Doing a press day for Tim Burton's animated feature Frankenweenie in the city of Toronto, actress Catherine O'Hara is in a unique position to dispel the notion that the director of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Edward Scissorhands is as dark and brooding as the pale, tortured heroes of his movies.
To O'Hara, 57, Burton will always be Cupid.
Asked when she left her hometown of Toronto, she responds: "I didn't leave until I did Beetlejuice.
"And then I met the production designer on the movie," she says, referring to Oscar-nominated Bo Welch.
"Tim made him ask me out. And now we've been married 20 years."
For his part, Burton has been as good for O'Hara's career. In the 1988 movie Beetlejuice, he gave her a juicy role as Winona Ryder's pretentious, self-absorbed step-mother Delia in a role that nicely bridged from her work as a versatile comedienne of the influential, Canadian-produced series SCTV.
O'Hara has enjoyed a rich and varied career ever since. But Burton has never forgotten her talents. Since Beetlejuice, he selected her as the voice of the Frankenstein-like Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas (a role that demonstrated O'Hara's unexpectedly sweet singing voice) and now in Frankenweenie, Burton cast her as the voice of the mother of the film's hero Victor, a juvenile scientist who figures out a way to re-animate his beloved dog Sparky and the pet meets an untimely end.
As an added bonus to SCTV fans, Martin Short plays dad to O'Hara's mom.
"The parents are lovely and it's a loving home, not a cliché loving home but a truly loving home," she says during a phone interview.
"I think you'll quickly get the impression that they've nurtured his gifts and encouraged him to experiment and be creative," she says, adding that Burton departed from the usual technique of solo voice recording, common in most animated films. "Tim had us record the scenes together, which is a lovely thing because he wanted a real intimacy and he got that, I think, having Martin and me working together."
Lest you think O'Hara plays it too straight, both she and Short provide other voices for the film. She does a gym teacher and a strange classmate dubbed Weird Girl. She recognizes that the Mom character is something of a departure for her.
"I would love to be a mother like this. Most of my mothers are pretty troubled," she says. "I defend them to the death, but most of them are a little nuts."
One example might be O'Hara's upcoming role in the series 30 Rock, where she plays the much-discussed, never seen character of mother to Jack McBrayer's NBC page/rustic Kenneth.
The experience left O'Hara in awe of the show's star/producer Tina Fey, who represents a new generation of comedienne along with comedy stars such as Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig.
"They're much more savvy in their business dealings than I ever was," she says. "They're not only really talented, they know what to do with their talent."
As for Tim Burton, O'Hara likes to dispel the notion he is as forboding as his movies.
"He's not a brooding, serious man when you work with him," she asserts. "It's all about laughs and tapping into the humour in life.
"To him, the monsters in life are the scary people who take themselves too seriously."
Directed by Tim Burton
In theatres Friday