THE BIG WEDDING
Followed By An Uproarious Reception
With The Big Wedding about to get underway, the Griffins welcome two other families to join with them -- Alejandro's birth family from Colombia and, of course, their new in-laws -- each of whom add even more to the uproar with their own misbehaviors and misunderstandings.
Taking the key role of Madonna, who flies from Colombia to see the son she gave up for adoption get married, is Patricia Rae. Rae is herself of Colombian descent but was born and raised in New York and has been seen in a wide range of television and film roles, winning acclaim in the indie hit Maria Full of Grace. She took to the comic challenges of the role -- playing a woman who not only has never met her son's freewheeling adoptive family but can't even communicate with them in the same language -- with aplomb.
"It's very challenging to do an entire movie pretending not to understand a thing!" she muses. "I started by making assumptions about the characters from their gestures, as Madonna would, because she doesn't get the full picture from her perspective. The situation is so foreign, she's a true fish out of water, and all the misconceptions she has about the Griffins and that the Griffins have about her lead to a lot of humor."
Rae notes that it's not just Madonna who gets a fuzzy view of the madcap goings-on between the Griffins. Even Alejandro might have the wrong impression of his birth mother. "He sees her as being this very traditional woman but she's also just as human as everyone else," Rae comments. "She's someone who's very spiritual, but she's also someone who you come to realize wears her heart on her sleeve."
Working with the remarkable cast of The Big Wedding was a thrill for Rae, but she especially had fun with Robin Williams as the priest who Madonna becomes suspicious of when he doesn't even remember his Latin. "Robin is just so brilliant," she says. "And one thing that's so genius about him is that he knows exactly when to let the other person in a scene be funny. He knows that comedy is also about reacting. During the confession scene, he doesn't say a word because Madonna won't let him but Robin allowed me to have that freedom and support."
She also was inspired by Diane Keaton. "Watching Diane work was a dream come true because she is so amazing and so open hearted and that was the biggest gift of all," she says.
Madonna brings another surprise with her to the U.S.: her daughter, Alejandro's shockingly sensual sister, Nuria, who is played by rising newcomer Ana Ayora. "Ana was the really surprise find of this movie," says Justin Zackham. "She was spectacular."
Born in Colombia and raised in Miami, Florida, Ayora was taken with the sultry character of Nuria -- and her course-altering effect on Jared Griffin. "For Nuria, coming to America is this huge adventure," Ayora observes. "She arrives with this misconception that America is very free when it comes to sexuality and so she's very forward in situations where it's completely uncalled for. She has this connection with Jared and she thinks, 'I'm going after him full throttle.'"
Only when things go awry does Nuria get a lesson in what full-scale romance entails from Ellie Griffin. Ayora got a kick out of working with Diane Keaton in the role. "Diane's energy is so contagious," she says. "It was amazing to work with someone who automatically feels like someone that you already know."
Topher Grace also set her at ease, so that the sparks of their sexual tension could emerge. "He was so funny and made me so comfortable," she explains. "He took me to barbeques on Sunday and he took me to his family's house and we became real friends which makes the relationship on screen more truthful."
For Ayora, the comedy of The Big Wedding works because it is grounded in several different love stories. "To me this film is about love and about the idea that a family doesn't have to be a certain way. There are many different ways to love each other and that is beautiful," she concludes.
Alejandro's fiancee Missy might be very down-to-earth, but her parents -- Barry and Muffin -- are anything but. They are preppy Country Club snobs who have their own misgivings about Alejandro . . . and their own secrets. Playing the comically pretentious pair are Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole ("Grey Gardens") and former Second City member David Rasche (Men In Black 3), who went to town with their roles.
Despite the absurdity of some of her attitudes, Ebersole notes there is also something relatable at the heart of Muffin. "What it all boils down to is that we all just want to be loved and accepted -- and that's what underlies Muffin's agenda," she remarks. "I think Muffin and Barry are typical of people who are interested in fitting in, keeping up with the Joneses and moving in the right social circles. But that can become a bit of a trap and that's what has happened to Muffin. She has a lot of anxiety about this wedding but I also wanted to show that she has some humanity."
Sparking the shenanigans of the Griffin family on the occasion of their son's wedding is a visit by Alejandro and Missy to the priest who will marry them. Although the Griffins have a diversity of religious beliefs -- from Catholic to "Jewbuddhist" -- they all know Father Moinighan as a colorful town fixture. To play the role to the hilt, the filmmakers were thrilled to be able to cast Academy Award winner and global comedy icon Robin Williams.
Williams was drawn by his co-stars and by the story. "With all of these people, Diane, Susan, Bob, it's a wonderful cast," he says. "To be a part of this ensemble is kind of why I took the role-it's like a paid vacation. Don't tell anybody... but it's been lovely. The story has everybody coming out for the wedding -- the exes, the present partners, the old attractions, the new attractions -- and it's a great bedroom farce."
In the end, Father Moinighan does get to preside over a sacred union of true love, even if the ceremony bucks tradition -- in more ways than one. "There is sort of an elopement," notes Ben Barnes, "but it's an elopement of about 50 yards!"
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