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Catching up with My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Lainie Kazan

BY Farhana Gani

1st Jan 2015 Film & TV

Catching up with My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Lainie Kazan

Lainie Kazan—the iconic, boisterous, loveable mother figure in My Big Fat Greek Wedding—talks to us about reprising her role in the film's sequel.

Fourteen years after the release of My Big Fat Greek Wedding—the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time—the film’s long-awaited sequel has finally arrived. Written by Academy Award nominee Nia Vardalos, who stars alongside the entire original cast of favourites, the film reveals a Portokalos family secret that will bring the beloved characters back together for an even bigger and Greeker wedding than last time.

Lainie Kazan (The Paper Chase, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) has returned to the silver screen as Maria Portokalos, the hilarious and loveable mother from the original film.

 We caught up with Lainie to hear her take on Greek Wedding 2. In the process, we learned more than we imagined about laughter, love, and—as it turns out—how the actors behind the Portokalos family are almost as close in real life as they are on screen.

Reader's Digest: The original My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a massive sleeper hit in 2001. What is it about the sequel that will resonate with audiences this time around?

Lainie Kazan: The importance of family, and that it speaks to all people. It doesn't matter what nationality you are—you can identify with all the characters. 


RD: Was the experience filming the sequel with ‘the family’ as enjoyable the second time round? 

Kazan: Filming Greek Wedding 2 was even more enjoyable than filming the original. I most definitely kept in touch with all the cast members; we had dinners, lunches, and spoke over email and text. We remained friends over these past 14 years. And I think that our close relationship comes across on film. 


RD: The Portokalos clan are very close. They even live right next door to each other! Is that a good thing? And are you very close to your own family?

Kazan: I moved away from my family to Los Angeles when I was very young. We’re still extremely close. I used to speak to my late mom at least once a day. I'd wake up in the morning and pick up the phone to call my mom and that was the beginning of my day. Now I have a daughter and two grandchildren, and we are extremely close. I love them so much.  They're always in my house, very much like the Portokalos family. 


RD: Maria is a traditional Greek mother, but Greek Wedding 2 shows her feisty side. How has Maria’s character adapted to getting older?

Kazan: She accepts growing older as a part of life and handles it with grace and dignity. She has so much to do and manage that she doesn't have time to think about growing older. She just lives her life, one day at a time. 


RD: At one point in the film, Maria belts out: “Who says a woman has to be married!” Do you agree?

Kazan: Totally. Now, so many women bring up their children and family without the aid or support of a partner.

Lainie Kazan in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
Image courtesy of George Kraychyk and Universal Pictures

RD: How did you get drawn into the world of film and acting? 

Kazan: My mother loved show business, and when she realized I had some talent, she made sure I was trained as a dancer, actor, and singer. I did many children's variety shows when I was a young girl. I got my big break when I was in the chorus of Funny Girl. I understudied the leading lady, Barbra Streisand, who played Fanny Brice. After 18 months, I got the chance to go on twice in one day, and my career took off.


RD: Is there anything you regret in your career?

Kazan: I was offered several Broadway shows which I turned down, but I’d still welcome going to Broadway with a really great show.


RD: What has been your proudest moment?

Kazan: Giving birth to my daughter, Jennifer Bena.


RD: And what have you been up to, career-wise, between Wedding 1 and Wedding 2?

Kazan: Films, TV, concerts all over the world, and teaching. I'm an adjunct professor at UCLA.


RD: “Protect the polaki” is a piece of advice Maria offers her granddaughter, Paris, almost as a sort of motto. What would your motto be?

Kazan: "Live, love, laugh and be happy."


RD: If you could rule the world, what would be the three things you’d make happen?

Kazan: Peace on Earth. I would bring back everything we believed in the 60s, which is many more than three things.

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