Big Fat Legal Fight Over Share of 'Wedding' Presents

Times Staff Writer

A Hollywood manager claims he's been cheated out of his big fat paycheck.

Rick Siegel, former manager for Nia Vardalos, the creator and star of the hit movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," sued the actress Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that she broke a long-standing verbal agreement.

The managing partner of Marathon Entertainment claimed that Vardalos reneged on her promise to pay his firm 15% of her compensation from the sleeper hit movie. The film, which cost $5 million to produce, has grossed more than $225 million at the box office in the U.S. and Canada, earned several Golden Globe nominations and is seen as an Oscar contender.

"Ms. Vardalos' choice to deprive her management company its deserved compensation to keep more of the spoils of her success for herself smacks of Greek tragedy," the lawsuit says.

Vardalos could not be reached late Friday. Her attorney, Marty Singer, said Siegel's lawsuit was "absolutely without merit." Singer said his firm this week filed a complaint against Siegel with the California Labor Commissioner.

That complaint accuses Siegel of conflict of interest, breach of fiduciary duties and acting as an unlicensed talent agent. Under California law, only licensed talent agents -- not managers -- are allowed to procure employment for performing artists.

Managers found in violation of the law must forfeit their commissions.

Siegel's lawsuit paints a different picture of the behind-the-scenes work that led to Vardalos' success.

The suit contends that Vardalos hired Siegel's firm in October 1997 when she was an unknown actress, struggling to keep her one-woman act on stage.

That same month, actress Rita Wilson, the wife of actor Tom Hanks, attended the show and loved it. In what has become a well-known back story, Wilson ultimately emerged as one of the key producers of Vardalos' play and eventually the movie. Wilson co-produced the play with Marathon, which invested $20,000 in the production and secured the Globe Theatre in West Hollywood as its venue, the suit says.

"Mr. Siegel, by producing Ms. Vardalos' one-woman show and doggedly working to find production partners and facilitate production of the film, played a significant role in helping nurture and shape this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Ms. Vardalos," the suit says.

When the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" began filming in Toronto in mid-2000, the suit claims, Siegel "spent the first week of production with Ms. Vardalos....He provided her guidance, raised her confidence and managed her."

Siegel was so involved in the movie that he should have received a producer credit, the lawsuit contends. But Vardalos decided not to give him the credit, instead "offering and reaffirming unconditional payment for all services rendered," the suit says.

The suit maintains that Vardalos terminated her relationship with Siegel and Marathon on Nov. 6, 2000, but for nearly a year continued to promise Siegel some of the profit from the movie.

Siegel said the matter should become an important test case for the constitutionality of California's talent agent law.

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