NEW YORK — When Elena Kampouris first found out about a potential role as Nia Vardalos’ daughter in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” the young actress said, “I totally freaked out. I didn’t want to audition for it because they said they were looking for ‘Mediterranean or Israeli actresses who appear to be Greek.’
“Nobody ever believes me when I say I’m Greek,” added Kampouris. “Trust me. I am Greek. I know the Greek lifestyle, but if I didn’t get the part, I was afraid my Greek father would disown me!”
Because Kampouris’ natural features include a fair complexion and blonde hair, the actress was concerned she wouldn’t get to square one in the audition process. Sure, she could dye her hair, but she feared that wouldn’t be enough.
Yet being turned down for a role was not her biggest worry. “The pressure was way too high. It would be one thing to have rejection from the casting people in the movie. But to deal with rejection from a Greek family? That would have been worse. It would have been total dishonor,” said Kampouris, who admitted she was only kidding “a little bit.”
In the film (opening Friday), Kampouris plays the teenage daughter of Vardalos’ Toula and Ian (John Corbett) — who, as everyone who saw the original film knows, married in the first movie. “Growing up, my father would play this movie for me all the time,” said Kampouris. “He would always say, ‘This is the finest film in filmmaking history!’ When he did find out about the audition, he just said, ‘Go do the movie. … Tell them you’re Greek! You’ll get it!’
“I tried to explain to him that filmmaking doesn’t work like that. I might have six callbacks before I’d even be able to audition for Nia in person. So the pressure was really on.”
Eventually Kampouris was cast as Paris, the high school senior who is so anxious to escape the non-stop hovering by her large, loving Greek-American family, she plans to attend college across the country.
The actress, who was raised in New Jersey, is no stranger to the family structure of Greek culture. “I completely understood the character of Paris as Nia wrote her,” said Kampouris, alluding to Vardalos’ dual role as star and screenwriter.
“I say I have BTGFD,” said the actress. “That’s what I call it: Born to Greek Family Disorder. I understand what it’s like to be around family who has only one volume level — which is loud!
“The Greeks are crazy, but crazy good. They’re passionate about everything. … They talk with their hands, and sometimes with their feet! If we had more limbs, we Greeks would talk with them too!” said Kampouris, wildly gesturing, but only with her hands.
While “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” was filmed in Toronto (except for exterior shots), it is set in Chicago — as was the case with the first movie, a 2002 mega-hit that still ranks as the biggest-selling romantic comedy film in the world.
Vardalos, who launched the “Greek Wedding” empire from a one-woman show created while she worked in Chicago at Second City, explained, “The reason I set the story in Chicago, even though I’m Canadian, is not just because I have many family members who live there. Of course, Greeks are everywhere, but I just thought Chicago is in many ways an every-city — it’s relatable to everyone, no matter where they come from.”
Totally non-Greek John Corbett, who like the entire cast has returned for the sequel, joked that because of his role in these films, “many people think I’m fluent in Greek. You wouldn’t believe how many people come up to me — ever since the first film came out — and speak Greek. They walk away wondering why they aren’t getting the response they’re looking for!
“I can barely remember ‘Yasuo,’ ” quipped Corbett, referring to the word for “Hello.”