Bajan’s movie magic
PRO ARTIST Marietta Carter-Narcisse is a Barbadian who has been dabbling in make-up for years, working with some of the top celebrities of Hollywood.
In a recent interview, she spoke of her Master of Science degree in higher education and bachelor’s in psychology with several certificates in motion picture and prosthetic make-up, professional make-up artistry, cosmetic corrections and theatrical make-up artistry, among others, that license her in the states of California and Florida.
Such a dynamic foundation has propelled her into being an internationally renowned educator, having created a series of workshops for inspiring make-up artist taught in schools across the globe.
Carter-Narcisse launched her make-up career in 1983, while working on the set of a Commodores music video with her young brother. Her career blossomed with the popular 1990s movies and television shows such as Eve’s Bayou, A Time To Kill, Beverly Hill Cops 3, Malcolm X, Boys N The Hood and Baby Boy, among others, after having travelled with the late legendary singer Natalie Cole as her personal confidante, assistant, make-up, hair and wardrobe person.
She received recognition for her artistry skills in 2014 as a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Barbados Music, Fashion & Film Awards & Thank The Academy But Who is The Academy? In 2016 Carter-Narcisse was nominated for the Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild Award for Best Contemporary Make-Up-Television Mini Series (Whitney). She was honoured in Black Hollywood Education and Resource Centre (BHERC) for her contribution to make-up and hairstyling for film and television – Yago Blu.
What inspired you to become a cinema make-up artist and what type of make-up assignments were you doing prior? What are some of actors/celebrities that you have worked with?
I was inspired to become a cinema make-up artist through several things. However, my epiphany came one evening while at the movies. As I watched the credits roll, it hit me hard: that’s what I want to do, see my name roll on the screen. So I enrolled in Elegance International Academy School of Make-up Artistry (now called EI) for their motion picture programme. Even though I was proficient in make-up, hair and wardrobe, I knew nothing about working on a moving picture set.
At the time, I was on the road with the late legendary singer Natalie Cole as her personal confidante, assistant, make-up, hair and wardrobe person. I have had the pleasure of working with many A-list personalities such as Angela Bassett, Cindy Crawford, Jordin Sparks, Diana Ross and Samuel L. Jackson, to name a few.
What was it like working on the set of the Lifetime television movie Beaches? How did you break down the script to bring the characters to life with make-up?
It was fast; I came in at the last minute so I had to come in up-to-speed. There was no time to waste. I flew into Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on a Sunday afternoon and I started work the next morning at 4 a.m. So travel time, changing planes, jet lag – it all went out the window. There was no time for any of that. I had to unpack and organise as soon as I entered my room.
I came in as Nia Long’s personal make-up artist. Principal photography had already started, so I had to match her make-up on the very first day, which is always challenging when you are not the original make-up artist. There were some continuity elements in the scenes that were already shot, that I had to match to. For those that weren’t already established I had to create looks.
Since I was only working on Nia it was about just following her life. Her looks varied from a no make-up look to very clean and pretty, to older more sophisticated working attorney, to her being sick and dying. She has really beautiful skin, so that’s half the battle.
The police drama television series Rebel airs on March 28th on BET! Did you face any challenges on set? What was the style of the make-up?
The one challenge we did have was our director John Singleton’s idea for a huge knot on our lead actress’ forehead, which would have been great if we had the budget and time frame. Because a knot like that can’t just disappear, there is a healing progression that has to take place.
When you are flip-flopping from scene to scene, it becomes impossible to track something like that. It is setting oneself up for mistakes. You have to follow that knot with prosthetics, which is money production didn’t have. We finally agreed that the knot on her forehead was not the way to go and instead a cut inside the mouth would be better because that can disappear immediately.
Sometimes you have to compromise on a set and be able to advise and come up with solutions on the fly. The show takes on a certain dynamic where it tells a story through the lead character Rebecca Knight’s (Danielle Monè Truitt’s) hair.
A cop gone rogue who’s very Afrocentric. To stay in line with the premises, her make-up varies from a no-make-up look to a very clean, pretty beauty make-up, showcasing Danielle’s exotic beauty, gorgeous cheekbones and full lips; plus an amazing clean, flawless complexion. She was an absolute joy to work with.
Is there a difference between cinema make-up and make-up for print work such as magazines?
Yes, there is a big difference. Cinema is moving picture and print is still work, and unlike print work, your work in film and television is not retouched and it’s blown up 40 feet. Attention to detail is of the utmost importance. You must suffer from detailitis; every little nuance needs to be perfect.
Plus film separates body parts so in some instances the only thing on camera could be just one eye, a nostril, or lips. Your attention to detail is of the utmost importance because if you don’t catch it, the audience will.
Also, with this new technology, 4k, 6k, et cetera, there is very little wiggle room. Every hair and pore is seen on an actor, so you have to be keen in all you do because it’s not forgiving. The key is blend, blend, blend and then blend some more. You have to eliminate the sheen and the shine.
Do you tend to blend cinema make-up into your print work?
I have a particular technique that is my style, developed over the years. Sometimes I have to remember that I need a bit more colour and definition, because the flash photography in print work washes out some of that.
How do you keep the look of the characters that you develop separate, not bring them from one set onto another? What stages do you go through to develop the make-up for a character?
It’s easy to keep the characters separate because the script dictates the look and the feel of each character. Also, most actors come to the character with a look and feel of how they want to be portrayed. We have a discussion to reach a middle ground between what the actor wants and what the director wants. It’s great when we are all on the same page. Sometimes, we are not.
I read the script a minimum of three times before I even begin to break the characters down. I like to get a very strong feel of the evolution of each character that I have to work with.
After I do my initial breakdown I create my list of questions. Many times there is not enough detail surrounding each character. Script notations may be vague or sketchy or just not there, so we have to create them. I like to give each character a somewhat complete life so that the make-up evolution makes sense. This usually involves conversations with the script supervisor, director, costume designer, the hairstylist and the actor. Film is a collaborative effort so everyone’s input counts.
How do you feel when you see your work on the big screen or television and which ones are most memorable?
It’s almost surreal! Sometimes it’s hard to believe I actually did that, and it’s up there for the world to watch, and then as an artist, I become critical of it. I’m always open for growth and looking to see how I can make it better. I think one of the biggest standout moments of my career was meeting and spending about eight hours over the course of two days with the legendary and iconic Tina Turner. I felt like I was in the presence of rock ‘n roll royalty.