As someone who has met quite a few people standing in the limelight, I feel eligible to say that, while most of them usually try to be friendly, very few of them are willing to encounter their fans with true and honest respect. I am not talking about when you run into your favorite actor/singer in a restaurant or chase them at the airport to ask for a selfie (please don’t ever do that!). I’m talking about meeting them at official events such as movie premieres, film festivals or comic cons. For instance, at the Entertainment and Pop Culture Festival, Comicpalooza, in Houston which took place on the weekend from May 12 to 14. The convention hosted by Startling Events LLC is the biggest in all of Texas and had quite a long, impressive guest list including actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and TV shows such as The Flashand Supernatural. The biggest draw, probably, was the attendance of martial artist and actor Chuck Norris. Nevertheless, not everyone was delighted by his presence as many believe he does not particularly stand for the values that are most celebrated in comic cons: equality, open-mindedness, and respect.
One person who does exactly promote those merits is two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell. You may know her from Dances With Wolves where she overshadowed everything and everyone around her with her outstanding portrayal of Stands With A Fist. Or you might have seen her rule the universe in Battlestar Galactica making us laugh, scream and cry. Recently she excels as LAPD boss-lady, Commander Sharon Raydor, on Major Crimes while guest starring as the fierce widow Ruby Goldfarb on FX’s Fargo. She is the reason why I jumped onto a plane in Europe and crossed the Atlantic to attend a convention on the other side of the world. I have met Ms. McDonnell several times and the day has not dawned when she has not welcomed me with a big smile, kind words, and, most importantly, respect. It wasn’t any different at Comicpalooza. She made sure to take time for every single person who came to see her. She listened to them and told them she was happy they were there. She let them shower her with gifts, not because she likes receiving an insane number of presents but because she knows it makes fans happy. It was their way of expressing their gratitude and admiration. She listened to people telling their life stories and she let them share their difficulties and almost miraculously made their struggles seem easier to endure by offering kind, meaningful words in return.
At conventions McDonnell’s colleague and friend, the great Edward James Olmos, is often by her side. This time, however, it was her daughter, Olivia Jane Mell, who accompanied her. Olivia Jane is an actress, singer and songwriter. She is a vibrant, talented lady who has recently completed her very first record which will be released in mid-July. Convention attendees were able to talk to Olivia and ask her questions at any time during the weekend. It was a delight to see how easily she captured people’s attention with her charm and contagious good humor – a reflection of her mother in more ways than one. On a personal note, I’ve never had more delicious chocolate than the one Olivia handed out as part of the promotion for her album. She mentioned that she picked out the ingredients of the candy bar herself, confirming that her good taste does not only extend within the confines of music.
During the weekend, McDonnell also offered fans the opportunity to ask questions about her career and current projects in a Q&A session (available to watch here). On Sunday, she and Olivia Jane hosted a Mother’s Day panel (watch here). To start it off, Olivia performed one of her songs from her upcoming record. Pretty much everyone I talked to afterwards confirmed that I was not the only one who got chills while listening to her magical voice. Following this outstanding performance, people were asked to talk about their mothers, about being a mother and about mothering in general. We were able tell our stories and share our thoughts. There was not much encouragement needed to get people talking. The two artists on stage created a safe environment in which sharing and opening up almost seemed like an easy task. It was incredibly heartwarming to see how comfortable and how understood they made people feel. Mary made some remarks that were so profound and helpful to people struggling with particular circumstances in their lives that at times I couldn’t help becoming emotional. I found myself feeling incredibly lucky and deeply grateful to have my soul touched by this experience. The entire panel somehow felt like a therapy session that we all didn’t know we desperately needed. It was a very special, very pervasive moment that I think will stay with everyone for a very long time.
Apart from the mother-daughter duo, there were several other people who made the event unique: the fans themselves. The people I got to meet and interacted with at the convention all behaved in such a respectful, generous way that I felt incredibly proud to be a part of this community. It was a pleasure to witness how wholeheartedly excited they were to meet Mary McDonnell and it filled every cell of my being with joy to see her return that excitement. This is not the usual fandom/celebrity thing; this is something else entirely. It is an encounter of human souls, brimming with truth and emotion.
I’m wondering if Mary McDonnell will ever truly understand just how much of an impact she has on people and how she keeps changing their lives for the better with her work but especially by just being her humble, radiating, and kind self. If you are yet to have this kind of experience with your favorites, you might want to consider joining Mary McDonnell’s fan community. Admission requirements: enthusiasm, kindness, and respect.
Check out Olivia Jane’s music by taking a look at her youtube channel! Her new single “Glass House” will be released on June 2! You can listen to a sample here. Olivia Jane’s record will be available to purchase in July! Visit her website and Twitter for further info and news!