At age five, Catherine O’Hara started acting in French and English school plays. By the time she was 12, she landed a role in the National Film Board production of Anne of Green Gables. “Anne was a lot younger than me,” she remembers. “I was 13 and I looked like a 12-year-old child! My mom played Anne, and I played her younger sister.”
In 1985, O’Hara moved to Toronto and started appearing in commercials, including one for Shredded Wheat cereals. Her career quickly took off. As she started earning money as an actress, she began spending it at a rapid rate. A few years later, she was $20,000 in debt and had to take out a loan. To pay it off more quickly, she sold her collection of silver necklaces on eBay for $600. She recalls that a few weeks later the items were gone. But she’s never regretted selling them.
Catherine’s Affiliations with National Lampoon
In 1980, Catherine O’Hara auditioned for a female role in National Lampoon’s raunchy sex comedy, Animal House. At the time, her pal John Belushi had appeared in National Lampoon’s Vacation (see Chevy Chase) and she was friends with John Hughes (Valley Girl). The part went to Elizabeth Perkins, who went on to become a star in The Breakfast Club. But that same year, she appeared in National Lampoon’s Vacation with Hughes. She also starred in Ivan Reitman’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and later appeared in the John Hughes-directed Pretty In Pink (see Molly Ringwald), which was nominated for two Academy Awards.
O’Hara also appeared in the first two Christopher Guest movies, Waiting for Guffman (see Fred Willard) and Best In Show. In addition, O’Hara starred in two movies with her SCTV castmates (see Martin Short and Eugene Levy – My Big Fat Greek Wedding). She co-starred with her husband, Dave Thomas (see Wendy’s) in a popular Canadian sitcom called Getting Along Famously.
It became known that Catherine O’Hara was a close friend of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. In Diaries of a Young Girl (see Tina Fey), the character “Catherine O’Hara” is based on O’Hara. The book was written by John Belushi’s girlfriend, Kate Hanley.
The Evolution of her Career
In the mid-1980s, O’Hara transitioned from a national sex symbol to a respected actress. She landed the role of Sloane Peterson in the hit comedy Porky’s and then starred in National Lampoon’s Dirty Work, which featured Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy as a pair of evil doppelgängers intent on stealing Sloane’s boyfriend. The following year she starred with Ben Stiller in The Sure Thing (see Tom Hanks). She moved on to dramatic roles in the comedy-drama At Close Range (see Sean Penn) and the comedy The Squeeze. “I’m always interested in a character who has to come through some sort of tremendous obstacle,” she states. “I think it’s funny when somebody is beaten down and you can see how they’re fighting their way back.”
O’Hara played a mother in the romantic comedy Innerspace”she thought it would be fun to be young again. After The Principal, she found herself playing a mother once more, but working with another legendary actor.”We were on the same wavelength,” notes O’Hara of Albert Brooks. “He was really lovely to work with.” The two teamed up again in Mother (see Debbie Reynolds). “I think it’s probably one of my favorite films that I’ve ever done,” she states.
The Nightmare Before Christmas and Other Films
By the early 1990s, Catherine O’Hara had moved into a successful and busy career as a character actress, frequently working with comedy mavens such as Christopher Guest (Spinal Tap; for more on Guest see Michael McKean and Harry Shearer). In 1993, she tackled one of her most challenging roles to date: “I played this little, zany fairy in The Nightmare Before Christmas. I got to be a fairy in real life, so I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It was very scary, but it was also really fun.” The performance earned her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award. “I don’t really consider myself to be a funny person,” she says, “but the better the material is, the funnier I am. And that’s what kept me in business for so long.” In 1997, she starred as the volatile ex-wife of Paul Rudd in the comic thriller The Opposite of Sex.
In 2003, O’Hara appeared in a supporting role in the British comedy The Actors, and two years later, she starred opposite Edie Falco in the drama Virginia. In 2006, she played a demanding acting coach in the dark comedy Things We Lost in the Fire (see Benicio Del Toro). In 2007, she was reunited with Christopher Guest for For Your Consideration.
Additionally, O’Hara has appeared in animated films, including James and the Giant Peach (1996) (as a spider) and A Bug’s Life (1998) (as a butterfly). Other film credits include The Country Bears (2002), which also featured Haley Joel Osment; and The Family Stone (2005), which starred Sarah Jessica Parker. In 2007, she appeared as Dede Truitt in David Koepp’s The Lookout.
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