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A success story

Toward the end of For Your Consideration, Catherine O'Hara's face so realistically looks like the results of bad plastic surgery that it makes you wonder: Is it a computer-generated special effect? Or - horrors! - a genuine botch job?

It's neither.

In playing a performer who's freaked out by the thought of winning an Academy Award, O'Hara pulls off the rictus of a nasty nip/tuck just with her own facial muscles, and a little help from a makeup and hair stylist. The only false thing: a set of teeth that were extra long and extra white, so they would show up better on camera.

O'Hara recoils at the question of a real-life face lift, and not just because she's seen the frightening potential results.

"I'm afraid of needles, except acupuncture needles," says the 52-year-old comedic actor.

Such surgery isn't inevitable, either, since comedy is kinder to aging female actors, which she appreciates. "Character roles definitely age better than your ingenues," she says.

In the latest Christopher Guest movie, she plays an actor aptly named Marilyn Hack, for whom, as they like to say, it's all about the work, not awards. Then, some faceless, nameless Internet blogger visits the set and posts his opinion that Hack gives a performance "that can only be described as Oscar-worthy."

Isn't the recognition - or the mere whiff of it - seductive?

"I guess it is for people. I don't want to get caught taking it seriously. It's too sad. It's too sad," says O'Hara, who won an Emmy in the early '80s for writing SCTV Network 90 along with the likes of Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty and the late John Candy. "You get embarrassed even talking about it."

She jokes that she'd rather campaign to be a presenter. "You don't win or lose. And you get the gift bag."

But she knows what it's like to be up for an Academy Award. Husband Bo Welch, whom she met on the set of Beetlejuice, is a four-time nominee for art direction.

"He seemed to handle it really well," she says, recalling how friends were supportive and it was an unavoidable topic of conversation. "He still was cool. And luckily that award is early in the show. . . . He didn't get it. And we went down to the loser's lounge, and it was fine," she says, breaking up again.

O'Hara gets her share of recognition outside of awards shows, especially for playing the mother in the Home Alone movies. Sometimes that leads to particularly awkward encounters. She recalls a boy, about 9, who came up to her after she did the second Home Alone movie - "I know the second one was pushing it, for actually losing your kid twice" - and asked, " 'Are you the lady who lost her son?' "

"And I said, 'In the MOVIE, yeah.'

" 'And didn't you do it again?'

" 'Yeah, it was a sequel. I know. Sorry. Okay, I'm sorry. They offered a lot of money.' I'm telling this 9-year-old I'm sorry.

" 'How could you do that twice to your son?'

" 'I know, I'm sorry. But, you know it's a movie and hopefully that would never - '

" 'Isn't that called abandonment?'

O'Hara, who's been a part of Guest's ensemble of actors in his mockumentaries, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, sounds a little nervous about being first among equals this time.

"It kind of scared me when I first read it, because I kept seeing the name Marilyn in there, and it seemed like I had an awful lot of scenes, and I do ... but it was exciting at the same time."