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Nia Vardalos: Why I Quit Acting To Adopt A Foster Child

"Do what makes you happy. Do what's best for you… It was a great, freeing moment for me – to step back and do what I thought was best, writing screenplays," Vardalos told TheWrap

Nia Vardalos of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" dropped out of acting to focus on adopting a baby from the American foster system. At first she hid her experience like the growth on her cousin Nick's neck in the movie. But then she decided to write a book about it. "Instant Mom" has rocketed its way onto the New York Times bestseller list, and Vardalos got grilled by Wrap editor Sharon Waxman.

The book has a confessional tone to it. How does it feel to let it out, your struggles with infertility, the painful process of trying to become a parent?

I reluctantly put it in the book. Even though now I would describe it as perhaps cathartic to have written it, while I was writing it was a protracted and difficult process. I kept telling myself, 'There's no way I keep this in the book.'

No way did I set out to write a book like this. But when I got to the part about transitioning my daughter and I found words to describe her bravery, her goal- setting tenacity, I was so in awe of this child that I suddenly thought, ‘What am I afraid of? I’m not ashamed of it anymore.’ I put it in the book.

Well if you didn’t set out to write a personal story, what were you doing? You can’t just start in the middle.

I set out to write a how-to-adopt textbook with personal – not too personal – side stories.  This is how I write. I begin, I don’t know what it’s going to be. And I find it somewhere in the process. With  My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I lifted family stories and as I was writing I thought ‘Wait a minute, I’ll make it about my wedding.’

It’s not really an adoption book, it’s not a Mom book. Even though I call it Instant Mom. The throughline is about my tenacious stubbornness, which is what is so admirable about my daughter.

Talk about that moment when you met her, when you found her.

I remember when the phone rang. I got the words I’d been waiting for for so long: 'You’ve been matched.' I felt something hard on the back of my head but I don’t remember laying down. Why did I lay on the floor? And I remember staring at ceiling for really long time and thinking: 'I'm a Mom. I'm a Mom.'

There’s this sad-funny observation you make in the book:  You decided to stop acting, and nobody noticed?

The tiny message in it is: do what makes you happy. Do what’s best for you. There’s a glut of actors in the market. So many people that people are following and listening to. It was a great, freeing moment for me – to step back and do what I thought was best, writing screenplays.

What did your agent say?

My agents were fine with it. I have to commend them for being understanding and compassionate. I didn’t want to be on camera.  I didn’t care. I had already taking my career in my hand. I felt that if the phone didn’t ring. I could just call myself.

We've all forgotten about foster care as a route to adoption ? Why is this?

Kids are languishing in American foster care. They’re waiting for a forever home. These fantastic social workers are overworked, underpaid, and their desks are full. Their work life is their life. They work to create a better life for these kids. On the other hand, I don’t want to sugar coat it. Sure, there are kids in the foster care system who’ve come from backgrounds that are less than stellar.

The horrible things adults can do to children never fail to disgust me. I have seen adults go into these kids’ lives and say,’You deserve better. I’ll be your hero.’ Foster parents who take in 10-12 kids. And I have seen children from backgrounds that are negligent and filled with abuse go on to live productive and wonderful livces. So who’s going to write about them?  

How old is your daughter Ilaria now?

Almost eight.

Do you ever see a sign of things you don't know about her?

Your biological child goes through phases. She’s adjusted, transitioned, attached. Loving, caring. All the things someone might care about. Those concerns were never an issue for us.

Do you think you'll adopt another?

We're still on the waiting list. We’re completely open.

There's no photo of her in the book, why is that?

She’s a private citizen, a minor. I went as far as I was comfortable with putting our personal lives on display in hopes of getting children adopted. But that’s it. The price is too great. I can’t do it to her.

Did she know you were writing the book?

She gave me permission. She even asked me the other night when I came home from the book tour – ‘Did you get some kids adopted?’ I could melt.