In Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, the beloved Portokalos family of the first two films travels to Greece to reconnect with their roots. And the minute they land in Athens, they are immersed in the sights, culture, and sounds of the country.
To highlight the music of Greece, Vardalos tapped Grammy Award-winning composer Stephanie Economou to compose the film’s score. Being of Greek heritage, Economou knew first-hand the instrumentation and melodic lines that are at the heart of Greek culture. And having worked in film, television, and video games, she knew how to weave those sounds into a classic movie score.
We spoke with Economou about the spirit of the movie, adding authentic Greek instruments into the orchestra, and why people love the Portokalos family.
How did you get involved in creating the score for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3?
When Nia Vardalos, our fearless leader, got back from Greece after shooting, she wanted to hire a composer—specifically one of Greek heritage and a woman. She set up an interview with me, and we met.
What did you feel was the biggest creative challenge for you as a composer?
Being of Greek heritage, I wanted the music to feel authentic, especially since the story takes place in Greece. For me, the challenge was how to highlight all the different aspects of this film—the romance, the adventure, the comedy—but still make it feel authentic to Greece. The other challenge was logistical. Since I live in Los Angeles, I was going to have to record Greek musicians remotely. There is such an authenticity from Greek players. My first port of call was figuring out which musicians could pop into a studio and record a track so we could have a collaborative relationship on opposite sides of the world.
Did you go back to the scores of the other Greek Wedding movies for inspiration?
The first film was a staple in my household and left a big impression on me. I told Nia that the music from the first film captured such a sense of magic. Even though I didn't want to be tied thematically to the earlier scores, I did want to capture that magic-in-a-bottle feeling they had. There were musical gestures in the first film which I took and made my own in order to evoke a sense of beauty and mystery in this film.
How did you weave Greek music into your score?
From listening to a lot of traditional Greek island and folk tunes, I picked out how certain instruments are associated with the music. In creating the score, I was helped by employing musicians like Stelios Petrakis. He is an incredibly prolific performer and composer. I emailed him and asked him if he would be willing to perform on the score. He was so excited, and his instrumentation palette helped unlock the spirit of Greece. He plays a range of instruments—bouzouki, laouto, lyra, and tzouras—which we were able to use to bring a Greek feel to a traditional film orchestration.
The film also features a number of original songs. How did you incorporate them?
I tried to bring my own voice to the score, but I also knew that there were going to be original songs, some that didn't come in until after I was finished. For example, there's a great composer, Kostas Christides, who wrote some songs. Having other Greek musicians and songwriters put their stamp on this musical journey, each trying to capture what was so special and real about this story, makes me really pleased.
What makes this family and their story so enduring?
Every single Greek can relate to these characters but I think non-Greeks can relate as well. Everybody feels like their aunt is just like that. And there is something wonderful about the family’s sense of togetherness, how they handle everything together.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope they are inspired to visit Greece or to find out more about where their family comes from.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.