2020 Great Immigrants Recipient

Catherine O'Hara
Actress
Born in:
Canada

Catherine O’Hara grew up in a suburb of Toronto, Canada, in a family of Irish descent. The sixth of seven children, she loved to impersonate people to make her family laugh. After high school, O’Hara began waitressing at the Toronto hub of the legendary improvisational comedy troupe Second City, and despite having no formal training, she landed a spot as Gilda Radner’s understudy. O’Hara joined the troupe, which included future household names like Dan Aykroyd and Martin Short, as a cast member in 1974. By the 1980s, her work on Second City TV (SCTV), as both performer and writer, and a range of other TV and film roles had made O’Hara a star in Canada.

Many Americans were first introduced to O’Hara through one of her most iconic roles, as the overbearing stepmother Delia Deetz in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988). It was on the set of Beetlejuice that O’Hara met her future husband, the American production designer Bo Welch, and decided to move to the United States. O’Hara came to the attention of audiences worldwide as Kate McCallister, mother of Kevin, in the box office hit Home Alone (1990), going on to star in a number of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, including Waiting for Guffman (1996) and Best in Show (2000). She has lent her voice to beloved animated films such as A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Chicken Little (2005). Her range can also be seen in powerful dramatic performances, including in the 1999 film The Life Before This. O’Hara’s star turn as eccentric former soap opera actress Moira Rose in the popular TV comedy Schitt’s Creek (2015–20) has been met with wide critical acclaim.

Throughout her career, O’Hara has garnered numerous nominations and awards, including an Emmy, a Gemini, a Genie, and, most recently, four consecutive Canadian Screen Awards as best lead actress in a comedy series for Schitt’s Creek. O’Hara supports various charities, such as Upward Bound House, a Los Angeles organization working to end homelessness, for which she won $250,000 on the 2020 season of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.