Lainie Kazan plays yet another mother in "My Big Fat Greek Life."
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
ters, along with those on other pop culture hits such
as HBO's The Sopranos, may spearhead more diverse
images on screen.
hen Lainie Kazan first read the screen-
Singer-actress Kazan grew up eating shishlik and
play of Nia Vardalos' My Big Fat
knaidlach instead of moussaka, but her performance
Greek Wedding, now a frothy CBS sit-
com, she could relate.
"Lainie even looks Greek," Vardalos said at a press
Vardalos said she based the charac-
conference. Vardalos' father, who like
ters on her large, "loud, always-eating
Papa Portokalos claims Greek origins
Greek family that loves me to the
for everything, has a theory about
point of suffocation."
Kazan: "Because Lainie is Sephardic-
And the Sephardic-Russian-Jewish
Jewish, he [said], 'Well, Lainie,
Kazan, who plays her Greek mama, hails
Alexander the Great went through
from a similarly boisterous ethnic clan.
Spain, so technically, you are Greek,'"
"It was everyone talking at the same
time; 'eat and you'll feel better' and
Kazan's Big Fat Jewish Life began in
[female] relatives who nourished, liter-
Brooklyn, where she grew up with a
ally and figuratively," the 60-year-old
bookie dad and a mother who was as
theatrical as the fictional Maria
Kazan brings those qualities to her
character of Maria Portokalos, who
"She was like a Jewish Blanche DuBois,
urges her daughter to marry Greek in
very neurotic, fragile and artistic, yet she
Lainie Kazan as Maria
Wedding and adjusts to her WASPy son- Portokalos in
"My Big Fat had no talent whatsoever," the actress
in-law in CBS' My Big Fat Greek Life.
said. "So when I was a child she took me
A quintessential Maria moment
to all kinds of music and dance lessons
occurs in the sitcom when she admon-
and she lived through me in a.way"
ishes the newlyweds for a perceived slight, then non-
Kazan's career took off when she stepped in for an
chalantly adds, "Bake the casserole at 350."
ill Barbra Streisand during the 1964 Broadway pro-
Kazan, who says she's portrayed "everyone's moth-
duction of Funny Girl; rave reviews and numerous
er except Whoopi Goldberg's," plays one of the most cabaret engagements followed.
recognizable characters in a franchise that began
During a rare weekend home, her doorbell began
when Wedding grossed more than $240 million and
ringing and a swarm of relatives descended like a
became the most successful independent film ever.
scene out of Greek Life.
Critics have noted that its ethnically specific charac-
"They started asking a million questions, so I said,
`Why don't you come with me on The Mike Douglas
Show and ask all the questions you want?'"
Soon thereafter, three generations of relatives boarded
a bus, affixed with a sign, "Kazan's Clan," and drove to
the Douglas taping. On the air, her mom cheerfully
demonstrated cooking chicken soup and her uncle, the
Stage Deli waiter, served it to the studio audience.
But behind the scenes, Kazan's mother wasn't so
happy about her career. "The nightclub world is
cruel, and she saw me suffer a lot of pain," the
actress said. "She always nudged me to marry a nice
Jewish boy and to lead a normal life."
While Kazan's early showbiz persona was that of a
sexy chanteuse (she even posed for Playboy), she even-
tually found herself relegated to playing moms, often
Jewish, in films such as Beaches and My Favorite Year.
"I wasn't crazy about it, but it was better than not
working," said Kazan, who has a daughter and a
She assumed Maria Portokalos was just another
mother when producer Tom Hanks invited her to par-
ticipate in a Wedding table reading several years ago.
"Afterward, he said he'd contact me if they ever
did the movie, and I thought, 'Yeah, sure,'-" she said.
"But a year and a half later, I got the call."
Like everyone else, the actress was stunned when
Wedding became the box office phenomenon of
2002; while it propelled Vardalos from struggling
comedian to magazine cover girl, Kazan experienced
her own kind of Cinderella story.
Having been ignored by Las Vegas nightclubS for a
decade, Kazan — whose first love remains music —
suddenly found herself booked again on the Strip. "I
was so thrilled," she said.
If she has onedisappointment, it's that her own
Jewish mama, who died a year-and-a-half ago, didn't
live to see Wedding or its TV spin-off
"She never got to kvell over the success I'm having
this time around," Kazan said. "But I'm sure on
some level, she knows." ❑
Don't Get Angry, Get Therapy
`Anger Management' pairs Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson in David Dor,fman script.
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
S creenwriter David Dorfman specializes in
dark comedies in which "one guy makes
another's life a living hell," he says.
Which is why Revolution Studio's Todd
Garner hired him to write Anger Management — the
season's most anticipated comedy — in 2001.
"He told me about a friend sentenced to anger
therapy for a barroom brawl," Dorfman said of the
premise. "But he'd come out of sessions angrier
than when he went in."
In the movie, Jewish nebbish Dave Buznik (Adam
Sandler) attends court-mandated therapy with an
abrasive, Talmud-quoting shrink (Jack Nicholson).
He's forced to sing "I Feel Pretty" and to hang with
an "anger ally" (John Turturro) so volatile he imagines
hearing anti-Semitic remarks in a bar. ("Are you
Jewish?" Buznik asks him. "I could be," he retorts.)
Bronx native Dorfman said he brings "a kind of
New York Jewish paranoia" to his characters. But
Sandler ("The Chanukah Song") signed on for a dif-
"I immediately liked the title and knew I needed
some in real life," he said in a statement. "Then I
read it and I was laughing."
In 1998, the thirtysomething Dorfman lost his
car, owed the IRS money and was taking the bus to
work. Then his screenplay, The Guest, sold for
$500,000 and his career was off.
Recently named one of Variety's "10 Hottest Voices in
Comedy," he said he's never been in anger management.
"But like Buznik, I've have had people drive me to
the point of insanity," he said.
There was the alcoholic neighbor who called him
a "New York Jew bastard" and the boss who reneged
on a crucial raise.
A scene from 'Anger Management"
"I wanted to trash the place," Dorfman recalled.
"Then you think of jail."
The writer was puzzled, rather than angry, with
the Austrian critics who disliked the movie.
"I'm thinking, this is-a film they should love, because
it's a Jew being tortured for 90 minutes," he said.