Catherine O'Hara smiles during a media session for the film For Your Consideration at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on 6 November 2006.
Early Years and Career
The second youngest of seven children, Catherine O’Hara grew up in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. She attended high school at Burnhamthorpe Collegiate, where her classmates included fellow future comedian Robin Duke. After graduating, O’Hara waitressed at the Second City Theatre in Toronto for a year and eventually became the understudy for Gilda Radner. She became a regular cast member when Radner departed the company in 1974. O’Hara’s acting career continued in 1975 with guest spots on the CBC’s Coming up Rosie (opposite Dan Aykroyd and John Candy) and The Wayne & Shuster Show.
SCTV (1976–79, 1981–83)
O’Hara became part of the first cast of SCTV in 1976. She quickly established herself as the resident funny woman of SCTV with her writing and performing. Her characters on the show remain some of the most beloved: boozy, washed-up lounge singer Lola Heatherton, based on sex kitten Lola Falana; clueless comedian Dusty Towne; and numerous celebrity impersonations, including Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor and a deadpan Katherine Hepburn. O’Hara dazzled audiences and critics with her ability to transform herself into a range of personas. She established herself as a master of physical comedy but also showed an ability to inject dramatic depth into the characters she parodied.
O’Hara left SCTV in 1980 for a spot on the newly retooled Saturday Night Live, However, she left that show after a week without appearing in any episodes. She rejoined SCTV for the 1981–82 season.
After continuing her work on SCTV, O’Hara appeared in feature films such as Rock and Rule (1983), After Hours (1985) and Heartburn (1986) with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep (the subject of perhaps her finest impersonation on SCTV). She also gave a memorable performance as Delia Deetz, the mother in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988).
O’Hara enjoyed one of her biggest successes playing the mother to Macauley Culkin’s Kevin McCallister in Christopher Columbus’s box office smash, Home Alone (1990). Home Alone grossed nearly $500 million at the worldwide box office, became a holiday viewing staple and inspired the sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), in which O’Hara reprised her role.
O’Hara’s work as a member of actor-director Christopher Guest’s ensemble mockumentaries — including Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006) — best demonstrates her range as a comedian and actress. Guest’s films favour improvisation and frequently pair O’Hara with her SCTV and Schitt’s Creek co-star Eugene Levy. O’Hara and Levy play a pair of terrier-loving suburbanites in Best in Show and former folk singers/lovers Mitch and Mickey in A Mighty Wind. The latter film brought O’Hara and Levy to the Academy Awards in 2004 to perform the nominated song “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow.”
O’Hara gave one of her best film performances in Guest’s award season satire For Your Consideration. She played aptly named actress Marilyn Hack, who dreams of an Oscar nomination when industry buzz touts her as a contender. O’Hara modeled Hack’s raised eyebrows off her mother and her sharp voice off of CBC telecasters. Although critics generally agreed that For Your Consideration lacked the punch of previous Guest films, they almost unanimously deemed O’Hara’s performance award worthy. The Toronto Star’s Geoff Pevere wrote, “O’Hara’s Hack — who will eventually subject herself to a form of cosmetic alteration that only Cher might envy — is a marvel of barely contained desperation.”
O’Hara’s additional film credits include: Dick Tracy (1990); Wyatt Earp (1994); The Life Before This (1999) alongside Sarah Polley, for which she won a Genie Award; Speaking of Sex (2001); Orange County (2002); A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) with Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep; Penelope (2006); Good Behavior (2008); Away We Go (2009); Killers (2010); Temple Grandin (2010), for which she earned nominations at the Emmy Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards; and The Right Kind of Wrong (2013).
Like many other SCTV alumni, O’Hara has leant her voice to many animated films, including Chicken Little (2005), Over the Hedge (2006), Monster House (2006), Where the Wild Things Are (2009), A Monster in Paris (2011), When Marnie Was There (2014), and most notably Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Frankenweenie (2012).
In addition to her work on SCTV, O’Hara has many notable television credits in both comedy and drama. While her film work favours Hollywood, her career in television includes a mix of American and Canadian programs. In 1995, O’Hara received the Earle Grey Award for lifetime achievement in Canadian television at the Gemini Awards.
Her TV credits include the animated series The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley (1988), based on Martin Short’s popular SCTV character; the miniseries Morton and Hayes (1991) with Christopher Guest; Tales From the Crypt (1994); The Outer Limits (1997), for which she directed an episode in 1998; Committed (2001); Six Feet Under (2003, 2005); Curb Your Enthusiasm (2009); the animated series Odd Job Jack (2003) and Glenn Martin DDS (2009–10); as well as 30 Rock (2012) and Modern Family (2015).
Schitt’s Creek (2015–19)
In 2015, O’Hara reunited with Eugene Levy for the CBC sitcom Schitt’s Creek, in which she plays washed-up soap opera star Moira Rose. The show follows a wealthy couple played by O’Hara and Levy as they go bankrupt and move to the small town of Schitt’s Creek, which they purchased years earlier as a joke.
Schitt’s Creek proved to be one of CBC’s best-received sitcoms in years. It averaged over a million viewers in its first season and became CBC’s most watched comedy online. O’Hara won four consecutive Canadian Screen Awards for her performance in Schitt’s Creek. In 2016, O’Hara and Levy were honoured with the Academy Legacy Award at the Canadian Screen Awards.
O’Hara is also a singer and songwriter; she sang on the Grammy-nominated A Mighty Wind album, wrote songs for her appearance on fellow SCTV star John Candy’s Last Polka TV special in 1985, and was part of the Northern Lights group to sing “Tears Are Not Enough.” She also sang for the soundtracks of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Best in Show.
O’Hara met her husband, production designer Bo Welch, on the set of Beetlejuice. The couple married in 1992 and have two sons, Matthew and Luke. Singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O’Hara is her younger sister.
- Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program (SCTV Network), Primetime Emmy Awards (1982)
- Earle Grey Award (shared with case of SCTV), Gemini Awards (1995)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (The Life Before This), Genie Awards (2000)
- Best Performance by a Female – Film (Best in Show), Canadian Comedy Awards (2001)
- Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Best in Show), American Comedy Awards (2001)
- Best Music (A Mighty Wind), Seattle Film Critics Awards (2003)
- Best Ensemble Cast (A Mighty Wind), Florida Film Critics Circle Awards (2004)
- Best Supporting Actress (For Your Consideration), National Board of Review Awards (2006)
- Best Supporting Actress (For Your Consideration), Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards (2006)
- Best Supporting Actress (For Your Consideration), New York Film Critics Online (2006)
- Inductee, Canada’s Walk of Fame (2007)
- Outstanding Performance, Female (Schitt’s Creek), ACTRA Awards (2016)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Comedic Role (Schitt’s Creek), Canadian Screen Awards (2016)
- Academy Legacy Award, Canadian Screen Awards (2016)
- Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Comedic Role (Schitt’s Creek), Canadian Screen Awards (2017)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2017)
- Best Lead Actress, Comedy (Schitt’s Creek), Canadian Screen Awards (2018)
- Best Lead Actress, Comedy (Schitt’s Creek), Canadian Screen Awards (2019)