Catherine O’Hara is one of the most nostalgia-inducing mother figures in pop culture. After playing the Deetz family matriarch in Beetlejuice, she went on to portray Macaulay Culkin’s mom, Kate McCallister, in Home Alone and its sequel. These days, the veteran actress plays a very different kind of parent on Schitt’s Creek. Now in its fourth season, the series follows Moira and Johnny Rose (played by O’Hara and her longtime collaborator, Eugene Levy), a formerly wealthy power couple who suddenly find themselves penniless after failing to pay taxes. The only asset left in their once-booming business portfolio is Schitt’s Creek, a small town they once purchased as a joke. Now, Moira and Johnny—along with their spoiled adult children, David (Dan Levy) and Alexis (Annie Murphy)—have no choice but to live in a seedy motel in the town itself.
The Rose family’s new reality is a waking nightmare, especially for O’Hara’s character. A former soap star, Moira doesn’t fit in with the low-key residents of Schitt’s Creek. And although she’s not very close with her children, Moira is making more of an effort to bond with her kids in the new season of Schitt’s Creek, which premieres tonight (8 p.m. ET on Pop TV). “The biggest development for my character this season is that she’s getting to know her children and finding out that she actually likes them,” O’Hara tells InStyle, wryly. “She and Johnny are learning to be parents.”
The outrageous Roses are in a league of their own, but if they feel familiar, it’s because they’re partially inspired by the most-franchised family on TV: the Kardashians. That’s right, according to Dan Levy—who co-created Schitt’s Creek with his father, Eugene—the Rose clan is loosely based on the lifestyle of Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, and co. While O’Hara doesn’t religiously keep up with the Kardashians herself, she respects the work of another pop culture matriarch when she sees it. “I appreciate how hard that family works, and I think Kris [Jenner] is a genius for putting their brand together,” she says, nothing that Kris and her kids’ constant TV presence has been “a beautiful thing” for Schitt’s Creek. “Thanks to the Kardashians’ show, we don’t have to ever explain the kind of life that our characters came from. Now, everyone knows what that life looks like.”
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Keep reading for our full conversation with O’Hara, in which she dishes on running into her Home Alone co-stars, the unlikely star who introduced her to her husband on the set of Beetlejuice, and how women are demanding equality in Hollywood.
Your Schitt’s Creek character, Moira, is out there—she wears different wigs to represent her different moods. Ha! I love our wardrobe on the show, and I’m so happy that the Levy gentlemen agreed to the wig story. I’ve actually known two different women in my life—one who wore different wigs during a dinner party at her home and another who kept changing her hairdo during a dinner party at her home. They had this real need to show that they could be more than who they really were. I love that Moira’s wigs have names and mean something to her. They’re her friends, they’re her companions, and they’re her safe place to go. It all depends on Moira’s mood what wig she’ll wear, and actually, our hairdresser and I often decide on a wig the morning of. It’s on a whim, just like Moira.
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You’ve worked with your onscreen husband, Eugene Levy, on and off for over 40 years. What’s your relationship like off-camera? We didn’t plan it! He and Dan hired me for this, so he’s responsible for us still working together. And I’m grateful for that. It’s like family without the—I hate to say baggage, because I love my family—but it’s like family without the natural drama. Perhaps because we’ve only done comedy together [laughs]. Aside from being really talented, the Levys are a lovely family to be with. I feel safe with them creatively and on a daily basis.
What do you love about Moira? I guess when I look at her from your point of view, she is off. But when I’m playing her, I think she’s just the most wonderful, supportive wife. It’s fun to play Moira because she speaks like an alien and has no idea the impression she’s making on others.
You’ve had some unforgettable roles. Which do fans most often recognize you from? From November through December, ‘tis the season for Home Alone! I’ve talked to a lot of people about Home Alone for the past couple of months. Last night, I actually watched the first episode of [HBO’s series] Mosaic, and my dear Buzz, my eldest son in Home Alone, has a great role in that. Devin Ratray. He was so sweet to work with—I really did love working with him, he was great. I’m so happy to see him still doing so well.
Twentieth Century Fox
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Does it feel like it’s been more than 25 years since Home Alone came out? It’s funny, but I guess it does. I got married the last weekend of the shoot for Home Alone 2. I had one more day of shooting, and then we went on our honeymoon. I was recently watching a movie and as I was looking at the young man [starring], I was thinking, “I know him—is that Kieran Culkin?” Kieran played Kevin’s bed-wetting cousin, but he’s actually Macaulay’s brother. I was looking at this actor and thinking, “No, he can’t be Kieren.” At the end, I looked at the name, and it was Rory Culkin—the infant that Macaulay’s mother was carrying around on the set of Home Alone. That really made it feel like 27 years ago. It’s scary when you look at how kids age, because you think, “Am I aging at that rate, too?”
Do you keep in touch with any of your co-stars from Home Alone? I don’t, really. It was a long time ago. [Our director] Chris Columbus was shooting a movie on the same lot where we shoot Schitt’s Creek, and that was a thrill because I haven’t seen him for many years. He’s the same lovely guy. I ran into Macaulay once and he said, “Mom!” and I said, “Baby!” He looked great and was doing well, and I was happy to see him. Dear John Heard is gone. That was sad, when he died.
Did you keep anything from the set? I still have my wig from the second movie, and I had a suit from Home Alone for the longest time before I gave it to my big sister, Patsy. I don’t know if she ever wore it, but she liked it. I think I have earrings from the first one, too. I didn’t wear a lot of clothes because I was kind of on the road. In the van!
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And this year marks Beetlejuice turning 30. What’s your favorite memory from filming that? I love Beetlejuice—that’s where I met my husband! He designed the sets, so I have nothing but fond memories of that movie. We shot on stage in Los Angeles, and then at the end, we went to Vermont to do the exteriors of the house. Our production designer, Bo [Welch], went ahead with the art department to get the exterior sets for the house ready, and I was grouching to Tim Burton about how this guy was talking to me all the time and never asking me out. We had a break between filming in Los Angeles and on location, and in that time, Tim told Bo that he should ask me out. Our first day of shooting at the house was the day that Bo finally asked me out. So that’s what I see when I look at the scenes we shot there. Matchmaking Tim Burton!
What was your favorite scene? I don’t know how many hours or days it took, but it was really fun to film the dinner scene when we’re possessed by the ghost to sing “Day-O.” When the shrimp attack us at the end of the scene, each shrimp was actually a glove worn by a guy under the table. So they would get a cue to reach up and grab the table with the shrimp gloves. Even though we knew when it was coming, it made us scream every single time the gloves would dive out of the shrimp cocktail glasses and grab our heads. All the effects were live, which was great because it always kept us in that world. Tim tried to use every original old Hollywood effect, so there was very little digital or CGI.
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You got your start in comedy in the ‘70s. What was it like to be a woman in the field then? I worked with good guys, but it was just different back then. Thankfully, the world has changed in so many ways—not enough, obviously. It’s always been going on, but it’s in the news finally. I’m really happy for and proud of the women who are creating their own work now and taking and making all of these opportunities to be creative and to show how amazing women are—along with how amazing men are. I’m sad that so much of what we’re talking about lately sounds “anti-men.” It’s not. I read that the creator of SMILF [Frankie Shaw] said something like, “This is all going to be better for men, too.” And that is the goal, I think: to make life better for everyone. Boys don’t grow into this world thinking that women or anybody of different color are less. Human beings aren’t born that way. I’m just happy for the women now who are making and taking opportunities, and I’m really grateful to still be working at my age and be allowed to be funny.
Have you felt the current cultural shift happening in Hollywood on a personal level? It makes me sad that human beings still have to tell each other to be kind and decent. I’ve had lots of crazy experiences. When you hear the stories, you go, “Oh yeah. Me too.” I’m not going online about it, but you think about all the experiences you had. I’m lucky, though. I work with gentlemen. I never felt like my job or anything was threatened. You have to look for the good people and surround yourself with them.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? I did finally learn this a little later, but I would say, “Treat yourself with the respect that you will eventually earn.” Pretend you’ve already earned it. Not in an arrogant way but in a healthy way, if you can help it. Insecurity is such a waste of time.