Actress Nia Vardalos stole our hearts in the sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and her good friend Tom Hanks co-wrote Larry Crowne which is set to hit the big screen this weekend.
Nia opens up to Celebrity Baby Scoop about her adoption journey while shattering myths about the American foster care system. The proud mom-of-one, who has been married to Cougar Town star Ian Gomez for 18 years, also talks about their daughter, mommy guilt, and the unexpected success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “It was like skiing down a mountain without poles.”
CBS: Congratulations on the premiere of Larry Crowne this Friday! How fabulous to work with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts!
NV: “It’s been so great! Tom asked a few years ago, ‘Do you want to write a movie with me?’ And of course my jaw hit the floor and I said, ‘Yes please, yes sir!’ And we always hoped we’d get Julia Roberts. Then one day he called and said, ‘OK, Julia is in and I’m going to direct it,’ and I was like, ‘What is happening?!’
So I got to go to set every day and watch. It was like film school to watch the entire process. I don’t even know how this happened to me! He also produced My Life in Ruins. So I’ve had a pretty awesome ride with him. I’m forever trying to find the camera to look into to ask, ‘Is this my life?'”
CBS: Can you tell us about adopting your daughter through the foster care system?
NV: “I became the national spokesperson for adoption because I didn’t know how easy it was to adopt children through the American foster care system. I am a big proponent for adoption from any country – every child deserves a home – but if you don’t have the financial means to adopt a child from another country or speak the language from another country then this process might be for you. It’s non-discriminatory – gay people, single people, older people can adopt – and it’s absolutely cost free. I didn’t know about it because they don’t have the money to advertise, so I stepped up and said, ‘OK, I’m going to use my big mouth to talk about it.’
I recommend that you google your foster family agency in your state. A list of free services will pop up. And these children are legally emancipated. What that means is sometimes people think a child can be placed in your home and then reunited with their parents. That is the fear of adopting from foster care. That’s not true. These children, 130,000 of them, are already legally emancipated. If you are looking to simply foster a child while their parents are trying to get it together, there are 350,000 of those children as well who are looking for a temporary home.
I really think this all happened to me for a reason. At the time, I had such career success but I was hiding this situation that I had been going through for ten years. And now I’m kind of grateful for it all because I’m in love with my daughter! She is my daughter in every way. We all found each other: my husband, our daughter, me, our dogs. We all adopted each other. This was supposed to happen this way.”
CBS: You adopted your daughter when she was 3. How old is she now?
NV: “She’s 6. And by the way, she’s just figured out what I do for a living. She figured it out on the last press tour. We were walking through the airport and everyday she sees the same situation of people telling me they loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is wonderful for her to see her mom getting sweetness from people.
At the airport on Sunday she turned to me and said, ‘Mom, do you have two movies?’ I think she realized what I do for a living in that moment. So I said, ‘Yes honey, I’ve been in a few movies and so has daddy.’ She was nodding, and then I said, ‘Do you know what I get to do now?’ and she said, ‘What?’ and I said, ‘I get to be the mom in the new American Girl movie.’ She threw her arms around me and screamed, ‘That’s my favorite!’ It was great and I wish I had filmed it because I’m so proud of what I do for a living, but I have the usual guilt of the working mom. After we adopted her, I didn’t want to leave her side. I wanted to watch her every expression until she was 21. And then I realized that I’m proud of what I do and it makes me a well-rounded person. Although it takes me away from her occasionally, I’ve found a way to bring her with me on most things. So I’m proud of it and I think it’s OK for her now. She’s accepted it and she’s OK with sharing me on those occasions when we’re out in public.”
CBS: Are you keeping your daughter’s name private?
NV: “Right now we’re trying as long as we can to keep it private. And we haven’t allowed her to be photographed. There was one photo that was taken by the paparazzi but we asked for it to be removed. We’re just trying to give her privacy. We feel she needs some anonymity to adjust to her new life.
And we honor her life before. We remind her of where she comes from. We say, ‘We can’t wait to meet the man who gave the seed and the woman who gave the egg that made you and we’re going to thank them for helping us be parents.’ We just explain it all because it’s best to have no secrets.”
CBS: Was the adoption process open as well?
NV: “It’s a very open system and on the final day of her adoption they handed us a very thick file with a lot of names and social security numbers. We immediately snapped it shut and handed it to our lawyer and asked him to seal it and keep it so there are no secrets in our home. When we’re all ready to ask the questions and I feel like she’s able to absorb the information, we’ll go together and we’ll find it out. This way when she asks me I can honestly say, ‘I don’t know.’ I asked our lawyer to look through it to see if there is anything that we should know, and he said, ‘No’ so he just keeps it sealed in his office.”
CBS: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in the foster care system, but might be worried the children – for a lack of better terms – might be “damaged?”
NV: “Yes, I say don’t blame yourself for the question. I too had that question because the media will of course seize upon the one in a million story of that child. And that’s not the case. I’ve met these children and they’re the reason why I’ve become a spokesperson and why we adopted from foster care.
I’ve met children who have aged out of the system and have gone on to live healthy and fantastic lives. They’ve gone off to university and become upstanding citizens. You probably know someone who was raised in the foster care system and they’re fine people. I also say that the Menedez brothers weren’t adopted.
There is no damage that has been done to a child that cannot be undone with love. So, I say don’t be ashamed of that fear and I also counsel people not to be afraid.”
CBS: Any plans for another adoption?
NV: “Our family unit works. We are open, but I have not been banging down the doors because I so wanted to be a parent and there is a peacefulness that came over me when I met our daughter. If there is somebody else who could be a first-time parent with a child being placed in their home I don’t want to take that from them. I have become very ‘zen’ about it all. If the phone rings, we would definitely accept that child into our lives, but I feel completely content being the parent of our daughter.”
CBS: Tell us about partnering up with GUM and challenging consumers to live healthier lives.
NV: “Yes, I’m challenging people to take the 28-day PerioBalance challenge and then Tweet me a picture of your healthy smile and I will re-Tweet it. I’m under the very secret name of @NiaVardalos.
I wanted to do something about my smile. We were headed to the red carpet for Larry Crowne and I thought, ‘Oh boy, when that Julia Roberts smiles the whole world lights up.’ So I asked my dentist about something that I could do. I found out about GUM PerioBalance which I love because it’s natural, it’s a probiotic, it’s not a chemical or a bleaching agent. It’s just a simple mint lozenge that you pop in your mouth after you brush and floss your teeth. And by the time you’ve made lunch for your kid, it’s gone! You have fresh breath and it removes 42 percent of the plaque from your teeth.
It’s amazing. It starts working on the first day. It’s the first-ever probiotic designed just for the mouth and I love it because I’m busy! You know when you walk through the mall and they say, ‘Hey, do you want a three-step process to cleansing your skin?’ And you say, ‘Noooo, I don’t have time to add three more steps to my life!’ But this is just so simple, it’s just a package that sits next to your toothbrush. I really like the product. It’s very easy to talk about and it doesn’t feel to me that I’m selling anything because it actually works.”
CBS: What’s up next for you? Will there ever be another Big Fat Greek Wedding?
NV: “I’m open to that concept as well. The idea hasn’t completely hit me. I just tweeted a picture about a month ago of a lunch that I had with Lainie Kazan, Gia Carides and Andrea Martin and we saw the reaction to us just having lunch together in the restaurant. People are so sweet! They were running up to us, hugging us, crying. We thought maybe we should [do a sequel] because it was so nice.
You think you write a little movie about one person and look what happened! It’s so wonderful to go through something like that with everyone. With Rita [Wilson] and Tom [Hanks] and John Corbet. We all became such good friends, even before the movie became such a big success. That’s what means the most to me. I’m so lucky to have the same friends since Kindergarten, and from Second City in Toronto. It’s the same thing that happened in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Something extraordinary happened to us and we all held hands through it all. It was like skiing down a mountain without poles. It was a lot of fun.
But up next for sure is the American Girl movie. And the best part is that I get to go home to Winnipeg to shoot it. My mom is so excited!”