Nine days after addressing her peers onstage at the 76th Golden Globe Awards -- where she won best actress in a drama for the film "The Wife" -- Glenn Close addressed an even more eager audience Jan. 15 at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts in New Albany.
More than 940 students from 17 central Ohio high schools heard the 71-year-old actress describe her upbringing in a cult, her dedication to mental-health advocacy and actors in her sphere.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" co-star Chris Pratt is "the coolest guy," and Dave Bautista is "the biggest," she said.
The actress appeared as part of the New Albany Community Foundation's Jefferson Series, a public forum featuring acclaimed thinkers and creative people, and its accompanying lectures for students.
Organized by the community foundation since 2013, the Jefferson Series previously has had among its speakers biographer David McCullough, journalist Elizabeth Vargas and author Michael Pollan. The student-lecture program began in 2002 but since has been linked to the Jefferson Series, which boasts a $2.4 million endowment.
Close was selected for her work destigmatizing mental illnesses, particularly through her Bring Change to Mind foundation, which helps high school and college students organize clubs to discuss their struggles with such disorders as depression, schizophrenia and anxiety.
Close also contributed to her younger sister Jessie's 2015 memoir, "Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness," which documented Jessie's bipolar disorder that went undiagnosed until age 50.
Every student from the 17 schools in attendance received a copy of the book in advance, and the first question of the Q&A session asked for coping mechanisms when family members have mental illnesses.
Close's family joined the religious cult Moral Re-Armament when she turned 7, and the resulting isolation and disconnect from family members made mental-health conversations more difficult. After years of interventions, therapy and doctor visits, Jessie stabilized and now has a home across from Close's in Bozeman, Montana, where their two other siblings also live, she said.
"I don't understand why we don't talk about it," Close said, calling her sister and her nephew, who has schizophrenia, her "heroes." "When someone comes up to me in an airport and (whispers), 'I have mental illness in my family,' I say, 'Say it.' When we say it out loud, it loses its power."
New Albany High School senior Nisha Iyer said she never had heard of Glenn Close before she received her copy of "Resilience." She read the book in two days, recommended it to her parents and now feels more able to support those struggling with internal demons.
"I learned to be more aware that there's a lot going on in people's heads," she said. "Even if it's just saying, 'I'm going to be there. It's OK,' being there through anything and everything is the main thing."
Sarah Briggs, whose son Henry is a freshman at New Albany High School, said the lecture series has opened another avenue to discuss tricky subjects.
"As a parent, we can have conversations all day, every day, but to have a third-party validator, it's invaluable," she said.
Close is the fourth student-lecture speaker specifically to address mental health.
Craig Mohre, president of the New Albany Community Foundation, said the push to address the subject came after five New Albany teenagers committed suicide within 10 years.
"After the last suicide, we thought, 'We have to do something,' " he said. "We had this sense that this would provide a platform of community dialogue. By drawing people into the dialogue, you remove the stigma."