Nia Vardalos thought Greek weddings were stressful, but that was before she tried dressing up as a man who dresses up as a woman. In her new film, “Connie and Carla,” a “Thelma and Louise” meets “Sister Act” meets “Victor/Victoria” comedy, she and Toni Collette star as suburban performers who star in a musical revue at their local airport. When they witness a murder, they drive cross-country and hide out as drag queens in West Hollywood.

The daily routine of getting into costume wasn’t easy on the star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” who usually goes makeup-free. “I felt like someone put a huge pair of granny underwear across my face,” Vardalos says. “And the wigs! It was as if someone was sitting on my head.” But she had to get used to the extra weight, especially when rehearsing the various numbers Connie and Carla perform from “Cabaret,” “South Pacific” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the drag club. “It never occurred to me that I was going to be dancing away in huge heels and a wig bigger than my own ass,” Vardalos jokes.

This story first appeared in the April 8, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

According to Vardalos and the costume designer Ruth Myers, who provided the overall look for the movie, which comes out on April 16, the idea was to go for “everyday drag.” “As silly as this is going to sound,” says Vardalos, “we tried not to go over the top.” Myers, who has worked on more than 60 films, from “The Firm” to “The Four Feathers,” adds that the idea was to make the costumes look homemade and not as slick as, say, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “The Birdcage.”

“Funnily enough, that’s harder to do than coming up with grand costumes,” Myers explains.

Though the going was tough, all the exaggerated accessorizing brought out Vardalos’ more feminine qualities. “With those huge falsies on my own boobs and two or three pairs of eyelashes, I felt like 200 percent woman,” she says. And the experience gave her a whole host of style tips to bring to her everyday life. For instance, she learned about lip liner from the performers at the Queen Mary, a drag club in Los Angeles that has since closed. “Lip liner is my new best friend,” quips Vardalos, who says she also discovered fishnet stockings. “And I wore the glitter powder that they put on my neck and shoulders in my cleavage to a party recently. Everyone was like ‘Wow!’ My girlfriends have been teasing me and saying I haven’t been the same since I did the drag movie.”

Vardalos says that decking herself out with makeup and designer clothes gave her a confidence she never expected. “My focus all my life has been to be funny and suddenly with this movie I had to be funny and sexy,” she confides. “I wasn’t comfortable being in that place, but I liked it.” Dressing up also had its interesting side effects, meaning it helped her pay attention to her figure. “You know, when I’m dressed up, I eat less at a party. If you wear stretchy jeans, you’re definitely going to head for the buffet. But you can’t do that when you’re wearing a white satin miniskirt.”

And since filming ended, she’s been hitting the clothing racks. “I’ve really gotten into shoes and purses,” she says. But that may be less the result of “Connie and Carla” and more because she’s becoming a bigger star. “I went out with the four actors who play the drag queens in the movie, and they went through my purse and I had my vitamins in a Baggie. They said, ‘Honey, get with the program.’ So I went and bought a little Prada zipper bag to put my vitamins in. You know, the humiliating experience of four fantastic actors going through my bag really raises the bar.”

— Marshall Heyman

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