Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos (Keri Wiginton, Chicago Tribune / April 12, 2013)

Nia Vardalos made an art of airing the family laundry. A delightful, bighearted, lucrative art.

The Canadian-born, Second City-trained actress and writer netted Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," the 2002 film about her real-life family, that grossed $367 million and that she wrote and starred in.

Still, when friends urged her to write a book about her long, winding path toward motherhood, she blanched.

"I said I'd 'think it over,' which was my polite way of shrieking, 'No waaaaaaaaaay,' " she writes in "Instant Mom" (HarperOne), the book she did, eventually, write about adopting her now 7-year-old daughter, Ilaria. "The simple fact is my daughter deserves her anonymity."

Vardalos spent 10 years trying to become a mom — failed fertility treatments, thwarted attempts to adopt a baby and every painful step in between. In 2008, she and her husband, actor Ian Gomez, received word that they were matched with a 3-year-old girl who had been relinquished to foster care and legally freed for adoption.

When the adoption was final, Vardalos hugged her social worker and asked, "For all those years, why didn't I know about the kids in foster care waiting for parents?"

"Well, we've been waiting a long time for someone like you," the social worker answered.

"They needed a spokesperson," Vardalos writes. "They needed an advocate. They needed a blabbermouth like me."

She became a spokeswoman for National Adoption Day, appearing on talk shows and giving speeches about matching children with adoptive parents. Telling her story became therapeutic. And easier. And effective.

"Keep talking," the director of a child-placement agency told her. "The kids are flying out the door."

And, finally, the idea of writing about her family again — in its new, more intimate form — began to make sense.

"I've realized there's a difference between secrecy and discretion," she writes.

(Vardalos and Gomez have a strict policy against allowing their daughter to be photographed by the media.)

We sat down with Vardalos over coffee during her recent book tour. We covered everything from the Disney Channel to false eyelashes. ("This awesome guy did my makeup and I'm telling you in seven minutes I went from 'I'm asleep' to 'Hello, my baby, hello, my darlin'!' I could take it on the road with Debbie Reynolds.") Oh, and her book. We chatted about her book.

Following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: What's surprising you right now about motherhood?

A: How innocent she still is. It might be because we don't let her watch the Disney Channel or see our movies.

Q: Not even the McKenna movie? (Vardalos plays American Girl doll McKenna's mom in 2012's "McKenna Shoots for the Stars.")

A: I asked her, "Would you like to see that movie?" and she said, "No. I really don't want to see any kissing." Ugh. Who would? I don't even want to see myself do kissing scenes. I really wouldn't want to see my mom in one.

Q: You wrote this book not just to talk about motherhood — you wrote it with a specific goal, right?