Writer/actress Nia Vardalos dealt with years of rejection, of being told to get a nose job, to get a breast augmentation, and to leave Hollywood altogether. Instead of crumbling, she put pen to proverbial paper and wrote a one-woman show, which she turned into the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
The 2002 smash starred her and John Corbett as a couple navigating a rather tempestuous Greek family en route to the altar. Now, she's back with a sequel, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," opening Friday. And she has another project in the works, something she's absolutely fired up about.
"I'm going to tell you something I haven't told anyone yet. I'm developing a play that's going to be announced soon. I've optioned a book and I'm developing a play that's very challenging material for me. Completely out of my comfort zone. Something I'd never have the audacity to take on five years ago," she says. "But the disappointments I went through somehow made me feel weightless. I don't care anymore what people think about me."
And that means working on her own timetable. The "Greek Wedding" sequel was 14 years in the making, and the delay is due to one thing: Vardalos' desire to become a mother. She chronicled her journey to adoption in "Instant Mom," and is now the parent of a daughter, 11, with husband Ian Gomez. The child's face is never seen in published photos, something Vardalos takes immensely seriously; she also doesn't keep any profits from book sales.
"We feel very useful that we donate all the proceeds from the book. You can tell how grateful I feel," says Vardalos.
And her life fed her movie. This time, it features Corbett and Vardalos as the parents of a teenager who's ready to leave home for college, much to mom's dismay. Meanwhile, the grandparents have a secret of their own that comes to light. The movie features the original cast, and plenty of strong male and female characters.
"My industry is the last industry where sexism, racism, and ageism is allowed. Rewarded. Absolutely. That's why I like Jennifer Lawrence. She's using her power to speak up about the gender gap in pay," says Vardalos. "That's what I like about John Corbett. He's a feminist. He has no issue with anything that happens on set. He's my partner."
She's been promoting "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" all over the world, but she's open about how much she pines for her daughter, while also being passionate about her job.
"I had my quiet days. I had my days when I could carpool without makeup," she says. "This press tour, I had to gear myself up to go from a writer to an actor."
Part of that: changing her look. Vardalos asked her stylist to jerk the actress out of her comfort zone, while also leaving her with a few comfortable fashion options. Now, she's ready to go home. She and her daughter FaceTime every day. "I'm almost done. I can't wait to be with my girlie," says Vardalos. "I really miss her."
Now that her daughter is older, she's aware of what mom and dad for for a living, which is a mixed blessing. "She says, 'I just want you to be my mom,'" says Vardalos.
OnlyOnAOL: Nia Vardalos has one word for naysayers: move
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 24: Nia Vardalos of 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2' attends AOL Build Speaker Series at AOL Studios In New York on March 24, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)
Actress Nia Vardalos, the star and writer of the film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", smiles during an interview Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2002, in Los Angeles. Vardalos adapted the movie from her one-woman show about a woman who defies the traditions of her loud Greek family by marrying a man with a different heritage. (AP Photo/Krista Niles)
Actress Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in the blockbuster film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," poses for a photo in her hotel room March 17, 2004, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Her latest writing-acting effort is "Connie and Carla," in which she and co-star Toni Collette witness a Chicago mob murder, go on the lam to Los Angeles and pose as drag queens who become unlikely stage stars at a local gay bar. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
FILE - In this May 27, 2009 file photo, actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, file)
Actress Nia Vardalos arrives at The National Multiple Sclerosis Society's 35th Annual Dinner of Champions in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Nia Vardalos arrives at the 4th Annual Governors Awards at Hollywood and Highland Center's Ray Dolby Ballroom on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
FILE - In this April 9, 2014 file photo, Nia Vardalos attends the Zooey Deschanel for Tommy Hilfiger Collection launch event at The London Hotel in West Hollywood, Calif. Universal Pictures has announced Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, that the studio acquired the domestic distribution rights to âMy Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,â a sequel to the beloved independent hit, with writer and star Vardalos set to return. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP, File)
Actress Nia Vardalos arrives at the 2011 Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California February 26, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 09: Nia Vardalos arrives at the The Hollywood Reporter's Annual Women In Entertainment Breakfast at Milk Studios on December 9, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
ASPEN, CO - JANUARY 23: Nia Vardalos accepts Logo's New Now Next award from Margaret Cho during the Logo New Now Next Honors From Aspen Gay Ski Week on January 23, 2016 in Aspen, Colorado. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for Logo)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 06: Nia Vardalos arrives ahead of the Sydney premiere of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 at Event Cinemas George Street on March 6, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage)
TODAY -- Pictured: Nia Vardalos appears on the 'Today' show on Monday, March 14, 2016 from Rockefeller Plaza in New York -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15: Nia Vardalos attends the'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2' New York Premiere at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater on March 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Actress Nia Vardalos visits the SiriusXM Studio on March 18, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images)
LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS -- Episode 344 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actress Nia Vardalos during an interview with host Seth Meyers on March 22, 2016 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE CHEW - Nia Vardalos is the guest, Tuesday, March 22, 2016 on THE CHEW, airing MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network.
(Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC via Getty Images)
CARLA HALL, MICHAEL SYMON, NIA VARDALOS, DAPHNE OZ, CLINTON KELLY