Catherine O’Hara played the memorable matriarch Moira Rose in the award-winning Schitt’s Creek, and one of the many awards the show received was O’Hara’s 2020 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy. In her acceptance speech, that she also peppered with Moira-esque words and phrases like “ungrateful doddypoll,” she said, “I will be forever grateful to Eugene and Daniel Levy for storing upon me the opportunity to play a woman of a certain age, my age, who gets to fully be her ridiculous self. […] May you have as much joy being holed up in a room or two with your family as I have with my dear Roses.”
She has a chance at another acceptance speech for the role as she’s nominated for a 2021 Golden Globe, for Best Television Actress in a Comedy/Musical, and the show itself and the three other Rose family actors — Eugene Levy, Dan Levy, and Annie Murphy — are also nominated for their work (via Golden Globe Awards). But O’Hara’s much more than just a Schitt’s Creek star.
Catherine O'Hara's upbringing helped shape her comedy career
O’Hara grew up in Toronto, and she wasn’t formally trained in comedy (via The Second City). But it seems like she may have gotten some informal training based on her family life; “everybody in my family’s funny. Being funny was highly encouraged in our family, I think. My dad would tell jokes, and my mom would tell stories and imitate everyone within the stories” (via The New Yorker). O’Hara worked as a waitress at the improv and sketch-comedy theater The Second City Toronto, as did her brother and sister (via The Second City).
Her brother also worked for a time at another Toronto theater where he met Gilda Radner (via The New Yorker), who would go on to become one of the first SNL cast members (via Britannica). The two dated for a couple of years, and during that time, Radner and Catherine O’Hara became friends, with Radner taking care of O’Hara like a little sister (per Vanity Fair).
O’Hara sees having grown up in Canada as giving her a sense of humor unique from that of an American. She told Rolling Stone, “Canadians not only have a sense of humor about others, but also about themselves — which I think is the healthiest and best kind of sense of humor to have. And there’s an edge to it — but with compassion and love — but it’s a good, dark sense of humor, too, in there just because of awareness of the world around you.”
The actress started at The Second City Toronto as a waitress
Before we fell in love with her characters on screen, Catherine O’Hara worked as a waitress at The Second City Toronto (via The Second City). She auditioned to be part of the cast at the improv/sketch-comedy club, but then-director Joe Flaherty told her, “I heard you auditioned. Keep up the day job. Keep up the waitressing” (via BuzzFeed). She finally joined the Second City Toronto cast in 1974, replacing Gilda Radner, and from there she helped to create and starred in Canadian sketch show SCTV (via The Second City).
On SCTV, O’Hara’s work included doing comedic impressions of people like Brooke Shields and Lucille Ball (via The Second City). When talking about how they came up with ideas for the show, she said part of the process was “kind of gathering all these little bits of information. And it’s all laughing at ourselves. Not just others, but ourselves. Just behavior that human beings can’t help. We are ridiculous and great and lovely and sweet and innocent and scary” (via Vulture).
Catherine O'Hara's filmography is so much more than Moira Rose
While some may just know Catherine O’Hara through her most recent work as the delightfully dramatic Moira, it’s hardly her first time bringing life to a wacky and wonderful character. For example, she starred in Christopher Guest’s mockumentary movies Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration (via IMDb); and as it happens, she did so alongside Eugene Levy, her husband on Schitt’s Creek.
And who can forget her as Delia Deetz in the ’80s film Beetlejuice, particularly that dinner scene? The film didn’t just help bring her increased fame in America; it was actually on the set of Beetlejuice that O’Hara met her husband Bo Welch, with whom she shares two children together (via Good Housekeeping).
Speaking of being a mother, O’Hara’s role in Home Alone as Kevin’s mother may have been back in the ’90s, but she got renewed attention for it this past year. For a tribute to John Hughes, she recreated the iconic moment when her character realizes she’s forgotten her son at home and screams “KEVIN!” and faints — the video of it went viral on TikTok (via USA Today).
Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy won Emmys together in 1982
Working together since the 1970s, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy have a strong bond. The two were both writers at SCTV and got Emmys for their writing work on that show in 1982 (via the Television Academy). Some 40 years later and after working together on a variety of projects, O’Hara was the first and only person Levy and his son Dan, the creators of Schitt’s Creek, had in mind for Moira. Levy knew that she might not want to commit to the whole project up front, and asked her, “I know you’re not sure you want to do this series, but will you do the pilot presentation please?” (via BuzzFeed). She said yes, and the rest is history.
The two have both been nominated for their work in Schitt’s Creek, and it’s actually a film they were both in together that helps keep them grounded during awards season (Moira’s favorite season). The movie is For Your Consideration, a mockumentary about actors who get caught up in thinking that they’re going to get Oscars for what is quite a bad film, and the parallels between that movie and reality hasn’t escaped O’Hara. She explained to The Guardian, “Eugene and I, any time awards season — that holiest of seasons — comes up, we always [reference that film]. Writing your speech, just in case! That movie was a great reminder not to take it all too seriously.”
Catherine O'Hara named Moira's wigs after her friends and family
Catherine O’Hara brought a lot to the character of Moira. In a joint interview from 2014, Eugene Levy told her how much her input was valued: “Your ideas are always really great; your ability to come up with lines and ideas for your character are things you just can’t find when you’re hiring just somebody who can’t do this kind of thing” (via BuzzFeed). One memorable decision was for Moira to wear all kinds of different wigs, and at times during the show the wigs were named. Those names were the names of friends and family of O’Hara’s; Maureen, for example, is O’Hara’s sister (via YouTube).
O’Hara was also the one that came up with Moira’s unique accent. As she told Vulture, “I explain the voice as souvenirs from all my world travel. I’ve taken a bit of all the people I’ve met in the world and I’m sharing it with you.”
Moira’s outfits are over-the-top and spectacular and pretty much always black and white, which is actually something O’Hara has in common with her character. O’Hara told The New Yorker in 2019 that particularly when she travels, “I can’t plan ahead what I’m going to wear, so I just grab a bunch of black-and-white things, maybe some gray, maybe some blue, that’s it.” She even plans to pay homage to Moira with her outfit choice for the 2021 Golden Globes (via Golden Globes).
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