When you think back on My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you probably remember the Windex and that wedding dress — and probably in that order. The Oscar-nominated comedy culminated in the nuptials of Toula Portokalos (star and screenwriter Nia Vardalos) and Ian Miller (John Corbett), with the bride donning an overly-embellished gown that Toula claims makes her look like a "snow beast." More than 20 years later, the third installment in the franchise — My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 — is taking the Portokalos family back to the home country for a big, fat family reunion, and as the movie's title necessitates, another wedding.
That's where costume designer Timothy A. Wonsik comes in, tasked with not only designing the costumes for the cast for their getaway to Greece but also with finding the wedding dress for the threequel's climactic wedding ceremony. Wonsik, who most recently served as the costume designer on Disney's live-action Lady and the Tramp, was brought onto the project by his regular collaborator, the Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood, who served as a consultant on the film. "What I was told when I first got there was, 'Just make everybody look beautiful,'" he says. "It was a collaboration between the actors, myself and with Nia. We all had strong opinions, we all collaborated, we conceded to others' choices."
A.frame: Was "just make everyone look beautiful" a directive from Nia? What were your conversations with her about her vision for this, what with it being her first time directing one of the My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies?
Yeah, she just really wanted everybody to feel good about their clothing. All these years later, when you look back, I think sometimes you can see things that maybe look dated or are very in that moment in time, but here, we had a moment where we're using classic silhouettes on everybody — beautifully fit dresses, gray linen shirts, linen trousers, beautiful sandals. It was just to make everybody look good.
We were in a location where it was really hot and fairly humid, so fabrication was everything. Linens, cottons, chiffons, silks — anything that I could get that was light and airy to make them comfortable while we're shooting the movie. And we were using colors that were in the landscape, in the location of Athens and Corfu. You have these beautiful Venetian-sort of buildings in Corfu with these beautiful washed salmon colors, and terracotta colors, and cream colors. You'll see that throughout the movie: Colors of the sea — sea foams and blue-grays and blue-greens — sort of encompassing the environment in their costumes. They are leaving Chicago, getting to Greece, running into the sea, getting totally wet, and from that moment on, the color palette changes to light and airy and fun, like the movie.
The family diving into the sea is this tangible moment where you Greekify them, taking these characters from their Americanized Greek looks to a true Greek wardrobe. What was your approach to really infusing Greek influences into the costumes, without them ever looking like a parody of Greek costumes?
Right. We tried to add Greek patterns, whether it would be a Greek key or those wave patterns you'd see in some of the architecture and a lot of the pottery in Greece, in patterns on dresses, or a trim on Nia's dress down the seam on her sleeve. We tried to throw them in there slightly, so you could see them but not make it kitsch or like you're wearing Hawaiian shirts all the time. We tried to put it in there in a subtle manner, just reminding people throughout the movie that you are in Greece.
And kitsch can be wonderful. One of my favorite pieces is the naked apron that Andrea Martin wears. Where did that come from?
We actually printed that up! We looked at different Greek statues, did screen prints of them and showed them to Nia, and Nia chose the one that she really wanted. We went and had the naked statue printed, and we just cut it out and made it into an apron. Everybody just was laughing so hard. It was hilarious. And it was sort of on the fly. Sometimes you have these quick-witted moments and you're like, 'Okay, we can do that. We can get that ready for the scene tomorrow.' I had a great Greek crew. I had a seasoned assistant who lives there, who works there, and was really utilizing their talents and their abilities in their home country to really do the things that I can normally do here in the United States. Because I'm new to the country and I've never been there before for work, and it was exciting to be able to see what they can do over there with their talented people.
A My Big Fat Greek Wedding movie wouldn't be complete without a wedding dress, but this one is different than any of the ones we've seen before. How did you find the perfect dress for this?
Well, it was funny. I had that dress originally. We bought it in Greece, in Athens, and then when we started talking about the wedding dress, Nia wanted something much more traditional, like what you'd see in a Western-style dress. So we found one, and then Stephanie [Nur] came in for a fitting, who plays Qamar, and she happened to see the dress she wore on camera in my office. She was like, 'Oh my God, what is that?' And I said, 'Well, that was the dress I had for you originally.' And because it was a sundress, it was linen, it had those gold patterns through it, she was like, 'Oh my God, that is so Syrian. That is so me. That's the dress I should be wearing.' So, I had her throw it on. And I took some pictures and sent it to Nia, and said, 'Listen, Stephanie is here right now with me. She saw this dress sitting on the rack in the office and said that this would be the perfect dress.'
Even though I had bought this other dress and fit it on her, and she was coming in for her last fitting, Stephanie said, 'This is the dress.' And when you see it, it actually makes much more sense. If you think that Aunt Voula is going to make the dress with the grandmother, that's something that you could believe that they would make, as opposed to a really fitted bodice with a sweetheart neckline and a big full skirt with tons of chiffon. I think that this was a better dress for the wedding scene.
Once you sent off those texts, was Nia easily convinced?
Yeah, absolutely. Nia came back and said, 'You know what? You guys are absolutely right. Let's go for that dress.' And I tailored it to fit her. We went out and bought her sandals. We got her some jewelry, some ribbons for her hair, and then makeup took over their end of it and got her ready for the wedding, and she looked beautiful. What an absolutely incredible sight.
I also love how it juxtaposes what Nia wears in the first movie, which is the biggest thing you've ever seen in your life with the appliqués and the accoutrements and the adornments.
With those big lamb chop sleeves that she wore and stuff like that. I mean, my sister got married in a dress like that. I remember that vividly. But yeah, this is totally different. All these years later, in a different country, over a hot summer, this is what she would've worn for a summer wedding in Greece. And that's why it wound up being perfect. And that's what it's all about — collaboration, working with each other. Because we all have a different viewpoint and a different vision when we're doing our jobs. It's working with the actors and with the director and then coming up with the best solution for that look, for that moment, in that scene.
Watching this movie and knowing I was going to talk to you, I wondered, when you have a scene set at a nude beach, is that the easiest day on set for a costume designer?
It seems like it would be! And a lot of those people that actually were in that scene, especially the background, a lot of them volunteered for it. That makes it really easy. It's never easy telling somebody you have to be nude or you have to take your bikini top off. That's something that is always awkward. So, when we were there doing that scene and people just volunteered to be in it, that made my job so much easier. Because they were comfortable with themselves, which was great. They weren't going to be inhibited and show it in their body language.
The joy of filming in Europe.
Exactly, yes! Thank God! If it was an American scene, it would've been totally different and very difficult.
When you think back, do you have a standout memory from one of your fittings or from being on set that sort of encompasses your experience on My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3?
For me, I think the two best parts of it were the dinner party scene where everybody's in their cream tones, because that's a pivotal moment in the movie, and also the wedding scene. I mean, whenever you can do a really big wedding scene with hundreds of people and pull it off with no issue, that's like a feather in your cap. I mean, I had fun every single day. This was like being on vacation. I was working, but being in a beautiful country with beautiful people and wonderful food, you couldn't beat that. It was just really great. The cast was amazing. I think this is going to be a really good movie. I think it's a feel-good movie. I think it's humorous. I think it's romantic. I think it's going to be a big hit, and I was grateful for the opportunity to do it.
By John Boone