NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 27: Actress Nia Vardalos attends the Build Series to discuss "Poisoned ...
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Nia Vardalos Has Spoken Very Candidly About Her Fertility Struggles Before Adopting

The My Big Fat Greek Wedding star adopted her daughter Ilaria when she was 3 and had been in foster care since birth.

It’s difficult to remember that Nia Vardalos is not, in fact, Toula Portokalos, the character she created in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She has become almost inextricably linked to her character, to the point where it’s easy to forget that Vardalos as a totally different life off the big screen. But, of course, Nia Vardalos has her own big fat Greek life, and her own daughter to share it with her. Here’s what you need to know about Vardalos’ life as a mom.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is loosely based on her life.

The 2002 movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding was actually loosely based on Vardalos’ own life. Much like her character Toula, she grew up in a big, close-knit Greek family in Canada. Also like Toula, she married a man who was not, in fact, Greek. Though in reality the man she married was not Ian Miller (John Corbett) but fellow actor Ian Gomez, who played Mike in the beloved movie.

Vardalos wrote the script and remembers being fired by her agents and managers because of it, but the movie went on to become a huge phenomenon. So much so that the third installment, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, is coming to theaters on Sept. 8. And this time the whole Portokalos family is heading to Greece.

Nia Vardalos with her now ex-husband Ian Gomez in 2004. Carlo Allegri/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

She struggled with fertility issues for several years.

Vardalos and Gomez married in 1995 and tried for several years to have a baby together. In fact, Vardalos told TODAY in 2016 that their IVF attempts were one of the “major reasons” it took 14 years for her to put out a sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Because at the end of the film, her character is pregnant and it was something Vardalos didn’t feel she could write about until she experienced it for herself. “It was a sad process for me to become a mom, and a long process,” Vardalos said of her nine year struggle with IVF. “I felt so embarrassed that I couldn’t have a biological child.”

Vardalos adopted her daughter in 2008.

In her 2013 book Instant Mom, Vardalos detailed the experience she and Gomez, who amicably divorced in 2018, shared of adopting their daughter Ilaria in 2008. The couple went through the process of foster care adoption after Vardalos started looking into the option of adopting a child who had been in foster care. Ilaria, who was 3 years old at the time, had been in foster care since birth. And when Vardalos met her, she told People in 2020, she instantly knew she had met her child. “The first thing I did was whisper in her ear, ‘I will always take care of you,’” she said at the time. Now that Ilaria is 11 years old, Vardalos is all about being her mom. As she told People in the same interview, “I'm so grateful and can’t imagine my life without her.”