Windex has never been the same.
Since My Big Fat Greek Wedding first hit theaters in 2002, it’s been next to impossible to pick up the blue-bottled cleaner without thinking of the monstrously successful rom-com and its most lasting running joke: “Put some Windex on it,” the remedy for everything from a streaky window to a zit or bum knee.
And if you can’t help but associate Windex with the film, try being its star and writer, Nia Vardalos, who wrote the joke over a decade ago because of her own father’s obsession with it.
“The worst was when my gynecologist came in and was carrying a bottle of Windex and was like, ‘Hey, this will fix everything!’” Vardalos tells me. “That’s when I was like, ‘OK, that’s it. You have crossed the line.’”
Vardalos—perched on a sofa, sipping tea, and laughing so infectiously I may now have an actual ab—is joking, of course. Her mandate, and one of the prime reasons My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a breakout success, has been to expel that line.
Everyone is family. Everyone is Greek. And when you’re Greek and you’re family, there is no line.
The magic of My Big Fat Greek Wedding—the story of a boundary-less Greek family’s helicoptering over unassuming Toula (Vardalos) as she finds love and attempts to create her own identity—was that, no matter what your ethnicity, you saw your own family on the screen, traumatizing Toula with their all-too-familiar overreaching love.
It’s why, after seeing Vardalos’s one-woman play about her family and her experience marrying a non-Greek man (actor Ian Gomez, of Cougar Town fame), Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks shepherded it to the big screen and insisted that Vardalos, then an unknown Second City alum, remain its star.
It’s why the film earned a colossal $241 million domestically, a word-of-mouth sleeper hit that, at the time, earned it the status of the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time.
And it’s why, 14 years later, its lasting popularity helped greenlight a sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, out this Friday and again with Vardalos as its writer and star.
When you’re talking with Vardalos, there is no line, either. Fertility, adoption, industry sexism, and the pressure of mounting a sequel: it’s all on the table. After all, you’re family.
There are, blessedly, a few carefully placed Windex jokes in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.
“It’s all a little tip of the hat so if you’ve seen the first one, there’s some little private jokes for you: the bundt cakes, the Windex,” Vardalos says. “But they’re not necessary, because there will be some people who didn’t see the first one. My own daughter wasn’t born during it.”
If you want to understand why Vardalos, after all this time, is making another Big Fat Greek Wedding film, you need to know about her daughter.
In the years since the first My Big Fat Greek Wedding turned Vardalos into an overnight, Oscar-nominated Hollywood It Girl, Vardalos sporadically wrote herself more slapstick showcases.
Some, like 2004’s Connie and Carla, in which she and Toni Collette played women posing as drag queens in order to sing at a gay cabaret, became camp classics. Others, like 2009’s double-header of I Hate Valentine’s Day and My Life in Ruins, were commercial disappointments.
She wrote 2011’s Larry Crowne for Tom Hanks to star in, but the brunt of her life focus in that decade was on her exhausting and, at times, viscerally upsetting efforts to have a biological child.
After 13 in vitro fertilization treatments and several failed adoption attempts, she and Gomez were told they had finally matched in the California foster care system with a 3-year-old girl. With 14 hours’ notice, they were going to have a daughter, an experience she wrote about in the New York Times best-seller Instant Mom.
“I’m grateful now that I didn’t have a biological child,” Vardalos says. “Every disappointment I went through fertility-wise led me to my real daughter.” It reflected in her writing of the sequel: “I think the timing was right for me to write it because I wasn’t afraid to go deeper, having gone through a few of life’s disappointments.”
Returning to the role that made her famous a decade and a half ago, she realizes, is leaving her vulnerable.
A press tour surely surfaces more than a few not-so-delicately-worded inquiries about “where” she’s been, or why her post-Wedding projects didn’t live up to her early success. There’s the pressure of penning a sequel, too, and the risk of tarnishing the legacy of a beloved post-millennium classic if the new film doesn’t live up to its standard.
Vardalos is aware of all of this. Which is why her zen is all the more jarring.
“This is going to be a heavy answer,” she warns, when I ask her how she feels facing so much pressure, so much vulnerability.
“When I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t have a biological child, there’s no greater disappointment in life,” she says. “But it became the greatest gift. So I learned to get rid of expectations.”
She takes a pause. “And I don’t think I quite realized it until this very moment.”
After a beat, she goes on. “It translated into my writing life, too. I did not worry about what I thought people wanted to see. I had an idea. I sat down and wrote it very quickly.”
Over a four-year period, she’d revisit the script. In the meantime, she went on a book tour to promote Instant Mom and discovered the euphoric release that came with being candid about her personal struggles. Katie Couric featured the book on her show, and it became a best-seller.
“It was such a moment of, ‘Don’t be afraid,’” she says. That’s when she started using the phrase “Fearless Idiot” to describe herself. “Because that’s what works for me,” she says. “I just don’t worry.”
She explains, “When Tom Hanks came to the one-woman show, I walked out and did the show. I’m not saying I wasn’t like, ‘Oh my god, Tom Hanks is at my show!’ But I put it aside and went on.”
It was the same when she adopted Ilaria. “There were so many people saying, ‘Adopting from American foster care? Are you nuts?’ But it turned out being so great that I wrote the book for it.” And full circle: “That’s what happened with the sequel, too.”
I ask her if she thinks of it as fearlessness. She likens it more to weightlessness, a freedom from the burden of worrying what people are going to think of her.
“Sure, I have natural concerns like normal people, or I would be walking outside in a G-string and lipstick,” she says, barely getting it out before she starts cackling. “Pause for that visual.”
A G-string and lipstick would, certainly, be a far cry from the ball gown the media had written for her to wear 14 years ago when they cast Vardalos in their favorite narrative: the Hollywood Cinderella story.
From performing her one-woman show in Greek church basements to, over $200 million later, walking the red carpet at the Oscars, gracing magazine covers, and even meeting the Queen.
We are keen to cast new talent in the Cinderella story. But rarely do we ask them what it’s like to be part of the ride, or even what it’s like when the ball ends.
“This is a little bit name-droppy,” Vardalos chuckles, before telling me about a letter she received from her friend Sean Hayes after My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out.
“He talked about not just the film and what it meant to him, but he wondered what it felt like to be me,” she says. “Isn’t that an amazingly beautiful thing for a friend to ask? I was taken aback, because it had never occurred to me to try to look at it from the outside.”
A keen eye from the outside is more than evident when you watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and the characters she has created for not just herself, but for Lainie Kazan, who plays her mother in the film, and for Andrea Martin, whose role as Aunt Voula is beefed up from the original.
She calls the roles she’s seen available for women, particularly as they get older, “maddening.”
She tells me what she calls a “dirty secret”: If she writes a script, she can only get financing based on the male character. Knowing the Greek Wedding brand was enough to get this screenplay greenlit, she decided to lead by example and pen a script with equal gender roles and showcases worthy of the talents of Kazan, Martin, and herself.
“I’m not going to whine about it,” she says. “I’m just going to keep writing.”
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, it’s no accident, marks the funniest, most natural, and most affecting Vardalos has been in a role since, well, she first played Toula 14 years ago.
There’s always a danger that when an actor revisits a role that made them famous, they risk becoming defined by it. Vardalos is aware of that when it comes to Toula, a character that, at this very moment, provides the bookends to her entire Hollywood career. And honestly, she doesn’t really care.
“If I find myself too defined by this role, I’ll write myself something else,” she says. “I think again the fearless idiot part of me will keep me going,” she says. “In a year, let’s talk. If I’m not getting offers because I’m the Greek girl, we’ll talk about what I’ll write next.”
No word yet on how heavily it might involve Windex.