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My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Nia Vardalos just shared a powerful lesson about rejection on the film’s 20th birthday

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Christobel Hastings
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My Big Fat Greek Wedding

The hit romcom My Big Fat Greek Wedding has just turned 20 – and in honour of the anniversary, creator and writer Nia Vardalos shared a powerful takeaway about the obstacles she overcame while making the film.

You might not remember where you were and what you were doing 20 years ago, but in the spring of 2002, practically everyone was shouting “Opa!” as My Big Fat Greek Wedding hit the big screen. 

Based on the writer and actor Nia Vardalos’s own story of life growing up in a large, overbearing, tight-knit immigrant Greek family, the movie won the hearts of cinema-goers all around the world. 

Despite not having a single Hollywood star in the cast or the backing of a major studio, My Big Fat Greek Wedding went on to become one of the highest-grossing romcoms of all time. Yet the ascent of the indie flick to pop culture phenomenon is even more extraordinary given that the film nearly didn’t get made at all. 

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Sharing a thread on Twitter in honour of the film’s 20th anniversary, Vardalos revealed that her first attempt to bring the story to Hollywood failed in the face of criticism from her management.

“When agents/managers said my script wasn’t good and actors shouldn’t write, I recall wondering why they were angry,” she recalled. “They fired me.”

Thankfully, Vardalos wasn’t deterred. Instead, she “changed the material into a solo stage show” so she could tell the story on her own terms. It was then that Vardalos’s luck took an upwards turn when director Rita Wilson watched the play.

“@RitaWilson saw the play and said, ‘This should be a movie,’” she continued. “I handed her my screenplay, this creator and producer got the film made with me as the lead. We premiered in 106 theatres, expanded to more, ran for over a year.”

The success of the film, Vardalos continued, inevitably attracted a new wave of negativity. Speaking about the reactions, she noted that while “people full of love loved it,” other comments were “snide” and “hateful”.

Nevertheless, audiences and critics fell for the dramas of the boisterous, loveable Portokalos family, and the film racked up the accolades.

“I was nominated for everything, went on to write and act in films that make people happy, employed hundreds of people, wrote and performed a New York Times Critics Pick play which has been licensed hundreds of times, wrote a bestselling book whose proceeds get children adopted,” she continued.

Vardalos, who received an Oscar nomination for best screenplay and a Golden Globe nomination for best actress for the film, also shared the life lessons she learned while navigating the initial rejection.

“Some people who don’t create anything, including jobs to make situations better, will tell you that what you do is wrong,” she noted. 

“You can’t make anyone embrace change, marginalized voices or new ideas. So love yourself. And write your story.”

Now that My Big Fat Greek Wedding has smash-hit status and legions of beloved fans all around the world, it’s hard to imagine the romcom genre without Vardalos’s unique story. Thanks to her persistence and self-belief, we were given an ever-inspiring narrative that showed you don’t have to fit in to stand out and a film that would actually break the mould of what a romcom should be. 

Twenty years later, Vardalos has once again showed that it’s possible to pave the life you want to lead without sacrificing the core of who you are. As it turns out, making room for your authentic self might just create a world that’s real and relatable for others, too.

Image: IFC Films