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Catherine O’Hara gets laughs with funny faces

TORONTO (CP) _ Catherine O’Hara has had some unforgettable on-camera moments over the years _ think Lola Heatherington on the classic "SCTV" television series and the frazzled mother in "Home Alone" who forgets to bring one of her children along on a family vacation.

But nothing quite comes close to the film-stealing scene that the Canadian actress pulls off in "For Your Consideration," the widely anticipated new comedy from Christopher Guest that giddily skewers Hollywood award season.

O’Hara plays fading B-list actress Marilyn Hack, a socially awkward and insecure performer so titillated by the thought she might be an Oscar contender for her latest role that she Botoxes herself almost beyond recognition when it comes time to promote the film.

When a sausage-lipped, cap-toothed, frozen-faced and bleached-out O’Hara saunters onto a Leno-ish late-night talk show spilling out of a skin-tight minidress, the audience taking in "For Your Consideration" at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend broke into its loudest laughs in a movie chock-full of funny moments.

What a relief, then, to meet O’Hara in person and see that she has not, in fact, gone Botox-mad like so many actresses of her generation have.

"It was really just the fake teeth, and the faces I was making," O’Hara says, breaking into the very face that prompted all the laughs a day earlier at the screening. "But it is scary … you see these 30-year-old actresses in Hollywood, very pretty women, and they get work done and they end up looking like well-preserved 75-year-olds. I don’t really understand it."

She’s not unfamiliar with the insecurity, however, living and working in an industry that prizes youth and beauty.

"Oh, look, there was a lot of me in Marilyn Hack that I am sort of in denial about," says O’Hara, 52, stunning in a pin-striped jacket, short skirt, fishnet stockings and patent-leather Mary Janes.

Her co-star, Harry Shearer, agrees.

"We are all actors, and we all ask ourselves: ‘Am I too old? Do I look old? Do people still like me? Am I any good? Will people like what I’m doing?’ This movie certainly delves into something that everyone in the cast was very familiar with," he said.

Much of the ensemble cast of the movie was in Toronto on Monday promoting "For Your Consideration," the latest from Guest and the comic brain trust behind "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind." Shearer recounts how, three months after filming a scene in the movie where his character goes on an MTV show where he’s forced to "get down" with some comely young women, he had to go on a hip-hop radio show in New York City to promote a comedy DVD featuring his famous Saturday Night Live synchronized swimming skit with Canadian comic Martin Short.

"I had a terrible publicist and there I was, on this show with these guys who could barely string two sentences together and didn’t have a clue who I was or what I did, and I thought to myself: ‘Didn’t I get a free pass from this because I just finished making fun of it?’ " he said. "Apparently not."

At one point Monday as the cast participated in round-tables with media at a downtown hotel, Fred Willard, who plays a vapid yet mean-spirited host of an Entertainment Tonight-esque show in the film, wanders by O’Hara and Shearer to ask how things are going.

"I’m just popping some uppers here," the dead-pan Willard says as he tosses some yellow candies into his mouth.

The kidding speaks to how tight the cast is, though they jokingly deny liking one another in a later round-table. O’Hara and Shearer seem particularly close, with Shearer raving about her work back in her SCTV days in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

"You were just so relentless about your characters; there was just nowhere you wouldn’t go. You went where not a lot of women were going back then," he says.

O’Hara is touched, and says she still avidly follows television comedy. She’s a particular fan of the women on Mad TV, the late-night Saturday Night Live rival on Fox.

"The women on that show are brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I love it, love it, love it _ I never miss it," she says.

O’Hara’s comedic chops are still in full display as she shows off her "Botox face" once again for a giggling group of media. She credits her mother with inspiring many of the arch-browed faces she makes during "For Your Consideration."

"She just had this way of holding her face as she got older … When she died in her 80s, God bless her, her eyebrows were arched and she had no lines," O’Hara recalls. "My family saw the screening (Sunday night), and they all said: ‘Oh look, there’s Mom.’ "