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Catherine O'Hara: This is what women can learn from Moira Rose

The Emmy-winning actress known for her role on “Schitt's Creek” shared how Moira Rose changed her life, and gave her best advice for navigating bias at the Forbes’ 30/50 Summit.
Moira Rose as portrayed by Catherine O'Hara, on \"Schitt's Creek.\"
Moira Rose as portrayed by Catherine O'Hara, on "Schitt's Creek."CBC

Catherine O’Hara, 69, has played iconic roles over her four-decade career in film, television and theater, but for many she is synonymous with Moira Rose, the dramatic former soap opera star matriarch from the hit 2015 comedy “Schitt’s Creek.”

The show, which ran for six seasons and earned a cult-like following after Netflix carried it in 2017, set Emmy records for the number of nominations and wins by a comedy series in a single season, including O’Hara’s win for best lead actress in 2020.

But the evolution of Moira Rose’s character had a profound effect on the actress herself. “I think [Moira is] just like so many of us who want to prove that we're worth being in the room, you know that we're worthy of being in the room [and] that we have something to offer,” "O'Hara said.

The acclaimed actress, comedian and writer recently took the stage at the Know Your Value and Forbes’ 30/50 Summit last week in Abu Dhabi to talk about portraying one of the most beloved characters in television history, overcoming ageism and building a fulfilling career in a male-dominated industry.

For O’Hara, that started with identifying and investing in her passion. “I think if you're lucky enough to find out that you have a gift … and to be able to even make a living at it, then I think it's your job to nurture it and to protect it,” she told Forbes' Executive Vice President Moira Forbes on Wednesday.

“In every new relationship, be aware of the foot you're going in on and be aware, be conscious of how you're presenting yourself right at the beginning,” she added. “Because the foot you go in on is the foot you will stay on – it is so hard to change that dynamic.”

The Canadian actress learned that lesson firsthand when she started her career at Second City in Toronto doing improv work at 19. She had to take risks, act in the moment, build confidence and communicate effectively.

“[It was] such good training for life [because] improvising is taking chances,” she told the audience. “You need to fail and you need to not be afraid that you make the wrong move. I was so lucky to fail as much as I succeeded early on … And now I just wish for you all to trust your own instincts, and surround yourself with people who deserve to be around your gift.”

O’Hara went on to star in some of the most memorable films and series over the last 30 years, including “Beetlejuice,” “Home Alone,” “After Hours,” and “Best in Show,” but acknowledged the ageism and bias she experienced along the way.

“When I was in my 30s, 40s, I was being offered really older women roles,” she said, adding that there were periods in her career where she did not have work at all. “And I thought when I'm actually 75, I want to get that part … so whether it's ageism, or race, or you have to be given the opportunity to show what you can do, or make that opportunity for yourself.”

That’s where Moira Rose’s “delusional confidence” helped O’Hara build her own voice both on screen and off. “I hope you'll get this in your lives to work with people who encourage you and bring out your best instead of crushing your spirit … I would get great dialogue written for me and then I would flower up the language even more.”

But internally the role allowed O’Hara to work through struggles with insecurity by channeling them in Moira. “Being self-conscious is the worst thing in the world and [Moira's] really self-conscious,” O’Hara told the audience. “I think we do relate to that, I do – I hate being self-conscious … but there was growth [because] she learned to get outside of herself and be grateful for her husband and her children … she was really lucky as a mother to get that second chance.”

The 30/50 summit was held from March 7-10 during International Women’s Day, where O’Hara joined a star-studded lineup of speakers including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem, CEO of Sweet July Ayesha Curry, tennis icon Billie Jean King, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, entrepreneur Jessica Alba and many more.

The event brought women from 50 countries together, including honorees from the Forbes “30 under 30” and “50 Over 50” lists, to launch mentorship opportunities, collaborate and innovate as leaders across industries.