The great comic actress Catherine O’Hara talks to Awards Daily TV about her best season yet on Pop’s Schitt’s Creek with lifetime friend Eugene Levy.
Talking to Catherine O’Hara was something of a life-long dream for me. I’d been a fan since personally discovering her in Tim Burton’s classic Beetlejuice. Then, Home Alone. Then, voicing Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas. And of course the Christopher Guest series of mockumentaries, my personal favorite of which remains Best In Show.
Now, Pop’s Schitt’s Creek brings Catherine O’Hara to her longest-running scripted series. Her Moira Rose, the matriarch of a down-on-their-luck family, emerges as a comedy gem within her vast repertoire of well observed characters. Moira is dotty, selfish, spoiled, and incredibly holier than thou, and clearly, Catherine O’Hara relishes every second of playing her. Her infectious laughter made for an incredibly fun interview.
From the crazy wardrobe to the eccentric line readings, O’Hara’s performance deserves serious consideration for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Now that the series streams on Netflix, audiences are discovering her wildly genius character moments on Schitt’s Creek.
Here’s hoping the Television Academy follows suit.
Catherine O’Hara, you’ve played this vast array of incredibly memorable characters in your career. Where does Moira Rose rank in terms of sheer fun to play?
Gee, I don’t know. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m certainly playing her a lot more than I’ve played any other character. Eugene and Daniel Levy have been really open and collaborative with me since day one on this. I’ve felt free to develop a fun character that continues to be really fun to play. It really helps that she’s an actress, or thinks she’s an actress anyway, and thinks she can play different characters.
How much involvement do you have in terms of creating her look from her costumes to the hats to those incredible wigs?
I have the best wardrobe! Eugene and Daniel and I had a meeting early on to talk about [Moira’s] look, and I brought a ton of pictures of a particular English socialite. Daniel just said, “Oh yes!” I don’t know if he was already thinking that way, but we were definitely on the same page. Otherwise, I have nothing to do with coming up with the clothes. That’s all Daniel and Debra Hanson. They shop all year because these characters have to have extremely high-end, designer wardrobes, but [the Roses] don’t have that money anymore. Apparently, we have bags that we haven’t dipped into yet. They must be upstairs in the motel.
Yeah, I’m not sure where you’re storing all of that.
I think we have a lot of suitcases up there full of clothes that we haven’t opened yet. [Laughs] I’ve never enjoyed wardrobe fittings in my life until now! I’ve never had such stamina for three or four hour wardrobe fittings before.
Where does that voice come from?
[Laughs] It’s kind of a mix of people I’ve met. There’s one woman who’s very feminine and lovely. She just has a unique way of putting sentences together. I don’t know her that way, and I haven’t spoken to her that much but she makes an impression. It’s what I remember of speaking with her and sort of going off from there. I like the idea of being very feminine because this story starts off with us losing everything. I really wanted to find a more feminine, softer way of presenting this woman. Plus, she’s stupid and cocky, and that’s a combination you can’t lose with. I think of The Jerk or The Office. There’s a long history of people in comedy doing stupid and cocky.
You mentioned Moira thinking she’s an actress. In Season 3, Moira explores getting back into films through an incredibly ill-advised no-budget horror film in “Rooms by the Hour.” It’s one of my favorite performances of yours this season because you’re layering your regular performance with a purposefully bad performance. Is that old hat for you by now or was it challenging to strike the right tone?
What if I can’t help it? What if it’s just as good as I can do?
I literally don’t believe that at all.
Yeah, it’s fun to do that. It’s like playing boring. You want to get boring across, but you don’t want to be boring. You want to play bad acting, but you don’t want to be so bad that it’s just bad. [Laughs] It’s a nice challenge, I think, not to go overboard. I did see that scene a while ago on an airplane, and it did make me laugh. When Moira tries to laugh because the character she’s trying to play laughs but she can’t laugh naturally, there’s way too much body involved. I guess I like being bad.
My absolute favorite scene of Season 3 took place during “New Car” where Moira leverages a soap plot to fake a miserable life for sympathy. Was that scripted? How much does improv play into an average episode of Schitt’s Creek?
When we get the script, I kind of work on it on my own and play with it then. The Levy gentlemen give me respect, and I respect them and email them with possibilities. Particularly if it affects any other character in the scene. We all kind of have it set before we get on-set. I just always feel free on the set. I don’t feel the need to improvise because our scripts are great. It’s really nice to feel respected and open and free on the set. It helps that we all have a history and trust each other. Because of our training in Second City and SCTV, if we improvise the dialogue, then it makes sense. You don’t just go off.
With “New Car,” they’d written something at the end where I suddenly go into an English accent. There’s a woman on Sirius radio who claims to be a dog whisperer or pet psychic. Have you heard this woman? That’s basically the accent I’m doing.
I’ve seen a lot of subtle changes in Moira over three seasons. How do you think Moira has evolved?
[Laughs] I think not much! I’d like to think not much. The kids, Alexis [Annie Murphy] and David [Daniel Levy], they were basically raised in captivity. We gave them all this freedom, but there was no freedom really. We didn’t raise them. We didn’t parent them at all. We just threw money at them. Money allows people to separate from each other. They’ve lived these separate lives, so now, they feel like they have a home more than they’ve ever felt.
Moira gets more and more involved in the time as time goes on. You can only stand there and sulk for so long. When Moira found out about the Jazzy Gals, it wasn’t so much that she wanted to get entrenched in this group or start building friendships with these women as much as she thought, “I’m a singer! You have a singing group, and you haven’t involved me?” That’s all it’s about. It’s not really thinking things through. Something comes up, and she wants to prove something in the moment.
Where will Season 4 take Moira thematically?
Working with Alexis on something I can’t reveal. Again, thinking that she’s doing all the work and then barely giving Alexis any credit for it. It kind of scared me when I first read some of the scripts. I think she’s starting to relax a bit in the town. Actually, she might be building friendships with some of the jazzy gals. We’re all getting more involved with the townspeople, even Moira.
Schitt’s Creek Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix. Season 4 airs on Pop in 2018.