Best known, at least as of late, as Maria Portokalos in the monster hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, singer-actress Lainie Kazan is also an accomplished singer, a Tony nominee (for My Favorite Year), a Golden Globe nominee (also for My Favorite Year), an Emmy nominee (for St. Elsewhere), and Barbra Streisand's understudy in the original Broadway production of Funny Girl. Tired of always being a bridesmaid, Kazan comes to Rochester to receive the High Falls Film Festival's "Failure is Impossible" award. Will she pull a Pam Grier and leave her groom at the altar? Read on to find out.
City: "Greek Wedding"... what the hell? Did anybody see that coming?
Kazan: I didn't, certainly. We made a little movie for a little bit of money, had a great time and never expected this. Never ever in a million years.
City: How did you get involved in the film?
Kazan: About three years ago I was called by my agent, who said Tom Hanks called and wanted to do a table reading of a movie a young woman wrote, and would I be interested in reading it. So I went and read the piece, and had a great time and a great breakfast. Tom Hanks said to me, "If we ever do this movie, we'll call you," and I said, "Yeah, sure," never suspecting they would even call me. I got a call about a year and a half after that. The screenplay was written and they wanted me to play the mother, and I took the job.
We went to Toronto, had a phenomenal time, and thought the film would maybe end up in a couple of art theatres. We had a huge gala opening and the movie kept growing and growing, and it's been out since April now. I'm just thrilled. I couldn't be happier, and now we're doing a series.
City: So at best, you hoped to get a free breakfast out of this, and now, $150 million and a television series later...
Kazan: Isn't it phenomenal? I'm so thrilled.
City: You're going to be involved in the series?
Kazan: I am. We're doing a series for CBS.
City: Who else is coming back to do the series?
Kazan: Nia, myself, Michael Constantine, Andrea Martin, Gia Carides, and Louie Mandylor. Almost everybody. And I think Joey Fatone is even going to do a couple of guest spots.
City:Is there any talk of doing a theatrical sequel?
Kazan: Probably, but not right away because Nia is really concerned about the television show.
City: That seems like it would be a very fun role to play.
Kazan: Oh, I loved it. Most people think I'm Greek, and I'm not Greek at all. So it was a challenge to get that Greek accent down. Once I got it down, it just rolled off my tongue. The rest was just a piece of cake. It was great fun, and to work with Nia --- she is such a delight. I just can't tell you how bright and warm and wonderful she is.
City: I know it's kind of early, but what do you think of the Oscar buzz you and the film are getting?
Kazan: It would be really sweet, but I'm not even thinking like that. Everybody tells me, "You should be nominated for Best Supporting Actress," but I don't know. That would definitely be a gift.
City: The award you're receiving from the festival was given to Pam Grier last year, but she canceled at the last minute. You're not going to stiff us, are you?
Kazan: I'm not going to stiff you. That's awful. I'll be there.
Lainie Kazan, recipient of this year's "Failure is Impossible" award, appears Saturday, November 2 at 3:30 p.m. at the Dryden Theatre as part of the High Falls Film Festival. Tickets for Lainie Kazan in Conversation with Jack Garner are $5 and available through Ticket Express (in person only at 100 East Avenue), or at the Dryden one hour before the event begins.