My Life in Ruins: Nia Vardalos Comedy–Pangloss Tour of Greece

“My Life in Ruins,” starring Nia Vardalos and directed by Donald Petrie, is being released June 5, 2009 by Fox Searchlight.

Discovering the script for MY LIFE IN RUINS exploded Donald Petrie’s long held theory about films that shoot on location. “Usually I find that the quality of script and desirability of locale are in inverse relationship,” he explains. “If the film starts off in the south of France on a sun-drenched beach with beautiful women strewn all over the sand, it’ll be the worst script I’ve ever read. And if it takes place in Minnesota in winter I will love it.”

“So I read the script and I went, ‘Ooh, I really like this script. Do I just like it because it takes place in Greece, or do I really like this script?’ I had to divorce myself from the locale and I found that I still loved the script.”

MY LIFE IN RUINS was shot on some of the most spectacular and famous historical sites in Greece, including the Acropolis, the center of ancient Athens. In fact, MY LIFE IN RUINS made history as the first movie ever to film there. While many filmmakers previously sought permission to shoot on the revered spot, the Greek government had never granted that privilege to anyone. Vardalos spent the better part of a year wooing the Hellenic Government for the privilege of being able to shoot at the Acropolis and several other of the world’s most historically significant landmarks.

“I had a lot of dinners and did a lot of handshaking,” says Vardalos. “I have to credit my parents for making me go to Greek school, because after all those years I’m fluent in the language. I flew there about a year before and met with everyone I could. I had a personal relationship with the Minister of Culture because of the first Greek movie and she was extremely instrumental. I also assured the government we would leave the ruins exactly as we found them.”

Vardalos sees the movie as a celebration of Greece. “I am still in awe when I consider where we were able to go. We were so lucky. It’s a majestic experience to be at these places.”

The first important monument the tour group visits is Olympia, the site of the original Olympics in the 8th century B.C. “The settings actually evolve the same way Georgia’s character does,” explains Petrie. “In Olympia, the place that people were tested for their prowess in sports, her character is tested on how she can perform as a tour guide. Can she become better? Can she somehow be both entertaining and educational?”

The next major stop is Delphi, the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the god Apollo. Delphi was once one of the most important religious destinations in existence. Visitors from all over Greece and other parts of the Hellenic world came to Delphi to consult the Oracle, whose cryptic advice could determine the course of history.

“Delphi is a mysterious place known both for the Oracle and for its healing powers,” says Petrie. “It has a kind of a healing power over our group and finally brings them together as one.”

Finally, the tour group reaches the Acropolis. The Acropolis is the nucleus of Athens, the original citadel built at the highest point of the city proper. The most celebrated site in Greece, it sits atop the layers of history that have created the modern Hellenic state.

“At the Acropolis, our group has finally come together as a unit,” says Petrie. “Each one of the characters has had their own emotional arc that relates to the site. And as a group, they are now ready for the final test, because one of them has fallen ill and is in the hospital.”

“Donald chose locations that were beyond my wildest imagination,” says Vardalos. “He did an amazing job visualizing the scenes. That’s what you want a director to do, take words and then turn them into pictures.”
In addition to its incomparable history, Greece is rich in natural beauty, something that the cast was able to appreciate, even with the hectic shooting schedule. “If I was on a normal movie set and I was waiting around, I’d probably be sitting in my trailer doing whatever,” says Rachel Dratch. “With all those amazing mountains and ruins around us, I just sort of wandered around. Even though we didn’t get a lot of free time, we were in the midst of it, and we got to take it in.” 

Dratch, an avid traveler, hopes anyone unable to get to Greece will enjoy the scenery and the culture vicariously. “It’s like a fantasy vacation where you get to see what Greece is like for the price of a movie ticket.” 

Alistair McGowan, who traveled overland from the United Kingdom and reached Greece by ferry, says he understands the pride Greeks have in their country. “Arriving on a boat from Italy was extraordinary,” he says. “You feel as if the country is opening up to you. Greece brings out changes in people. You start to open yourself up to other people. Learn about others and about yourself. It’s enriching, and that happens throughout the film.” 

“Part romantic comedy, part tale of self-discovery, part travelogue, MY LIFE IN RUINS is a journey many people will enjoy,” says director Donald Petrie.

Over his long film career, Petrie has learned that trying to predict what kind of an audience a movie will attract is essentially impossible. “When I made GRUMPY OLD MEN, the marketing department thought it would appeal only to octogenarians. But I had kids coming up to me all the time to tell me how much they loved it. It hit all quadrants. I hope this movie does the same thing. It is different and entertaining. It will make you laugh and make you cry. Who’s not going to want to see it?”