THERE ARE two women in Hollywood — where women don’t count for much in the scheme of movie-making — whom I admire greatly. These self-made producing, writing, directing beauties have taken the bull by the horns to make films on their own terms.
They are Jennifer Westfeldt who created a movie role for herself in the underground hit, “Kissing Jessica Stein,” and Nia Vardalos who cashed in after she did everything but carry gaffer tape in her self-created Oscar-nominated (for original screenplay) smash “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” (If Hollywood won’t give you a tumble, maybe if you write your own material, you can break the glass ceiling. It has happened over and over. Look at Sly Stallone and “Rocky.”)
The other day I had a chance to visit with Nia in person as she is all over the place pushing her second Greek girl pic, “My Life in Ruins.” (The Wow site’s Kristin Fritz has already done an in- depth interview with Nia, which I urge you to discover and read for yourself. But I have one or two things to add.)
Nia, who is beautiful in the flesh, was laughing when we sat down about a big display in People mag where she told them frankly about the perils of women trying to get ahead in La La Land, about her struggle to adopt a baby girl, and all about her latest effort to cash in on her Greek heritage. “But they chose to show me as “40 lbs. Lighter” and all they were interested in was ‘How I Took It Off.”
MS. VARDALOS wants us to rush to her latest movie comedy about a Greek tour guide who falls for a man she can’t see for dirt at first. She was urging me to urge you to hit the theaters last weekend to give her latest some chance of a life. Says Nia, “Fox Searchlight” has been very good to me but I feel I need to push on top of that because this is movie for women and women need to support such. It’s a kind of date movie, but not a chick flick. I just feel women don’t know or realize their power. We were the first ever given the right to film at the Acropolis in Athens. And producer Rita Wilson and I were both made honorary cultural ambassadors so if you get a parking ticket in Athens, call us!”
I wanted to talk to Nia about my pet favorite movie of hers — “Connie and Carla” — an effort in 2004 where she and Toni Collette hide out from gangsters in a drag queen community. David Duchovny was the hetero love interest. Nia agreed with me that this offbeat comedy was vast fun, but didn’t really make it commercially. “As usual, nobody made any money and we cast all our friends in it.” (Dear Reader: If you want to laugh, rent “Connie and Carla.” It’s just a delightful blip in the Nia Vardalos canon.)
“There’s a wave of sarcasm and dirty humor and mean-spirited female jokes in a lot of comedies,” Nia said. “And the opposite of that is the message I’m trying to send. You don’t have to be mean to create comedy. You don’t have to be dirty.”
THEN WE got off on Nia’s adopted four-year-old daughter who she has had for a year. “She is the triumph of my life!” says Nia who urges others to check out American Foster Adopt and find one of the so-called “unadoptables” who are no longer infants.
“She has changed me. She teaches me to be brave.
The other day we got on an airplane and as we took off, with me in my usual hysteria, she turned to me triumphantly and said, ‘We’re flying!’ I appreciate new things from her every day. I realize now that my futile efforts to have a baby were all because I was supposed to be ‘her’ mother!”
Sitting with Nia, I was struck by her ethnic beauty. She could play Greek, Italian, Jewish, Middle Eastern or, she laughs, “Just plain old Canadian!” She raved about her close family ties — parents and siblings have all been behind her, as well as her good friends Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks. Nia says she became a professional writer in order to create roles for herself and her pals in film.
She has another film titled “I Hate Valentine’s Day” coming soon. (With John Corbett from “Big Fat Greek…”) This one, Nia directed. But she and her actor husband, Ian Gomez may buy a place in New York, because — Nia’s next move? She wants to work on the Broadway or Off Broadway stage.
Meantime, go see “My Life in Ruins.”