It often seems like there are few things to celebrate these days because of a variety of reasons. The 2020 Emmy Nominations provided a few minutes, perhaps even longer of a much-needed distraction. And one of the many things to celebrate was the 15 nominations for “Schitt’s Creek” and, in particular, a second Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series nomination for Catherine O’Hara.
As Moira Rose, Dan and Eugene Levy provided O’Hara with a canvas to paint one of the most iconic roles of her career. The pleasure in watching the six seasons of the CBC and Pop TV program was often centered on witnessing O’Hara figure out another way to fashion another layer of humanity to such an over-the-top creation. And by the final season that concluded this past spring, O’Hara had Moira wrapped around her finger.
To say talking to the now legendary comedic actress and writer is absolute pure joy. In fact, we can’t hype the experience enough. She’s genuine. She’s blunt. And she knows how to make you laugh. And jumping on the phone with her was a welcome relief after a day of dissecting a mountain of Emmy news.
The Playlist: Hi, Catherine, how are you doing?
Catherine O’Hara: I’m great. Thank you. I’m alive. How are you?
I’m alive as well. Thank God.
First of all, congratulations.
How are you feeling about the nomination and the 15 nominations for the show overall?
Yeah. How great is that? That’s crazy. And, we ended it. [Laughs.] Leaving them wanting more, I guess is the idea and somehow it worked out that way. I’m thrilled. I’m thrilled for everybody who worked on the show, I’m thrilled for CBC network in Canada that originally made the show with us. And I’m really thrilled for Eugene and Daniel. And wow, Daniel’s nominations. I don’t know how he’s ever going to sleep for a week or so. That’s pretty great. Yeah. I’m thrilled for everyone.
Now that it’s been a year since you finished production of the last season and it’s been a couple of months since the final episode aired, do you wish you guys had kept going, or were you happy with how it ended?
Well, interestingly enough, we would not have been able to shoot anything this year.
I think that was a wise decision by the Levys. They’ve known for years that they wanted to do this number of seasons if they were going to be able to do them [and] if someone was going to air them. So, they had it mapped out and the characters were mapped out. And our stories and how everything was resolved, it was really carefully and beautifully done. It would have been so sad not to be able to shoot this year. And the other strange, I don’t know, this strange [thing] of course, is that people are trapped in their homes and looking for anything and everything to watch. And the people who watch our show generally insist that everybody they know watches. Which is great for us. It turns out a lot of people are going through what we went through. A family that’s suddenly stuck living together and in our case, happily found they really love each other and watched each other flourish.
What I really loved about the final season is that you could really tell how much the characters cared about each other. It sort of crescendoed in a way. Did you think Daniel always had this arc in the back of his mind?
I did not think that far ahead. And I don’t know exactly when Daniel knew exactly, exactly, exactly how he was going to end it. But once we got started with the first season, I just quickly was able to trust Daniel and his writers and Eugene and go with the flow. And Daniel would let me see the story outlines before they wrote the scripts at the beginning of the season and nothing ever felt off, but I could throw in my two cents or pair of pennies as Moira would say. And so it just always felt organic, and real, and hilarious to me.
It seemed like every season Moira’s looks were taken to another level. You didn’t think she could outdo herself and then somehow she does. The one that pops to me for the final season is the wedding outfit.
Oh my Lord, yeah.
Did you ever stop and laugh at the absurdity of it sometimes? Or were you just always like, “Nope. That’s Moira. That’s just who she is.”
Daniel will attest to this. When he first told me that Moira would be officiating the wedding and he said, “She’s got to top herself. So we’re just starting to work out what she might do.” And I said “Something papal would be nice. With the fire on the head.” And he laughed. He laughed. I keep saying this but it’s one thing to, “You know, I have an idea.” It’s another to actually execute it so beautifully. And that is Daniel and Ana our hairdresser and Lucky our makeup artists, and Debra Hanson, our wardrobe designer. She and Daniel put that look together. And I came up with this silly idea of having this roll of hair around my head, below the miter. And that was because the miter’s not comfortable. It’s pretty hard.
And I’ve got a long face anyway. I needed this balance. So, I casually said to Ana, “Hey, what about a roll of hair around my…” I did a little drawing and we laughed about it. And, I had no idea how hard she worked for weeks to make it happen. Because that is not an easy thing to get the right shape. And then she ended up using the glue that she used on her kitchen tiles to get the hair to stick. But she worked so hard. All those years of getting just amazing looks in the wardrobe, hair, and makeup department. I realized I really took all those people for granted. “If they could do it.” Are you kidding? They’re amazing. They’ll do it. “Hey, how about this?” Or “How about we don’t decide until 10 minutes before I go on what I wear. You know, let’s just go on a whim. Let’s see how we feel.” [Laughs.] So yeah. So that look, the gown for the wedding was [Alexander] McQueen, I think. Their boots were Tom Ford. And then Ana and Daniel decided that I should have long blonde hair and then Ana added way more hair and then did the soft ringlets and hand separated every one of them for the long hair. And it was just crazy. And Deborah has to work so hard on the wardrobe. And yes, I did laugh. The thought of it made me laugh. And then on the day to put it all together, it was insane. But you get on the set and it’s about David and Patrick getting married. So it was so much fun to have that entrance but really then from that moment on, even in Moira’s world, it was all about David and Patrick the whole time. It was just wanting to be the best possible, most authentic looking officiant to the wedding.
What does it mean to you that Moira as a character has become so defined? I mean, there’s this amazing actor, Michael Judson Berry, who spoofs her on Instagram. There are people who do her on TikTok. I hear a voice and I’m like, “Oh, that’s Moira. Someone’s doing Moira.”
Yeah. Somebody sent me a clip of [Berry] on Instagram. And he does Moira in different situations. He did Moira tasting a beer for the first time. He’s really good at it. He’s really good. I mean, it’s a hard accent to imitate only, and I didn’t mean it to be, but I think it’s really hard to imitate because it ridiculously inconsistent. And I think when most people try to do it, they try to be consistent. And that makes it not sound like Moira to me. But he’s really got it down. And he writes funny dialogue for himself too. He’s really good.
He is but when you came up with the accent, you kept it consistent. So you knew there were rules in your own head I’m guessing, right?
Yes and no. No. [Laughs.] No, I just kind of had an idea and I was trying to tell Eugene by email before we shot the show trying to describe what [it would be] and he was trying to get it by email and say, “Well, we’re getting into the writing and we’ll kind of need to hear what you’re trying to describe so that we can use it. We can put it into the script, but let’s see.” And so it just kind of came together. Sometimes Eugene would have to remind me of “You’re losing it.” I’d go into my own voice, especially when I tried to really connect with people in the first season because it’s kind of scary you’re developing your characters. They’re just not as grounded as they hopefully become. So Eugene would say, “Don’t forget Moira.” But yeah, we’ve done these great live shows that right now have all been canceled, but we’re trying to book some for next year, with the “Schitt’s Creek” cast. We’ve done these live shows and in the show, they often ask, “Where did the accent come from?” So now I’ve sort of invented an excuse of after her world travels Moira, being the great artist and the observer of human culture and all things interesting about humans has just absorbed all this culture and language and she’s now sharing it. She’s sharing it as a gift to those less fortunate.
I have to be honest. It all makes sense now. Now that you describe it that way.
It does, doesn’t it?
It does. I hadn’t thought about it that way.
Neither had I.
We’re all in this still pseudo stay at home status with some productions sort of getting back on their feet, some sort of not. Do you know what you want to do next? Do you want to do another series?
No, I feel very fortunate to play a character that had such fun stories and such great scenes and I’m grateful to have been part of something that was so well written and done with a group of lovely people, lovely, fun people. So I find it hard to say out loud, “Well, now what I want to do?” “What I want most now…” [Laughs.] So of course, I read stuff and it’s just kind of bland. And yeah, it’s hard to compare. It’s hard to compete now for me now, I’m not saying from anyone else’s point of view, but from my own, because it was such a joyful experience. I don’t know. And I used to write way more and I did have a hand in some of my dialogue in the show, but I would love to just somehow have a personality change that would make me a little more motivated or driven or disciplined to actually write something. Because I do have ideas and I should. And Eugene’s been great. He’s hired me a lot in my life with the Christopher Guest movies, and with “Schitt’s Creek.” And God forbid I write something for him.
Well, hey, we all have the time.
Don’t we, I know. But I could let a day go fly by doing nothing. What about you?
You know, there was this thing going around for a while where everyone was like, “Hey, listen, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. You don’t have to write the greatest novel of all time. You don’t have to write the next great spec script.” But you know, it has been five months. And I sort of feel like maybe, maybe just a little like…well. I mean, for myself personally, for myself.
Exactly. Even if it’s just for yourself. Of course. Yeah. Or do something creative, or draw, or write. But I’m in a beautiful place right now. I’m in Ontario, Canada on a lake and it’s beautiful. And other years I would just sort of “I’m here”, but there’s an underlying current for every one of the sadness that’s going on in the world and the suffering. And it always has, and I guess I just denied it, but now there’s no denying it. And so, yeah, I think 2020, hindsight is 2020, and this year has really had us. If it hasn’t already got us to rethink everything we’ve done to lead up to now and how we might do it differently from here on.
Absolutely. I hope you enjoy your lake and, again, congratulations on the Emmy nomination. I know I’m not the only one, but a lot of people are rooting for you.
Oh, thanks. Well, I had a fun job. How greedy can I be? Sure. Why not? I’m kidding. [Laughs.]
“Schitt’s Creek” is available on Pop TV’s streaming app.