RD Interview: Catherine O’Hara

One of Canada’s favourite comedy legends talks witty women, Kardashian fashion and why being compared to slippers is a no go.

RD Interview: Catherine O'HaraYour new show, Schitt’s Creek, is being positioned as the great hope of Can­adian comedy-and the CBC. No pressure, right?
I know! When people start to talk that way, I just go somewhere else. It doesn’t mean anything. Most of the work I’ve done, nobody knew or cared about. That was the case with SCTV-we were just doing it for ourselves.

SCTV was part of a golden era. Why do you think Canada has since struggled to create iconic, mainstream comedies?
I’m happy people think so highly of SCTV now, but that wasn’t how it felt at the time. We would go to the ACTRA Awards, and Royal Canadian Air Farce would win. It’s easy to romanticize something from the past. There has been a lot of funny stuff on Canadian television since then: Kids in the Hall, Trailer Park Boys, Russell Peters.

On Schitt’s Creek you play a soap queen whose rich Kardashian-style family is suddenly broke. Sounds like a good excuse to binge on trashy TV in the name of research.
I’ve never really watched soaps because I’m afraid their acting will influence my acting. In terms of my character, I want her to be multi-faceted and vulnerable. The snooty woman she played was just her job.

You studied the harp for your role in the Christopher Guest mockumentary A Mighty Wind. What did you have to learn for this gig?
How to wear really expensive clothing. That’s my new skill. I have a wild wardrobe. We don’t have a Kardashian budget, but there’s some great stuff. I have these Philip Lim boots that have boots within boots, over the knee with buckles.

Chelsea Handler recently announced she’s sick of questions about being a woman in comedy. At the risk of provoking a similar reaction, is being a female comic a specific experience?
I started working in the 1970s, when women’s lib was a daily subject. A lot of what women were fighting for then is a given now. In comedy it has gotten so much better. So many women are creating their own material. If anything, I think more about being older than being a woman in comedy.

Yet you don’t seem to be in any rush. You’re known for being choosy about your roles.
I thought that was part of the job.

It probably should be. Can I assume that the Levy men-Eugene and his son, Daniel, who co-created and star in Schitt’s Creek-had a lot to do with getting you involved in this project?
Absolutely. First and foremost, Eugene. I trust him. He’s a great writer and a great collaborator. He does everything thoughtfully-some would say slowly.

Levy the Elder has described working with you again like “putting on a great old pair of slippers.”
Please don’t bring that up! I read that. I was going to email him to say, “Eugene, you have to come up with a better comparison. Could you think of a less sexy, less cool, less interesting analogy?” People put slippers on when they’ve given up and they don’t plan on going anywhere.

Schitt’s Creek premieres Jan. 13 on CBC Television.