Published in the print and online version of Exit Weekly.
by Christina M. Hinke
Nov. 15, 2006
As Catherine O'Hara gracefully walks across the room, her Irish eyes are smiling, and her grin is there with her throughout the interview, even while suffering from a cold. The 52-year-old actress has made a career by making other people smile and downright laugh hysterically. She has appeared in over 35 films, including "Beetlejuice," "Home Alone" and "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," and has lent her voice to a long-list of animated features, such as "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Chicken Little," this year's "Over the Hedge" and "Monster House."
Her career took off with the Canadian television comedy program "SCTV," for which she shared a writing Emmy. Among the writers was Eugene Levy of "American Pie" fame. More than ten years later she would join an ensemble cast in a mockumentary that Levy co-wrote with Christopher Guest, "Waiting for Guffman (1996)," one in a series that also included "Best in Show (2000)," and "A Mighty Wind (2003)."
Now she's back and is the star of Guest's latest, "For Your Consideration," a farce on Hollywood, entertainment reporters, and how the cast from an independent film fall prey to the rumors of Oscar buzz. O'Hara plays Marilyn, a washed up actress playing the role of a dying mother in the small film "Home for Purim," a period drama about a family home for the holidays. Once Marilyn catches wind that she may be nominated for an Academy Award, she goes under the knife to transform into what several Hollywood actresses subscribe to: a freakish plastic, stretched, plump-lipped woman.
How was it to play an actress as opposed to a small town character?
Probably a little too close to home. Ultimately I guess I had to draw on myself for this. Too close to home.
It was too close to home for us journalists too. The movie depicts television reporters as ninnies asking inane questions.
Yes, you do get that. The questions I hate are, "Tell us the story of the movie and tell us about your character." I don't know. I'm not the marketing man, OK. It's not my job to put it in one sentence. There are other people that do that well. Please don't make me do it.
You are so much fun to watch, and you look like you are having a ball doing it, like in "Surviving Christmas." You get these roles that are outlandish. What is it like to get roles that are so out there?
It's fun. It's great. There are worse jobs. I get some stupid stuff offered. For the most part it's quiet. You get a call from Chris once every couple years and its like, "Oh great I'm back in. I'm back in the club."
In Guest's movies you can have some fun coming up with your character's look. In this one, once Marilyn gets the plastic surgery, was it hard to keep your face frozen like that, in that sort of perma-smile?
It stays up for a bit after you do it for a while. It stays up and then it comes down slowly, its good for you. I'm happy to have done that. I'm weirdly proud of it. It makes no sense. Now when I wake up in the middle of the night I practice it. My mother did it; it worked for her. Really, do it. I can't recommend it more highly.
You looked womanly wearing those patent leather boots in "Surviving Christmas." Did you collaborate on that look?
It's fun. I'm sorry; it's such a lame word. I try to work with people who want to collaborate, who are loose, free thinking, smart people. In "Surviving Christmas" they hired a costume designer and we all got together and we're laughing about what she would be wearing. We went to "Fredericks of Hollywood" and that's just fun. It's weird how you do kind of feel sexy in those outfits. Even though it's something you would never wear. I think that's why people dress up for Halloween. I'm acting like I'm dressing up and being slutty, but actually I've always wanted to try this outfit, but I've never had a reason to do it. In acting you get to do that all the time. I would never wear this, then you say, "Can you make it tighter and can this go lower."
In Christopher Guest's films you are part of an ensemble of great comedic actors. How do you hold in your laughs while filming?
You have to. Sometimes your character can laugh. Otherwise, in "Waiting for Guffman," during the dinner scene I went under the table. Eugene talked about the dance scene in "Waiting for Guffman" when Corky is teaching us this ridiculous dance and Eugene knew he was going to blow the take, so Eugene lowered his body out of frame slowly and crawled off the set. You find a way to not sabotage the scene or you laugh in character. We're not that funny.
Is Guest going to keep making these types of movies?
If you ask him he'll say I don't know if I will do another one, I may never do another one ever. Three seems like the number, but we passed it. We've dared to do four. It just keeps growing. It's like a weird repertory company. I hope he does more and I hope I get invited.
You are certainly invited to do voices in many animated features. Are they a blast?
It's a nice cushy gig. You don't have to do hair and makeup. Sometimes they shoot you just for reference for the animators and I'm like, "Come on don't shoot me. That's cruel. I just came out of bed." To get those jobs once in a while is nice because I don't really work that often, so it's good to get a little money. And the people generally speaking are childlike people. They are kind of giddy and thoughtful and good natured. It is a nice atmosphere. I got to work with Spike Jonze in "Where the Wild Things Are." It was free and silly and great.
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