The “Helicopter Mom” Interview
with Kam Williams
Born in Winnipeg, Canada on September 24, 1962, actress/scriptwriter Nia Vardalos is best known as the star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, her one-woman stage play which she adapted to the big screen in 2002. She also landed an Academy Award nomination for the picture’s screenplay, which grossed a quarter-billion dollars at the box-office, domestically.
Other movies on her resume include Connie and Carla, I Hate Valentine’s Day, My Life in Ruins, Larry Crowne, and McKenna Shoots for the Stars. On television, she starred in My Big Fat Greek Life, a short-lived sitcom based on My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Nia and her husband, actor Ian Gomez, live in L.A. which is where they are raising their daughter, Ilaria.
Kam Williams: Hey, Nia, thanks for the interview.
Nia Vardalos: Hi, Kam. Nice to talk to you, too. I apologize if I sound like a drag queen this morning, but I voiced an entire animated film in one day yesterday, and then went to see Barry Manilow last night.
KW: That’s why you’re whispering and sound so hoarse. Which film were you working on?
NV: Sorry, I can’t tell you yet. The title hasn’t been announced.
KW: I have to tell you how much I loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I must have watched it at least a dozen times. It was #2 on my Top 100 List for 2002.
NV: Thank you so much Kam. That means the world to me. It really does.
KW: I loved Connie and Carla, too. What interested you in Helicopter Mom?
NV: I was attracted to the idea of improvising a movie. I thought it would be a really great way of having a loose set. And it turned out to be exactly what I hoped for. The director [Salome Breziner] created a fun atmosphere and [co-star] Jason Dolley] was great to play with in his first film since doing the sitcom Good Luck Charlie. So, I was just very intrigued by the chance to do something so different.
KW: Gee, I was totally unaware that the cast was improvising. It flowed very naturally, so it never occurred to me that you didn’t have a script. The only thing that threw me was the ending which I don’t want to give away. It was a bit of a cliffhanger, and I wasn’t sure whether it was supposed to be setting up a sequel.
NV: [Chuckles] Yeah, I don’t know at all on that one.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: As a Canadian, I am honored to have the opportunity to ask you questions. You wrote and starred in your huge hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. There is a scarcity of female screenwriters and directors. Do you have another movie you would like to write and/or direct?
NV: Well, I’m actually headed to Toronto to do the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But the honest answer to Patricia’s question is that there isn’t a scarcity of female writers and directors. But there IS a dearth, a lack of their being hired. You could throw a rock in L.A. and hit somebody who’s talented who’s trying to break in. It’s up to us women to hire other women. What I do is instead of writing just 1 female character in my films, I’ll write 50, because I know how sad it is that women are having such a hard time finding roles. It’s a joy for me. I love my producers, who are the same ones from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. We have the same set designers, the same everyone. As they say, we’re getting the band back together, as they say. It’s terrific that no one ever asks me, “Can this receptionist or this cop be played by a man?” They wouldn’t think of it since in the script the police officer’s name is Deandra.
KW: Patricia also says: I love raising the issue of female filmmakers. In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow broke the glass ceiling with her movie, The Hurt Locker. She became the first woman director in history to win an Academy Award. In 2007, the Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta earned an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category for Water, which focused on women issues. What is your opinion about this issue especially as an Oscar-nominee and what do you think it will take for female filmmakers to get more recognition for film projects concerning women's conditions?
NV: It was so sad this year, when the Academy failed to nominate even one film with a female story. It was so disgusting to me that not one female helmer was nominated for Best Director and that no film with a female protagonist was nominated in the Best Picture category either. I am not anti-man. I am married to a man… I have a father and a brother… I love men. But there is something really lacking when Cake is nominated. How does Julianne Moore win for Best Actress but her film isn’t nominated for Best Screenplay? How does Gone Girl become such a critically-acclaimed and box-office hit but its scriptwriter, Gillian Flynn, isn’t nominated for Best screenplay. It’s disgusting!
KW: What’s the solution?
NV: I think we need parity. The Academy needs more female members so that we can point this out and support ourselves and each other.
KW: It’s a shame because 2014 was such a great year for movies.
NV: There were so many amazing films last year. Theory of Everything was absolutely a master class in acting. And did you love The Imitation Game as much as I did?
KW: Yep, that was #5 on my Top 100 List.
NV: It broke my heart. And how about Guardians of the Galaxy? I spoke to the screenwriter, Nicole Perlman. She’s a huge comic book geek who was in the Marvel writing program. I just loved meeting her.
KW: One of the great things about this job is that I get a chance to speak with luminaries like you, and each experience is usually enriching and even moving because the person invariably has a lot to offer and is so much deeper than what I expected based on the image I had gotten from seeing them in movies and on TV.
NV: Thank you for saying that, Kam. I feel the same way when I meet somebody in Los Angeles, because I’m from Winnipeg. I’m just a very ordinary girl that something extraordinary happened to. So, I’ll go to an event and, say, stand next to Charlize Theron and be like, “Oh my God! This is incredible!” And then you get to talk to her and you find out she’s a real person. She’s a mom and very interesting. I’m constantly thunderstruck by people that I admire.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
NV: I see strength, and I see a tired mom.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
NV: Accidentally spray-painting my face black when I was about 6. I was trying to do a craft project in the garage with a board and a can of spray paint that was missing a nozzle. I stuck a nail in it, and it blew all over my face. [Laughs]
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
NV: Oh! Lately, I’ve been salting eggplant to take the bitterness out, and then layering it with tomatoes and a little bit of Parmesan cheese to make a low-rent Eggplant Parmesan without the breading and the tons of fat.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
NV: Peace, and geographical birth fairness.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
NV: Control top panty hose. [Chuckles]
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
NV: “Tiny Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed. I love reading, and I read a lot. I’m constantly going through so many books. I just re-read a novel I loved called “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Oh, it’s so beautiful!
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
NV: I’m going to say integrity, because I want to believe that’s the case. But sometimes I’m surprised when someone who has achieved success is incredibly Machiavellian in their manipulations. So, while I want to believe it’s integrity, that might just show how naïve I am. I sometimes worry that I might not be shrewd enough to maneuver myself through the Hollywood system. And then I look at Playtone, the company that produced My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I call them my Playtoners. They are the kindest people who treated me like gold before that movie made a dime. We became personal friends. When I think about how lovely and wonderful they are that convinces me that you don’t have to make a deal with the devil to succeed. It’s a choice. As we know, there are companies like Monsanto filling the Earth with their genetically-modified poison, which makes me wonder how many people share our belief that it’s better to be good, Kam. [Earnestly] We have to change the world!
KW: We’ll see, with Bernie Sanders throwing his hat into the ring, the people will have a real choice. Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
NV: Yeah. On stage, I’d like to redo the Broadway musical, The Rink. And, onscreen, there are so many great movies to pick from… My brain is just fried right now… Let me think… Oh, I know. I would love to remake The Philadelphia Story with Hugh Grant. The chemistry between Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn is so delightful.
KW: Hugh Grant released a sweet romantic comedy with Marisa Tomei in February called The Rewrite. Did you catch it?
NV: I love her. I’d always admired her work and then I got to meet her recently. She’s great! She’s so delightful in person.
KW: What’s in your wallet?
NV: My wallet has both American and Canadian money, because I’m preparing to go to Canada to shoot. And as you know, I’m Canadian, so I have a bunch of loonies [one-dollar coins] in there.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Nia. Best of luck with the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I can’t wait to see it.
NV: Thank you, Kam. It was really nice to talk to you. You ask very interesting questions.
To see a trailer for Helicopter Mom, visit: https://vimeo.com/97173719
Days of Grace
Film Review by Kam Williams
Days of Grace is the title of Arthur Ashe’s moving memoir about his remarkable tennis career as well as his stoic battle with AIDS after receiving a contaminated blood transfusion. By contrast, Days of Grace, the movie, is a gruesome gansta’ saga set in Mexico City.
The intricately-plotted crime thriller takes place in 2002, 2006 and 2010 during the weeks when the World Cup is being played. Apparently, that’s a great time to break the law, since both citizens and the police are so focused on the games that they unwittingly lower their guard.
The film is constructed as a trio of discrete storylines, although all paint Mexico as a godforsaken environ run by mobsters and crooked cops. Because they unfold simultaneously instead of chronologically, it’s a little difficult to keep the casts of characters straight, especially if you don’t speak Spanish and need to read the subtitles.
One thread revolves around the frustrations encountered by a socialite (Dolores Heredia) desperate to free her husband (Juan Carlos Remolina) who’s been abducted for a $2 million ransom. Apparently there’s a lot of that going around south of the border.
Trouble is the detectives handling the case are so corrupt she’s even more afraid of them than the kidnappers. A second thread focuses on another kidnapped businessman’s (Carlos Bardem) ordeal while the third chronicles the friendship forged between an honest cop (Tenoch Huerta) and the at-risk 9 year-old (Jose Alberto Solorzano) he’s mentoring with tough love.
Written and directed by Everardo Valerio Gout, Days of Grace features gratuitous violence, graphic vivisection and slo-mo displays of senseless slaughter reminiscent of such masters of the genre as John Woo and Sam Peckinpah. If lingering looks at torture gets your juices going, this indulgence of bloodlust is probably right up your alley.
The best Mexican splatterfest since Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
Excellent (4 stars)
In Spanish and English with subtitles
Running time: 121 minutes
Distributor: Cinema Libre Studio
To see a trailer for Days of Grace, visit:
Film Review by Kam Williams
Caleb Smith (Domnhall Gleeson) works as a computer programmer for Blue Book, the most popular internet search engine in the world. As the winner of a staff lottery, he is summoned to the secluded, hilltop retreat of the company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac).
Only after being brought there by corporate helicopter does the nerdy 26 year-old discover that his billionaire boss has a hidden agenda. As it turns out, the place is less a home than a high-tech facility dedicated to conducting research in artificial intelligence.
But before Caleb is allowed to stay, he’s forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising to keep secret what he’s about to witness. Nathan next explains that it’s an invention, an android he wants Turing tested, meaning examined for any software flaws revealing it as non-human.
He then introduces his curious guest to Ava (Alicia Vikander), the fetching fembot he wants studied over the course of a week. Caleb is surprised by her level of sophistication, since her brain is complex enough to discern the connotation of idioms like “breaking the ice.” He’s even more impressed by her non-deterministic nature, as she appears to have been successfully programmed with free will.
The plot thickens several days into the project when Ava senses Caleb has developed feelings for her. At that point, the attractive automaton quietly confides her fears about being expendable in the eyes of Nathan who wouldn’t have a second thought about wiping her memory banks clean once she’s no longer considered state-of-the-art. After all, that’s what he’s done to each of her mothballed predecessors in his relentless quest to build a better cyborg.
Where does Caleb’s loyalty lie? With the callous employer he suddenly sees as a heartless tinkerer? Or with the flesh-covered machine exhibiting a full range of emotions, including a seductive vulnerability? That is the dilemma confronting the anguished protagonist in Ex Machina, an intriguing sci-fi adventure marking the splendid directorial debut of Alex Garland.
Best known as the scriptwriter of 28 Days Later, the gifted Brit more than proves his mettle as a filmmaker, here, with a thought-provoking thriller guaranteed to keep you enthralled while reassessing the meaning of consciousness.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence, sexual references and graphic nudity
Running time: 108 minutes
Film Review by Kam Williams
Randy Rousseau (Julian Walker) claims to be straight, even though everybody thinks he’s gay basically because he’s effeminate, sings in the church choir, and is a member of Christian High’s drama club. The repressed 17 year-old has even confessed to his BFFs, Effie (Gary Leroi Gray) and Crystal (Nikki Jane), to waking up “soaked in sin” after nightly wet dreams in which he makes love to other guys.
Nevertheless, he’s so deep in denial, that he’s willing to take Crystal’s virginity to prove his masculinity. But that brief experimentation with heterosexuality is only momentary, while his choosing to co-star in Romeo and Julian, a gay-themed, school production of Romeo and Juliet, proves a tad more telling.
Perhaps Randy’s reticence to come out of the closet has to do with his horrible relationship with his parents, between an absentee dad (Isaiah Washington) he can barely recognize (“Who the eff are you?”), and a Bible-thumping mother (Mo’Nique) who calls him an “effing punk”. In addition, she blames her son for the mysterious disappearance of her daughter (Hannah Moye), and has faith that God will send her back home once Randy is purged of his gender-bending demons once and for all.
Directed and co-written by Patrik-Ian Polk, Blackbird is a coming-of-age musical adventure which walks the fine line between drama and comedy. That failure to commit is an unfortunate flaw which serves to undercut any serious message the picture intends to deliver about tolerance.
Another problem is that the overplotted production has too many sidebars distracting our attention away from the compelling question of Randy’s sexual orientation. There’s the return of his Prodigal sister, his mama proselytizing in the supermarket, a pal infected with an STD, a married man cruising at a gay Lover’s Lane, the suicide of a preacher’s (Tirell Tilford) daughter (D. Woods), and an exorcism.
Despite its failings, I’m still willing to give Blackbird a little credit for tackling a subject that remains taboo in the black community. A gospel-driven cross of Precious and Rent, only set in a sleepy Southern town that time forgot instead of New York City.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for teen sexuality, profanity and drug use
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
To see a trailer for Blackbird, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3KEVWeHPg8
The “Beauty’s Kingdom” Interview
with Kam Williams
Anne Rice’s debut novel, Interview with a Vampire, was adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. She is also the author of many other best-sellers, including the hugely successful Vampire Chronicles, The Mummy or Ramses the Damned, Violin, Angel Time, and the Mayfair Witches series.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Anne now lives in Southern California. Here, she talks about her latest book, Beauty’s Kingdom, an eagerly-anticipated extension of her popular, Sleeping Beauty trilogy.
Kam Williams: Hi, Anne. Thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity
Anne Rice: Thanks, Kam.
KW: I’ll be mixing my questions in with some sent in by fans. I really enjoyed Beauty’s Kingdom. What inspired you to extend the Sleeping Beauty trilogy after such a long hiatus?
AR: I had more to say. Many years have passed since I wrote the original trilogy. I felt a new book could refine and deepen the vision. Also, times have changed and, with them, attitudes towards erotica. It's accepted today in a way it was not before, and I did find that inspiring.
KW: Bobby Shenker says: I read and loved the Beauty series when I discovered it in the mid-Eighties. Did the appearance of Fifty Shades of Grey have any influence on your decision to continue the series?
AR: Yes, the success of Fifty Shades indicated that people were out of the closet about their appreciation of erotica. Erotica no longer need be an underground thing. I was inspired by this new acknowledgement of the significance of erotica.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How do you make the writing psychological shift from Gothic fiction to Erotic fiction—or is there a lot of one in the other?
AR: For me erotic and gothic fiction have much in common. Both are imaginative realms that are talking about the meaning of life in metaphorical terms. I love that. I don't have any problem writing in both genres.
KW: Director Lawrence Greenberg says: Anne, I am a huge fan. I think that I have read every one of your books. Can you speak a little bit about how your writing has been adapted to the screen and what you have learned from that process, for better or worse?
AR: I have good and bad experiences with screen adaptation. What I learned above all is that it is always a risk. However, I love film in all forms, and I think it's worth the risk. So I keep agreeing to and encouraging adaptations. Of course, I feel those adaptations which are entirely faithful to the underlying work are the most successful. When producers and directors and screenwriters try to re-imagine and substantially change the underlying material, more often the end product fails.
KW: Editor Lisa Loving says: Wow! OK! Dang! Anne Rice rearranged part of my mind during the years I read her novels, including the three-part Sleeping Beauty. Will… never... get... over... that! Whoa! Anne, one of the things I love the most about your writing is the way you consistently encompass wide swaths of human history. What is your favorite history book, or do you have a go-to source for your historical perspectives?
AR: I read very widely in history and consume an amazing number of biographies. The well written biography is the best way for me to learn about a period, whether we are talking about a biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe or Elizabeth I or Peter the Great or Augustus Caesar. I read history all the time for pure pleasure often immersing myself in a character or a century that might not show up in my novels at all. Reading history for me is like eating ice cream.
KW: Lisa’s also curious about what made you turn to writing about the life of Jesus. What did that historical research involve? And what has been the response of your readers?
AR: Writing my two novels about Jesus involved years of research into life in the First Century, research in the Bible, research in Bible scholarship, research in ancient mythology and literature, etc. I visited Israel twice while writing these books. ---- The reader response to both Christ the Lord books was hugely positive, but I eventually moved away from the project for theological reasons. I loved writing about the private life of Jesus, trying to re-create what daily life was like for Him as a boy in Nazareth, but when it came to tackling His public life and teachings, I found the age old theological battles about Him draining and discouraging. But I loved working in this area. I am a believer in Jesus who has no organized theology to back up that belief. I seek for Jesus outside organized religion and its quarreling churches and cults. And my two books about Jesus are the full expression of my love for Him and faith in Him.
KW: Do you have any favorite "monsters" that you have never written about? Is "monster" the right word to describe vampires, witches and Lasher? Is there a real-life Lestat that you patterned the character on?
AR: My favorite monster is the vampire without doubt. He is a metaphor for the outsider in all of us, the outcast, the lonely one, the lost one. I'll be interrogating that metaphor for the rest of my life.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: Without giving too much away about Beauty’s Kingdom, tell us what readers should expect from it? If it becomes a movie one day, who’d you like to direct and star in it?
AR: Beauty's Kingdom picks up the characters twenty years after the trilogy. Beauty and her beloved husband, King Laurent, are called upon to come back to the kingdom where they met as slaves and preserve the way of erotica slavery. Beauty declares that henceforth all slavery must be voluntary and open to applicants of all classes. The book explores, among other things, the outlook of those who volunteer to be slaves and how they love it and what they expect from their royal masters and mistresses. ---- Right now, Beauty is being developed for cable television.
KW: Patricia also says: I didn't read Interview with the Vampire but I truly loved the movie. The best movies often come from great books, and it helps when the author writes the screenplay like in this case. How did you insure that the filmmaker would do a great job adapting your novel? Were you involved with the casting? Did you spend a lot of time on the set, too?
AR: I couldn't really insure anything. I did write the script and Neil Jordan added many things but was essentially faithful to the script and the books. But it's always a risk. There was no guarantee it would turn out that way. David Geffen was the producer behind it all, and it was his desire I think for fidelity that underscored the whole effort.
KW: It is amazing that you became highly successful with your first novel. I assume you encountered many naysayers prior to getting published. What kept you going and what advice do you have for aspiring authors?
AR: Writers have to have faith. They have to be stubborn. They have to endure lots of insults, contemptuous dismissal and criticism, and they have to keep going. I always believed this. I always believed the author has to fight for her vision, her story, her characters, her "right" to be a writer and to offer something fresh and interesting in a marketplace that will always be tough. I don't know where I got my courage. I am a scrapper. It's in my genes.
KW: What was your first job?
AR: My first job was as a cafeteria waitress in a downtown cafeteria in New Orleans. I worked on weekends and made 75 cents an hour. It was hard work but I loved it.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Anne, and best of luck with the book.
AR: Thank you, Kam.
To order a copy of Beauty’s Kingdom, visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0525427996/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20