COMEDY actress Catherine O’Hara is returning to a dark period of her past: singing tunes from cult classic film The Nightmare Before Christmas. ‘It’s a challenge,’ says Catherine, who performed the live soundtrack singalong at three sold-out Hollywood Bowl shows last month and provided the voice of Jack Skellington’s ragdoll love interest Sally in the original film.
‘It’s in the same key I sang it in 25 years ago. I’ve been doing vocal exercises. I don’t sing all year so I want to get it right. And I like to think when I’m singing the audience is looking at the screen, not at me,’ she laughs.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was the second film Catherine made with director Tim Burton, after Beetlejuice, and she’s still taken aback by the enormous cult following it enjoys.
‘Every year I sign off new Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise. There’s a Nightmare Before Christmas attraction at Disneyland. There’s something about Tim’s films. People who feel outside and different seem to relate to Tim’s characters,’ she says.
‘There’s often a goth element to the lead characters. It’s made me look at people who dress in a goth way. I always think of them as being much sweeter than I would have done before I got into Tim Burton movies. There’s a sweetness about people who feel outside and want to look dark, using it as a protective armour, but really they just want to be loved. That seems like a running theme. Tim cares about people like that.’ This is Catherine’s first time performing with the London Philharmonic Orchestra but she is no stranger to singing. Growing up, she sang at church events alongside her sister, acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O’Hara.
She also played a folk singer in Christopher Guest’s mockumenatry A Mighty Wind and occasionally sings on her current sitcom Schitt’s Creek.
‘But I’ve always sung in character,’ says Catherine. ‘It makes me less self-conscious. I looked up one of the songs for reference on YouTube and one of the comments was, “You know she’s the mom in Home Alone?’’ So I guess some people are surprised.’
Being part of both Home Alone and The Nightmare Before Christmas means that she’s a regular fixture on Christmas TV. ‘It’s fun being in a movie that’s part of people’s holiday traditions,’ Catherine says. But is she puzzled that a film like Home Alone that revels in slapstick violence is traditional viewing for people during the season of goodwill?
‘Yes, but it works. For years my sons used to watch Jackass-type videos on YouTube and laugh at people hurting themselves. I grew up watching The Three Stooges. I don’t know what it is about human beings that makes us laugh at things like that. All the stunts in Home Alone were really good and it has the sweetness of the family story.’
Her most side-splitting performance came in another Christopher Guest movie, For Your Consideration, where she played middle-aged character actress Marilyn Hack — who has an ill-advised cosmetic surgery spree when she is unexpectedly nominated for an Oscar. Her facial contortions are hilariously disturbing. ‘I didn’t want to use tape so it was muscles. My mother was amazing at holding up her face and doing a natural facelift. I’m sure her eyebrows were higher at 81 than 21,’ Catherine says.
After six series, Schitt’s Creek — the sitcom about a rich family who end up living in a motel — is coming to an end but Catherine is about to tour a live stage version of the show in the US. ‘I had such a wonderful time on Schitt’s Creek it will be hard to top that experience.’
Before treading the boards again when the ‘Schitt show,’ as she calls it, gets underway, she first has to tackle singing the Nightmare… soundtrack live in front of thousands. ‘I’m proud to be part of the movie,’ says Catherine.
‘The people who come to the shows are lovely and fun. It’s an exciting, thrilling, lovely evening for me — and hopefully for the audience.’
■ The Nightmare Before Christmas Live In Concert is at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro on Monday and London’s SSE Arena on Wed and Thu, disney.co.uk/shows