NEW YORK — Toward the end of "For Your Consideration," Catherine O'Hara's face so realistically looks like the results of bad plastic surgery that it makes you wonder: Is it a computer-generated special effect? Or — horrors! — a genuine botch job?
In playing a performer who's freaked out by the thought of winning an Academy Award, O'Hara pulls off the rictus of a nasty nip/tuck just with her own facial muscles, and a little help from a makeup and hair stylist. The only false thing: a set of teeth that were extra long and extra white, so they would show up better on camera.
O'Hara recoils at the question of a real-life facelift, however, and not just because she's seen the frightening potential results.
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"I'm afraid of needles, except acupuncture needles," says the 52-year-old comedic actress. "I wouldn't mind spending a little more time and effort and money on good skin care. And I'm sure they'll come out with, as they are doing, with more and more treatments that are noninvasive and healthy ways to keep your face looking as good as it can. But no. No!"
Such surgery isn't inevitable, either, since comedy is kinder to aging actresses — which she appreciates.
"Character roles definitely age better than your ingenues. You don't get to keep doing that."
In the latest Christopher Guest movie, she plays an actress aptly named Marilyn Hack, for whom, as they like to say, it's all about the work, not awards.
Then, some faceless, nameless Internet blogger visits the set and posts his opinion that Hack gives a performance "that can only be described as Oscar-worthy."
"Big deal! Who cares?" Hack says repeatedly, trying to convince herself — even as she desperately wants someone to track down the item.
But isn't the recognition — or the mere whiff of it — seductive?
"I guess it is for people. I don't want to get caught taking it seriously. It's too sad. It's too sad," says O'Hara, who won an Emmy in the early '80s for writing "SCTV Network 90" along with the likes of Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty and the late John Candy. "You get embarrassed even talking about it."
She jokes that she'd rather campaign to be a presenter. "You don't win or lose — and you get the gift bag." (Without the fear of winning or losing, she gladly performed a song from "A Mighty Wind" with Levy — as their characters in the film, Mitch & Mickey — at the 2004 Oscarcast.)
In an interview with The Associated Press, she doesn't even want to countenance the notion that "For Your Consideration" will lead to life imitating art.
"Why would you do this to me? You want me to be Marilyn, don't you," she says, laughing.
But she knows what it's like to be up for an Academy Award. Husband Bo Welch, whom she met on the set of "Beetlejuice," is a four-time nominee for art direction.
"He seemed to handle it really well," she says, recalling how friends were supportive and it was an unavoidable topic of conversation.
"He still was cool. And luckily that award is early in the show ... He didn't get it. And we went down to the loser's lounge, and it was fine," she says, breaking up again.
O'Hara, who's been a part of Guest's ensemble of actors in his mockumentaries, "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind," sounds a little nervous about being first among equals this time.
"It kinda scared me when I first read it, because I kept seeing the name Marilyn in there, and it seemed like I had an awful lot of scenes, and I do ... but it was exciting at the same time."
The others all get their moments, though, including Levy, Guest, Fred Willard, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Bob Balaban, John Michael Higgins and Ed Begley Jr.
At this point, the rapport can't be any better among them, she says, adding that the best part of making Guest's movies is "they also wind up being kinda good movies."
"It would almost be enough just to have that experience of doing it and `Oh, well, too bad it wasn't good, but at least we had fun.' But they're all really talented people, too, so you get the fun of working with them, and the social fun of it."
Familiar voice in animated features
Born in Toronto the sixth of seven children, O'Hara followed a couple siblings into show business: singer-songwriter/actress Mary Margaret and improv actor Marcus, who dated Gilda Radner before Catherine's entree into the Second City comedy troupe. (Younger brother Michael is a writer.)
O'Hara, who lives in Southern California with her husband and 9- and 12-year-old sons, has recurringly supplied voices for animated features. Earlier this year, she was in "Monster House" and "Over the Hedge." She's also in "The Nightmare Before Christmas," recently re-released in 3D. Come April, she'll appear in "Penelope," starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy.
And, of course, she's well-remembered as the mother in the "Home Alone" movies — too well, and apparently too true-to-life, in the case of one young fan she once encountered.
She recalls a little boy, about 9, came up to her after she did the second "Home Alone" movie — "I know the second one was pushing it, for actually losing your kid twice" — and he asked, "Are you the lady who lost her son?"
"And I said, `In the MOVIE, yeah.'
"`And didn't you do it again?'
"`Yeah, it was a sequel. I know. Sorry. OK, I'm sorry. They offered a lot of money.' I'm telling this 9-year-old I'm sorry.
"`How could you do that twice to your son?'
"`I know, I'm sorry. But, you know it's a movie and hopefully that would never — '"
"`Isn't that called abandonment?'"
Adult fans can be no better, though.
"I get `You look like that actress — oh, what's her name?' ... And a few times I get, `You look like, what's her name, what's her name, Catherine O'Hara.' And for fun, a few times I tried this and it almost always, like, bit me in the ass for doing it ... I'd say, `I don't look anything like that dog.' And one guy said: `Well, she's not THAT bad.' OK, never mind."
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