How the death of actor Michael Constantine affected the filming of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3?

How the death of actor Michael Constantine affected the filming of My Big Fat Greek Wedding

In 2002 My Big Fat Greek Wedding a story of young Greek woman falling in love with a non-Greek man (John Corbett) and struggling with her family’s expectations was a huge hit both at the box office making $368m off a $5m budget and critically with writer and star Nia Vardalos earning a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination and also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress, and the captivating ensemble cast was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award and Critics Choice Award. The film also won the People’s Choice Award and Vardalos won the Independent Spirit Award. It remains the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time in the US, in the two decades since its release.  It was not until 2016 when a sequel would appear which earned $90m and now we have a third film. However the death of actor Michael Constantine affected the filming of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3?

As Vardalos began conceiving a new story for the Portokalos family, she once again drew from her own personal experiences. “Soon after filming of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, I began to write the screenplay for the third film,” she says. “I wanted to explore the topic of immigration and as always, the dynamics of family. The genesis of this story is that my dad always wanted us to go to his family village up high in the mountains on the mainland of Greece,” she recalls. “But as adults, when my siblings and I would go to Greece, we would always go to the islands because that’s where the parties are. In March, 2020, after a period of failing health, I lost my dad. And very soon after that we lost Michael Constantine, who played my father, Gus. I was grieving and processing both during a pandemic. I began to find a way to manage my grief through my fingertips and the screenplay emerged about us fulfilling a father’s last wish.”

The original draft of Vardalos’ third script was written prior to Constantine’s passing and centred on the family returning to Greece with their father. “I did know Michael’s health wasn’t at a place he wanted it to be,” shares Vardalos. “When he read that script, he called and said, ‘I’ll be there, but could I be seated in most of the scenes?’ I assured him I would take care of him. And then his sister called me and said that Michael just couldn’t bring himself to tell me that he wouldn’t be able to join us as he wasn’t well. But of course, I didn’t rewrite right away because I was optimistic. Then, I received several texts from Michael Constantine just a month before he passed away, urging me to make the film and that he would be there in spirit. I still have the texts in my phone. When we lost Michael, I wasn’t able to see a way forward. I was emotionally drained from the loss of both men in such a short period of time. Conversations with my family about our dad, his village and life story, revealed a small story seed. As I thought it through, that seed grew into the idea of the journal, the village reunion and honouring a father’s last wish. I began to write; wholly aware I was writing for both my father and Michael Constantine. I wanted to honour them both.”

It was unfathomable to bring a story to the screen that didn’t include Constantine in some way. “I love that he’s still a part of it even though he’s not present physically in the movie,” says producer Rita Wilsons. “Families often want to honour their parents when they go by doing something that would be meaningful for them, for their parents who have gone on, but also for the family. It’s really a way to unite people and I think we did that with this film.”

The death of actor Michael Constantine affected the filming of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 affected the production in other ways too. This revised narrative that eventually became My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 instantly touched the cast who had had the privilege of working with Constantine on the first two movies, as well as the film’s new actors who had grown up watching his work. “I loved working with Michael,” says Vardalos. “I told him that he was my favourite scene partner. When we began a scene, he would always look at my words and ask me why I wrote something and what I wanted from him in a way that was like a good friend saying to you, ‘How can I help you?’ He was thoughtful and introspective and always wanted to do his best in portraying Gus.”

“When I was scouting, before the cast arrived, I cried through locations,” continues Vardalos. “I would think about how both Michael and my dad would have loved a beautiful place we found for the film. It was an emotional experience for me. My dad would have wanted to be there, and Michael would have wanted to be there. In a very quiet moment on the soundstage on the first day we were all together, I told the cast this screenplay was for all our parents and that we would be dedicating the film to Michael. We held hands and talked about him. We all had a funny or touching story about him. He’s a huge part of our lives. He’s our dad.”

Louis Mandylor, who plays Toula’s brother Nick, says that during some of the takes, Vardalos’s direction was to keep their feelings under control to allow the audience the space to process their own emotions. “We were paying homage to the one and only Michael Constantine with this wonderful story so it was an incredible experience,” says Mandylor. “That man meant so much to us, we all loved him so very much and he was an incredible human being.”

“There were a couple of times when we shot in villages that were almost abandoned, or in very remote buildings on the side of mountains and windy streets that I could picture Michael in at that time,” adds Andrea Martin, who portrays Aunt Voula. “I had some moments to just sit by myself, reflect and it was emotional. When I watched the scene where the older generation comes and Toula gives them the book, I cried. Michael was the heart and soul of these movies.”

The death of actor Michael Constantine affected the filming of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3? with one cast member even celebrating the mark Constantine had left on him in a more literal way: One of Gus’s lines from the screenplays. “I got a brand new tattoo in Corfu while filming the movie,” shares Joey Fatone, who plays cousin Angelo. “It says – ‘There you go. Gus’ – and it has the Greek flag. All of these movies are such a part of me.”

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