- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

LOS ANGELES In a summer of huge movies that last just a few weeks in theaters and are lucky to break even, one little film won't quit.
The celebration has lasted all summer for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," a microbudgeted romantic comedy with great word-of-mouth that has climbed steadily from 20th place on the box-office chart to No. 8 last weekend.
The film, about a woman who defies the traditions of her loud Greek family by marrying a man who isn't Greek, cost only about $5 million to produce. It has collected nearly $45 million since its April debut, and the end of the honeymoon is nowhere in sight.
"I feel like I connected with absolute strangers across America. That's what I love more than anything," says Nia Vardalos, the star and writer, who adapted the film from her one-woman stage show.
"The money is like, 'Yeah, yeah.' That works in the Hollywood system," she adds, "but this is the greatest feeling in the world: when women are coming up and saying, 'I'm you.'"
Miss Vardalos, 39, says she thought the film would cover its cost and maybe turn a small profit. "I thought I could just die happy that I made a Greek-American movie and I actually got to star in it and that's it," she says.
"Men in Black II" and "Minority Report" have earned three times as much as Miss Vardalos' film, but they also cost about 20 times more to produce. Once marketing costs are factored in, those movies will likely show a profit only on home video.
By comparison, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," playing in just 723 theaters, continues to add screens and draw packed houses. Brian Fuson, box-office analyst for the Hollywood Reporter, says it could hold a spot in the top 10 for several more weeks.
"It was a slow roll-out, a few more theaters each week, building its way up," Mr. Fuson says. "It's basically what every small independent film hopes will happen."
The project developed after actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, who is Greek-American, saw Miss Vardalos' Los Angeles stage play in 1998. They liked it so much that Mr. Hanks bought the rights through his production company, Playtone Co., and agreed to let Miss Vardalos adapt the story and take the starring role.
Other producers had shown interest in the story, but most wanted to change the family's ethnicity to Hispanic or Italian, saying Greeks wouldn't resonate with mainstream audiences, Miss Vardalos says.
"They came to me and said, 'We saw your play,' and it's almost like the subtext was, 'and now we're gonna wreck it,'" Miss Vardalos says. "They said, 'Greek, Italian it's the same, isn't it?'"
The difference may just be the details baklava vs. cannoli but Miss Vardalos wanted to express pride in her heritage while poking fun at universal idiosyncrasies: prying parents, overprotective brothers, oddball aunts and uncles, and the ritualistic force-feeding found at big family gatherings.

Raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Miss Vardalos started her career studying musical theater and worked in the box office of the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. When one of the actors missed a performance one night, she filled in because she knew all the lines.
The next day, the group hired her as a performer, and the rest played out like a Hollywood movie: Among the Second City performers was her future husband, Ian Gomez, who appears in the movie as her fiance's best friend.
Her own traditional Greek wedding full of boisterous relatives, oodles of food and the grudging fusion of cultures inspired her stage act.
She is considering a sequel set in Greece, perhaps something along the lines of "My Big Fat Greek Honeymoon," and has received numerous other acting offers.
Miss Vardalos is reluctant to specify future plans or take a guess at her movie's final box-office take. She doesn't want to jinx anything.
"I'm a Greek tragedian, so we're scared of stuff like that," she says.

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