LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - On Saturday, a rare event will occur in the history of the 2,500-year-old Acropolis of Athens, and it involves Nia Vardalos, the writer-actress who became the face of Greek culture through her worldwide indie smash “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
Vardalos and her indie romantic comedy “My Life in Ruins” will shoot at the ancient Greek temple, marking perhaps the only time a Hollywood production has even been allowed to shoot at the venerable site. “Ruins” has already shot at the Oracle at Delphi and ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.
“No one has ever been granted permission to shoot at the ancient sites,” Vardalos said by phone from Greece. “This is huge.”
The movie, about a beleaguered Greek tour guide, also stars Richard Dreyfuss, Rachel Dratch, Harland Williams and Greek actor Alexis Georgoulis. Donald Petrie is directing. Filming in Greece started last week.
Getting there, though, was not without its challenges. Securing permission began several years ago, when Vardalos contacted then-minister of tourism Fanny Palli-Petralia, who asked her to carry the Olympic torch during the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. Once Vardalos made her case, Palli-Petralia and the minister of culture at the time, George Voulgarakis, began the long process of working the request through many levels of government.
“It was a lot of dinners and hand shaking, a lot of requesting permission and really assuring them that we would leave the ruins exactly as we found them,” Vardalos said.
When an election saw the ruling party voted out, the producers thought all their efforts were for naught. But the incoming ministers of tourism and culture picked up the “Ruins” cause, persuading the right people that the shoot would be beneficial for the country and the sites would remain unharmed. They were given the greenlight to shoot at the Acropolis -- for one day.
“One of the most important factors was that Nia is beloved in Greece. She is a daughter of Greece and represents a positive representation of what being Greek is,” said Michelle Chydzik, a producer on the film.
Permission to shoot came with strings attached, some obvious, some more cultural. No hanging lights off columns, for example, and no food or drinks on the site.
Also, the production had to assure the Greek government that it would not fake any of the sites, even with a fake background or column.
“You can’t call something Delphi if you are not in Delphi,” Chydzik said. “If you are standing at the Temple of the Oracle, you have to say it is the Temple of the Oracle. You can’t cheat it even in the location. You can’t walk 50 feet away and say that that’s the temple.”
The government, having read the script, requested minor changes, including red-flagging a running gag in which two men on a tour bus are always drinking beer. Because drinking alcohol is not permitted on the sites, the scenes were rewritten.
And because tourism is perhaps the country’s biggest industry, the government stipulated that no site or road could be closed or access restricted, something almost impossible to imagine happening in Los Angeles.
“There are more visitors coming to the country than the amount of people living there,” Chydzik said. “They won’t do anything to interfere with tourism. They do not want a situation where you show up and you’re told, ‘Sorry, the Acropolis is closed today.’”
So the production has had to deal with European, Canadian and Chinese travellers who fortunately have been very well behaved. “People take pictures, and we (have) signed some autographs, but there is a really cool quiet that comes over tourists when they come to these sites,” Vardalos said.
For the filmmakers, shooting in Greece was necessary for the sake of authenticity, a feeling Vardalos has been reminded of every day.
“You can really feel the vibe -- the mysticism, the history, the culture -- it’s everywhere,” she said. “We walked through the grounds today, and it occurred to me over and over: We’re not on a set. It’s a field completely strewn with ruins. It’s real. It’s all very real.”