Star Wars actress urges Dallas luncheon crowd to unmask their own force
The Junior League of Dallas' annual Milestones Luncheon has become a beloved tradition of fall, packing in hundreds of the city's most driven women for a delicious lunch and inspirational talk from a big-name speaker.
The 2019 edition kept the bar high. Held November 1 at the Hilton Anatole, the event filled the Chantilly Ballroom with a crowd ready to honor Junior League's most ardent supporters and hear from actress and Golden Globe winner Keri Russell.
Before the celebrity moment — a chat with Russell moderated by Shelly Slater — guests were treated to a delectable lunch starring pecan crusted chicken breast. They were given a warm welcome by JLD President Brooke Bailey and luncheon co-chairs Alli Eagan and Connie O’Neill.
Sustainer President Ellen Bryant then awarded the 2020 Sustainer of the Year award to Bess Enloe for her passion, energetic leadership, and support of many groups, especially those in the arts.
There was one more order of business, and it was a biggie. Centennial Chairs Margo Goodwin and Andrea Cheek shared that Lyda Hill, a sustainer in the League, kicked off the JLD Centennial Endowment Foundation with a gift of $10 million dedicated to volunteer training; $5 million of Hill’s gift is a matching grant, they said, so they challenged all to participate in the transformative endowment.
As guests sipped coffee and nibbled chocolate mousse bars, Slater and Russell took the stage for a candid conversation that ranged from balancing family life to the importance of mentors. One of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses on TV, Broadway, and the silver screen, Russell will be seen next (well, behind a cool mask) in the forthcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (An upcoming Town & Country cover story calls her "The Secret Force Behind Star Wars.")
Dressed in a casual "movie-star-chic" look of faded skinny jeans, heels, a white tee, and navy blazer, Russell started by extolling the virtues of the recent Shiner Bock beer she'd enjoyed (hey, she was nervous). She likes simple things, she said — like staying off social media and sticking with an old AOL email account. "It's me and my grandma on AOL," she joked, in one of many self-deprecating moments during the talk.
Russell, whose parents live in Houston, was born in California but lived in Coppell as a teen and attended Coppell High School. A trained ballet dancer, she still loves to go out country dancing, she said.
When she was growing up, her mentors, she said, were characters in books — fictional sleuth Nancy Drew and pilot Amelia Earhart. She never set out to be an actress but always wanted to be adventurer, which acting allows her to do.
As for the Star Wars gig? Sure it's a big deal — to everyone but her 12-year-old son, who isn't impressed by anything his mom does on screen or off, she said. "Star Wars, I think, is the first thing that he actually gave me a miniature nod of acknowledgment — kinda cool."
When she's not in some glamorous location shooting a blockbuster role, Russell is home doing all the mom-things for her three kids: packing lunches, doing laundry, helping with Spanish and math homework. Russell has a blended family with her partner and former Americans co-star, Matthew Rhys.
"I most love when they most get along, which is not always," she says of their kids. "But when you get to witness a small kindness that usually one of the older kids does for the younger, it's just everything. You think, like, oh for a moment everyone is okay."
When she truly wants to unwind from it all, she said, she gets together with girlfriends. "I feel like first is family, then you have to figure out your job and how to pay rent and all those things, but then my friends — friends and wine, cheers! — they're my chosen family, so I feel like my friends make it better."
Russell's parting message was that finding your own work/life balance — not the picture anyone else paints of it — is the key to a fulfilling life. Don't believe the air-brushed version of people's lives that you see in glossy magazines and on social media, she advised.
"There's something now where we want everything to be easy and look really nice," she said. "But there's something about hard work. When you work hard, the good is so good. But if everything's good, you don't appreciate the good. It's the same way with bad days. I feel like we're not okay to have bad days now ... so the biggest thing I'd say is to let yourself off the hook."
Enthusiastic patrons that gave Russell a standing ovation included Heather LeClair, Tandra Allen, Elizabeth Dacus, Julie Bagley, Ashley Allen, Meredith Camp, Kristin Mitchell, Lindsey Miller, Andrea Nayfa, Brianna Spiller and Zakiyah Johnson, Caroline Kohl, Lynn McBee, Isabell Novakov, Lydia Novakov, Heather Hicks, Leigh Anne Haugh, and Nancy Gopez.
The Milestones Luncheon is an annual fundraiser benefiting the Junior League of Dallas Community Service Fund, which supports organizations working to combat critical issues affecting the Dallas community. Proceeds from the Luncheon allow the JLD to annually grant approximately $1 million to partner agencies and signature projects.