-woman stage show that drew upon her colorful relatives, the traditions of her powerfully ingrained heritage, and the hysteria that surrounded her nuptials to the non-Greek Gomez. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" both affectionately skewered and celebrated her oddball upbringing, and after some time spent developing the show at the HBO Workspace, Vardalos made her debut - playing ten characters - in various L.A. theaters.
The play earned modest buzz in Los Angeles, and its sole piece of newspaper advertising happened to catch the eye of another woman who grew up in a traditional Greek family and married an outsider - actress Rita Wilson. Wilson and husband Tom Hanks were duly charmed by the show and Hanks optioned her screenplay for his production company. Meanwhile Vardalos' play was nominated for an Ovation Award for Best New Play in Los Angeles and also ran in Toronto and Montreal. The subsequent film adaptation of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (2002) was made for under $5 million and released with few expectations and little publicity to back it. But in one of those rare Hollywood instances, positive word-of-mouth was enough to get people to the theaters, and in a summer of blockbusters including "Spider-Man," audiences were lining up to see an unknown actress relate themes of love, family, and cultural differences. With a box office take upwards of $350 million, it was the highest-grossing independent feature ever released up to that time.
Although Vardalos had been auditioning for commercials just prior to her film's release, the following spring she found herself on the red carpet, nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, and an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. She went on to ink a deal with CBS to co-executive produce a sitcom version of the movie, "My Big Fat Greek Life" (CBS, 2003), in which she stayed on as the star (though renamed "Nia") and was joined by most of her co-stars except John Corbett, who had a prior series commitment. The series ostensibly picked up where the film left off, following the newlyweds on with their lives (albeit with a few plot changes), but whether viewers were burnt out on the Greek-mania of the movie or whether the series failed to capture the charm the film, it was cancelled after only seven episodes.
Undaunted, Vardalos continued to develop script ideas, and in 2004, returned to theaters as screenwriter, producer and co-star of "Connie and Carla" (2004), a campy tale of cabaret performing best friends on the run after witnessing a mob hit. High-energy stars Vardalos and Toni Collette were likable enough, but premise-heavy slapstick proved not to be Vardalos' strongest outlet and the film came and went with little fanfare. After appearing in a recurring guest role on the sitcom "My Boys" (2008), Vardalos penned the romantic comedy "My Life in Ruins" (2009), in which she was charming in the lead role of an American tour bus guide in Greece. Her return to a more relatable Everywoman character proved a smart choice, and Vardalos continued in that direction for her directorial debut, the romantic comedy "I Hate Valentine's Day" (2008). Vardalos again paired with her former screen love John Corbett for the limited release indie, much to the delight of diehard "Greek Wedding" fans.
Following supporting roles in the comedy "For A Good Time Call..." (2012), Jeff Garlin's "Dealin' With Idiots" (2013), and car salesman farce "Car Dogs" (2016), Vardalos returned with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" (2016), which underperformed both critically and commercially. During this period, Vardalos and Gomez co-hosted two seasons of reality competition "The Great American Baking Show" (ABC 2015- ). The couple announced their divorce in July 2018.
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Took a job in the box office of Toronto's Second City theater; joined the troupe when she replaced an actress who fell ill 15 minutes before curtain
Became a member of Chicago's Second City troupe
Appeared in first film, "No Experience Necessary"
Voiced Domino, a Ford Mustang, in the short-lived NBC series "Team Knight Rider"
Co-starred as Jessica in the independent comedy "Meet Prince Charming"
Wrote and performed the one-woman stage play, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"; based on her friends' recollection of humorous stories about her family and centered around her account of her wedding
Adapted her play into the hit film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"; also starred; received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress and an Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay
Stared again as Nia Portokalos in the short-lived CBS series, "My Big Fat Greek Life"
Wrote screenplay and co-starred with Toni Collette in "Connie and Carla," as two women posing as drag queens on the run from the mob
Starred in the comedy, "My Life in Ruins" did uncredited rewrite work
Feature directorial debut, "I Hate Valentine's Day"; also wrote and co-starred, again re-teamed with John Corbett
With Tom Hanks, co-wrote "Larry Crowne"; Hanks also directed and co-starred
Played Annie Spiro on "Graves"
Wrote and starred in the sequel "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2"
Lent her voice to an episode of the "DuckTales" reboot