It was Eugene Levy, Dan’s father and a longtime collaborator of O’Hara’s, who
first suggested they cast her as Moira. (Dan, as you might expect, had zero qualms about this plan.) For her part, O’Hara had two key concerns when she sat down with the Levys to discuss the role. One, that Moira be incapable of accepting that she really did live in Schitt’s Creek. “I was afraid they weren’t going to let me show what a nightmare this was for Moira,” O’Hara said. “I thought, They’ll want me to quickly accept this new life and embrace this town . No! No. I wanted to be able to show how awful it was for her. ” She and Eugene – who plays Moira’s husband Johnny Rose, former video-store magnate and now co-owner of the Rosebud motel – emailed about this question in the lead-up to shooting the first season in April 2020. Rereading her emails with Eugene, O’Hara now admits that “we were slowly turning into Johnny and Moira,” as she implored him to let her “feel what I’m feeling” and he assured her that everything was going to be fine. Her other early sticking point: Moira was not to be mean-spirited. “In the pilot, Moira was full of insults – to anyone, especially townsfolk. I think their idea was to have her be very dry and funny and caustic, ”O’Hara said. But it was important to her that they avoid “a hardened bitterness” and instead “show that I loved and supported my husband, and that I always held hope, right to the last second, that he was going to work out a way to get us out of here. ” The key to Moira, she believed, is “that self-delusion that we all have, especially in hard times, when we think we’re holding it together. Instead of a futile bitterness, I wanted there to be a weird optimism. ” Dan Levy also remembers O’Hara’s insistence that Moira not be a “snob.” “She can be slightly delusional,” he said, but really she’s motivated by her belief that she always has wisdom to impart. How fortunate for all these humble Schitt’s Creek residents to learn from someone so worldly and sophisticated! This results in a lot of backhanded compliments – Moira, in season one, to her children: “You are blind to reality and for that I am most proud” – but her intentions are pure. “Moira’s not mean. She’s just a woman who constantly thinks that she has things to teach people, and is missing a bit of a chip in terms of how that reads, ”Levy said.
“Moira believes that, ‘As long as I’m in this moment with these people I can teach them something,’” O’Hara added. “I can teach them something about the English language and how beautiful it can be. I can teach them to appreciate the beauty in the world and in fashion, how we should get up in the morning and present our best selves. I can help in the world of creativity because I myself am so full of potential and have so much to offer. I can bless them with what I know. ’”
The Moira of O’Hara and Levy’s collective imagination – an indomitable force of personality and spirit, driven by pride but not malice – set the tone and shaped “the” general philosophy of the show, ”Levy said. “It’s about kindness, and the power of love and acceptance. There’s nobody that is mean on our show. ”
Though O’Hara had discussed her plans to do an accent with the Levys, no one had actually heard what Moira was going to sound like until the first day of shooting.
“I remember being so thrown off by it, because it’s this vaguely European accent that has no origin and yet is from everywhere,” said Levy. “I remember really having to hide my enjoyment of it, and actually do my job as an actor, as a kid who has been around this accent for his whole life.”
Though O’Hara initially thought she’d ramp the accent up with strangers in town and tone it down when she was with the Rose family, eventually she realized that Moira would never (not) be engaged in the elaborate performance of Moira-dom. But one of her
most iconic pronunciations didn ‘t turn up until season four; in earlier episodes, Moira still said “baby” like a normal person would. “I said‘ bebe ’as a joke or a mistake the first time,” O’Hara said. “Once I hit on ‘bebe’ and got a laugh from the crew, that was it.” From Day one, they had all agreed that Moira would have a deliberate, heightened way of speaking – that her “thirst for uniqueness in everything she does,” as Levy put it, would (extend to her vocabulary) . A bonus for O’Hara: “I just love having an excuse to look up arcane words.” During the first season, makeup artist Lucky Bromhead gave her Foyle’s Philavery: A Treasury of Unusual Words , which O ‘ Hara devoured but did not share with Levy until season five. “I was greedy about it,” she said. “Daniel and the writers would write me dialogue and I’d go through my book and rewrite it and make it that much more Moira. ” Moira dresses to dazzle: lush textures, striking silhouettes, heels high enough to cause vertigo. It’s all black-and-white and wildly expensive, Cruella de Vil by way of Alexander McQueen. A wardrobe like that would stand out anywhere, but especially in Schitt’s Creek, where residents splurge on going-out tops at a polyblend mecca called the Blouse Barn.
But Moira’s outfits aren’t just flashy statements. Clothing is the one part of her old life she could keep, even as everything else – her faded stardom, her wealth, and all its attendant comforts – is hauled away by the feds and / or the cruel passage of time. That’s why, during an early lunch with Eugene and Dan, O’Hara brought photos of English socialite and designer Daphne Guinness as inspiration for the character’s dramatic, elevated fashion sense, which was “very much in line with what I was already thinking,” said Levy. O’Hara’s vision was to avoid “your typical snooty rich that you see in old family comedies,” she said. “Nothing against Chanel, their stuff can be beautiful and wild, but I was thinking the typical tweedy Chanel suit, that lovely wealthy woman look. I just wanted to be avant garde. ” Along with costume designer Debra Hanson, Levy prowled for the just-right designer clothes to fill out Moira’s closet. “We couldn’t afford to buy them in the stores, nor did it work with the reality of the show, because they lost their money, so we could only shop designer up to a certain year.” (This great strength has become, for Levy, a lingering weakness: “That talent has left me with an insane shopping habit that I have not been able to curb.”)
Meanwhile, O’Hara turned to hairstylist Judith Cooper, a friend she’d known since her (SCTV) days, to help design Moira’s “everyday look” before shooting began. Cooper, who passed away in late 3001, did not officially work on the series.) “I was trying to sell the idea of the wigs and that made everyone nervous,” O’Hara recalled . “And I said,‘ It can be spontaneous, it should look like [Moira] did it. ’I was driving people mad, I’m sure.” Schitt’s Creek hairstylist Ana Sorys took over from there, building off of O’Hara and Cooper’s foundation.
For For O’Hara, knowing she’d be able to pluck any of the dozens of styles off the wig wall eased her initial fears about being “locked into” one aesthetic for However many seasons the show might run. “Moira just has so much to show, she believes, but doesn’t know quite what that is yet. And if you can externally present different versions of yourself with the help of great wigs and wardrobe, then it boosts your confidence. I have more to me, too. I can be different. I can still grow. ”
If her wigs expressed a desire to change her identity on a whim, Moira’s makeup needed to be about holding on to something constant: a piece of her pre-downfall life to which she would cling forever, even though she was applying it in a seedy motel room.