12 interesting things you probably didn't know about the 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' movies

  • A third installment in the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" franchise was released on September 8, 2023.

  • Star and screenwriter Nia Vardalos struggled to get the first film made — until Tom Hanks came along.

  • John Corbett was cast without an audition and one hilarious scene was completely ad-libbed.

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is based on a real life story, and was a stage play before it was a movie.

Actor and screenwriter of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"  Nia Vardalos at Molyvos in New York City. November 1, 2002
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" star and screenwriter Nia Vardalos in 2002.Evan Agostini/ImageDirect/Getty Images

Five years before the first movie in the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" franchise made it to screens, lead actor and writer Nia Vardalos created a one-woman stage play about her life.

The play was based on Vardalos' own large, tight-knit Greek Orthodox family in Winnipeg, Canada, and her experience marrying her non-Greek husband, actor Ian Gomez.

Vardalos struggled to convince Hollywood producers to adapt her play into a film — until Tom Hanks came along.

Rita Wilson, Nia Vardalos and Tom Hanks in 2003.
Rita Wilson, Nia Vardalos, and Tom Hanks in 2003.Vince Bucci/Getty Images

The play was a success and attracted the attention of several major Hollywood players, who expressed interest in adapting the play into a feature-length movie.

Unfortunately, they also tried to convince Vardalos to make significant changes to the story to make it more marketable — such as changing the family's ethnicity, and replacing Vardalos in the lead role, according The Ringer.

It wasn't until actor Rita Wilson, who's married to Tom Hanks, checked out the play and recommended it to her husband that the film found its right backer: Hanks went to see it as well, and agreed to produce the movie with his production company, Playtone.

The first film is one of the top-grossing romantic films of the 21st century.

my big fat greek wedding
A still from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."IFC Films

The first "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" film was something of a sleeper hit. After a limited release in April 2002, it received a wider release worldwide in the summer and quickly became one of the buzziest movies of the year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

While it never hit the number one spot at the box office, per Box Office Mojo, it made over $368 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing rom-com — and one of the highest-grossing independent films — of all time.

In comparison, the sequel, which was released in 2016, didn't do as well. It earned only $90 million worldwide.

John Corbett was offered the role of Ian without an audition.

Nia Vardalos and John Corbett in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Nia Vardalos and John Corbett in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."Playtone

Corbett may seem perfectly cast as high school teacher Ian Miller, but it turns out that Vardalos and producer Gary Goetzman took a chance on him after he was unable to schedule an audition for the movie.

The actor was in Toronto, Canada filming another romantic comedy, "Serendipity," and by pure chance Vardalos and Goetzman found themselves in the same bar as the actor, where he was telling a friend that he had read the script for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and was upset that he was missing out on the opportunity to land the romantic lead role.

Corbett recalled to Hollywood Jesus: "They introduced themselves, and within ten minutes of meeting them, Gary said, 'Do you want to do it?' I said 'Are you offering me the role?' And they said 'Yes.' A week later I was filming the movie."

The unforgettable hair-grabbing scene was improvised.

John Corbett, Nia Vardalos, and Andrea Martin in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
John Corbett, Nia Vardalos, and Andrea Martin in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."Playtone

The scene where Toula's aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) grabs Ian's hair after introducing herself to him was actually ad-libbed.

According to People, Martin had forgotten her next line and was stalling until she remembered what it was she was supposed to say. Vardalos liked the slightly awkward moment so much she decided to keep it in the film.

On their first date, Toula and Ian sit below bowls of oranges and apples — the fruit each of their surnames comes from in Greek.

The first date between Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (2002).
The first date between Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (2002).Playtone

During Toula and Ian's first date, their table is below a shelf on which two glass jars sit — one containing apples and the other oranges, which sweetly foreshadows the fact that they end up together.

As audiences might recall, Toula explains in the film that her surname, Portokalos, comes from the Greek word for oranges.

Later, on Toula and Ian's wedding day, Toula's father, with his penchant for finding the Greek origin of any word, reveals that Ian's surname also has Greek roots. He says it comes from the Greek word "milo," which means apple.

"We're all different, but, in the end, we're all fruit," he happily concludes.

Vardalos' real husband — who inspired the character of Ian — appears in the first two films.

Ian Gomez in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Ian Gomez in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."Playtone

The actor, best known for his roles in "Felicity and "Cougar Town," played Mike, Ian's best friend.

He and Vardalous married in 1993 and it was announced in 2018 that Vardalos had filed for divorce from Gomez the previous year, citing "irreconcilable differences." The divorce was finalized in December 2018.

Like his on-screen alter ego, Gomez converted to Greek Orthodoxy upon marrying Vardalos.

The posters for the films don't actually make a lot of sense to Greek audiences.

The poster for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
The poster for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."Playtone

On the posters for all three installments in the franchise, the movie's title is styled in a font reminiscent of the Greek alphabet.

As a result, the two E's in the word "Greek" are made to look like the Greek letter Sigma, which actually denotes the letter S, rather than E. So to a Greek reader, the title reads: "My Big Fat Grssk Wedding."

Before the sequel was released in 2016, there was an attempt to follow up the story in a television sitcom.

Nia Vardalos (right) and Steven Eckholdt star as newlyweds Nia Portokalos and Thomas Miller in the CBS television comedy series "My Big Fat Greek Life."
Nia Vardalos and Steven Eckholdt in "My Big Fat Greek Life."CBS via Getty Images

The 2003 series, "My Big Fat Greek Life," featured many of the main actors from the film with the exception of Corbett, who was replaced by Steven Eckholdt due to scheduling conflicts.

The series picks up after the Greek-American lead character (again played by Vardalos but renamed Nia Portokalos for the show) and her non-Greek husband (played by Eckholdt and renamed Thomas Miller for the series) return from their honeymoon. However, it only lasted for seven episodes.

Toula's father's faith in Windex as a cure-all for all ailments was inspired by Vardalo's own father.

Michael Constantine
Michael Constantine's character was based on Vardalos' real father.Golden Circle Films/HBO

No one can forget that Kostas "Gus" Portokalos' (Michael Constantine) home remedy for "every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy" was to "put some Windex on it." Turns out, that was lifted directly from Vardalos' own life.

"In old-world Greek tradition, you don't use the proper medicine for a corresponding ailment," Vardalos told Entertainment Weekly in 2002. "My dad accidentally got Windex on a wart and it started to dry out, so he started using it for everything."

The household window cleaning product reportedly received a slight sales bump after the first film was released.

Michael Constantine in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2."
Michael Constantine in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2."Playtone

Therese Van Ryne, a representative for SC Johnson, the household cleaning supplies that makes Windex, also told Entertainment Weekly in 2002 that the mention of the product in the film resulted in a surprise increase in sales of the ammonia-based cleaner.

However, Van Ryne said she doesn't recommend it for "human surfaces."

Vardalos and Corbett practiced their first kiss off-camera, leading a hairstylist for the film to believe they were having an affair.

John Corbett and Nia Vardalos promoting My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in 2002.
John Corbett and Nia Vardalos promoting "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" in 2002.Denise Truscello/WireImage/Getty Images

Speaking to ABC in 2018, Vardalos explained the mix-up came about after she admitted to the "Sex and the City" star that she was nervous about kissing in front of everyone on set, because she'd never done a kissing scene before.

As a result, she wanted to "get it over with" ahead of time, which led to her and Corbett sharing a rehearsal smooch by the makeup trailers.

"I'm really nervous about everyone seeing it, and could you just — could you just kiss me right now and let's just get it over with?" Vardalos recalled asking Corbett.

"And he goes, 'Right now?' And I go, 'Yeah, just kiss me right now.' And he goes, 'OK.' So he just kissed me, right now. And I was like, 'Oh, that was easy.' So by the time we were on the set filming it four hours later, it was fine. It was easy. I wasn't embarrassed," she continued.

It wasn't until years after filming that the pair found out that someone had seen them after all.

"We found out years later that the hair artist on the movie had come out of the makeup trailer at that moment, seen us kissing, and went, 'Oh, they're having an affair,'" Vardalos said.

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