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Catherine OHara Biography


Home > Actresses > O > OHara, Catherine > Biography


Birth Name: Catherine OHara
Born: 03/04/1954
Birth Place: Toronto, Ontario, CA




O'Hara was born on March 4, 1954, in Toronto, Canada, and grew up in a large Catholic family of seven children. She graduated from Toronto's Burnhamthorpe Collegiate High School in 1969, and briefly considered attending the city's York University. However, she wanted to become a working actress, rather than study acting in college, so she auditioned for the Second City improvisational comedy troupe and passed the audition. Although she initially served as understudy to Gilda Radner, O'Hara's stint with Second City eventually took her to the main ensemble in Chicago, and when Radner left the troupe for "Saturday Night Live," O'Hara eased into her spot. From 1976 until 1983 she also appeared on the troupe's television shows, "SCTV" (1976-1981) and "SCTV Network 90" (1981-83), during which time she won acclaim for her portrayal of the character Lola Heatherton, an emotionally unstable, variety show singer, as well as for her imitations of actors Katherine Hepburn and Meryl Streep. She and her colleagues - who included John Candy and Martin Short - went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in the early 1980s.

O'Hara struggled to find work after leaving Second City, but a chance encounter with a famous director led to a break. O'Hara met Martin Scorsese at a Toronto tribute to him, and Scorsese confided in her that watching tapes of "SCTV" had helped him keep his cool while making the feature, "Raging Bull" (1980). The meeting eventually led to O'Hara's big screen debut in 1985, when she portrayed an ice cream truck driver in Scorsese's "After Hours." The following year she played an upper crust gossip in the Mike Nichols feature, "Heartburn." The film starred Meryl Streep, whom O'Hara had famously imitated on "SCTV." O'Hara was said to be in awe of the seasoned actress, hoping she had not taken the imitation too seriously.

By this time O'Hara was splitting time between New York and Toronto. In 1987 she appeared in the Tim Burton's horror-comedy, "Beetle Juice," in which she played Delia Deetz, an eccentric yuppie who moves with her husband and stepdaughter into a haunted house. Behind the scenes she met her future husband, Bo Welch, who served as art director for the film. That same year she relocated to Los Angeles and began working consistently, including a supporting role in the 1990 blockbuster John Hughes comedy, "Home Alone," as well as appearing in features like "Dick Tracy" (1990) and "Betsy's Wedding" (1990). She returned to the "Home Alone" franchise in 1992, reprising her role as Kate McCallister in "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York." The film could not match the box office of the original, although it still did very well. She continued to work through the mid-1990s, providing voiceover work in Tim Burton's animated feature, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993). She also appeared in a dramatic role in Kevin Costner's "Wyatt Earp" (1994), in which she played Allie Earp, a sister-in-law of the titular character.

In 1996 O'Hara received the opportunity to display her improvisational comedic skill when she was invited to join an ensemble cast in Christopher Guest's feature musical comedy, "Waiting for Guffman," about a small-town theater group of dubious talent who labor under the delusion that they have a shot of making it on Broadway. Guest's approach was to develop an outline and then let the actors improvise the dialogue. Although its box office take was less than stellar, the film fared well with critics and became a cult classic. That same year, O'Hara made her first turn as a leading actress, starring in "The Last of the High Kings" (1996), an Irish coming-of-age story in which she played the family matriarch.

Over the ensuing decade, O'Hara acted in several feature films, including three more Christopher Guest ensemble pieces: the dog show spoof "Best in Show" (2000) and the folk music comedy "A Mighty Wind" (2003) - both of which showcased her singing and songwriting talent - and the Hollywood satire "For Your Consideration" (2006), in which she played a cynical older actress who unexpectedly wins an Oscar. She also appeared in the hit feature, "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004), and provided voiceover work in several other animated feature hits, including "Chicken Little" (2005), "Over the Hedge" (2006), "Monster House" (2006), and "Where the Wild Things Are" (2009). During this period she also appeared in a recurring role on the cable drama, "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2001-05), and lent her voice to the animated kids' show, "Glenn Martin DDS" (Nickelodeon, 2009).

After decades of solid comedic and dramatic work, O'Hara achieved a new level of recognition in 2010 when she received an Emmy nomination for her work in the television biopic, "Temple Grandin" (HBO, 2010). The film tells the true story of the title character, an autistic woman renowned for her work in animal welfare and autism rights. O'Hara played the role of Grandin's aunt in the film, a role that earned her a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Best Actress in a TV Movie or Miniseries. She also appeared in the feature, "Killers" (2010), co-starring with Tom Selleck as the parents of one of the lead characters, and again did voiceover work in the animated feature, "A Monster in Paris" (2010).