Here’s how much of an optimist Nia Vardalos is: When the actor, screenwriter and producer finally sat down to write the script for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, she included everyone from the first movie without doing what the film industry calls “asking them first.”
“I wrote as if the whole cast was coming back without really knowing if they would,” she says with a laugh. Luckily, when she called them to ask, all gave an enthusiastic: “In!”
The left field 2002 smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding was almost like a home movie masquerading as a Hollywood one; Vardalos drew on her family for inspiration, and (because at that point, why not?) she put them in the movie. Her parents have appeared in every film she’s made, as have most of her 27 cousins.
“When I see a group scene on the schedule, I send out a mass email to the 27 cousins and their kids, and they show up,” she says. “The entire day we filmed the church scene [from the new movie], I didn’t check my phone because everyone in the world I knew was there.”
She relies on family off camera, too: Her mom is one of her script editors.
Vardalos wasn’t always planning a sequel. She had been focusing on writing Instant Mom, a New York Times best-seller published in April 2013 that chronicles the adoption of her daughter and has become a go-to book for the adoption community. She also wrote about what it feels like to care for both young and old members of her family.
“Not only am I a middle child, but I’m this middle generation who cares for my mom and daughter. That’s what the movie’s about.”
Related: 8 Traits of Healthy Relationships
This article appears in the March 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.