"Now I can say I'm a member of the Portokalos family, which is still crazy for me," Elena Kampouris tells PEOPLE

By Chancellor Agard and Michael Miller
Updated March 25, 2016 12:00 PM
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Credit: George Kraychyk/Universal Pictures/Everett

When Elena Kampouris landed a role in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, her family couldn’t have been happier.

“Literally, I could’ve won like the Nobel Peace Prize and it would’ve meant nothing,” the New York-born actress of a Greek father and French-American mother tells PEOPLE. “Nothing I’m going to do in my life now is going to top this, unless I carry the Greek torch in the Olympics.”

In the sequel to the 2002 comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Kampouris, 18, plays Paris, the rebellious daughter of Toula Portokalos-Miller (Nia Vardalos) and Ian Miller (John Corbett). The movie finds Toula and Ian facing challenges in their marriage and struggling to parent their teenage daughter, who is starting to clash with some of the Greek traditions.

Kampouris didn’t have trouble getting into character because she related so much to her since they’re both about the same age and have an “insane, lovable, but quirky Greek family.” Also, she’s quite familiar with the first movie as her father calls it “the most brilliant movie in filmmaking history.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Kampouris was drawn to acting because of her parents, who encouraged her and her brother to be creative. Her biggest inspiration is her mother, who grew up in a small southern town and eventually moved to New York and worked in fashion illustration for Estée Lauder and Revlon.

“She just had a dream of making it in New York. She clawed her way into a successful career working for incredible brands and really making a name for herself,” says Kampouris, whose father encouraged her to audition for the movie. “What she can do with a plain piece of paper is just mind-blowing to see at such a young age.”

After booking the part, Kampouris was slightly nervous about joining the cast because the original group had all become like family during the original movie. However, that feeling was short-lived because the cast quickly welcomed her and fellow newcomer Alex Wolff.

“We felt we were at home,” she says. “Our nerves went away and we made amazing memories with them.”

Kampouris found working alongside Vardalos, who also produced and wrote the movie, “inspiring.” During production, she also got to know Michael Constantine, who plays Toula’s father, Kostas, and allowed Kampouris to call him Papou (Greek for grandfather) off-camera. As they walked around set together, Constantine would regale her with stories about Old Hollywood.

“It’s mind-blowing the wisdom he would share with me and also all of these incredible things he’s lived,” she says.

Although she’s already completed her next project – a drama where she plays a “mentally insane girl” – she’ll always have fond memories of working on this heartwarming film.

“Now I can say I’m a member of the Portokalos family, which is still crazy for me,” she says.