You probably haven't heard of Marietta but unless you live under a rock you have certainly seen her work. During my teenage years in the early 90's Marietta was the makeup behind tons of people and shows I, and most people at the time, obsessed over. In Living Color was huge in America, Boyz In The Hood was one of the few VHS tapes I owned and watched a zillion times and there probably isn't a person alive who hasn't seen the giant epic Malcolm X. As department head of Malcolm X, The Tina Turner Story.. What's Love Got to Do With it, Boyz In The Hood, Sparkle, White Men Cant Jump plus many more you would think such a successful career designing movies would be only movie based but Marietta is a true "all rounder" which you don't see so much at that level. Marietta has a long list of credits as personal makeup artist to stars on huge movies including Samuel L Jackson (Jacqui Brown) and Whoopie Goldberg (Ghost), alongside another list just as long as personal makeup artist to stars on press junkets, promos, campaigns and editorial shoots with some of the greatest stars of our time: Angela Bassett, Danny Devito, Diana Ross, Denzel Washington, Natalie Cole, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Cindy Crawford, Damon Wayons, Queen Latifah, Tupac Shakur, she even went to Sesame Street with Whoopi! Marietta has another long list of music videos with even more of the greats such as Barry White, Janet Jackson, Neil Young, Crosby Stills & Nash, Julio Inglesias and Kenny Loggins to name just a few. From music, TV, film and beauty it's safe to say that Marietta was at the forefront (or behind the forefront) of a large scale of arts who had an impact on shaping our society. Her most recent film work designing "Whitney" with one icon, Angela Basset, playing another icon, Whitney Houston, has recently aired and I am thrilled she took some time to talk to me about her incredible career and, of course, share some of her pro tips.

A snapshot of Marietta's career

MANW: How did you start your career and what was the progression it took?
MCN: My first love was sewing which began at age 12 when I migrated to the United States from Barbados. This love of sewing out of necessity led me to an after school grooming club in my Junior High School; that was my first real introduction to the world of makeup. Shortly after I attended two charm schools which really heightened my interest and by 16 I had already amassed a steady paying clientele of about 25 customers without realising I was an entrepreneur. All through my undergraduate studies I kept sewing; I made clothes for fashion shows, taught my peers how to sew and even ventured into creating bridal gowns, it was second nature and a no-brainer, then I had this epiphany why not combine my love of sewing with makeup and hair. So, after graduating from University and a two-year miserable stint at a major insurance company, I enrolled in cosmetology school. 

After receiving my New York cosmetology license I was building my hair business while also freelancing for Revlon. They had just introduced Polished Ambers, a line for women of color so I was simultaneously sharpening my makeup artistry skills along with my hair skills. For personal reasons I relocated from New York to Los Angeles via Europe and through my brother I met one of the hottest recording groups at that time, The Commodores. A lifestyle that I had written about but never envisioned coming to fruition came true, so be careful what you ask for because it most certainly will come true. I hitched my wagon to him and went all through Europe, eventually landing in Los Angeles. Once in LA I continued freelancing for Revlon as well as several other lines and I met, again through my brother and The Commodores, legendary singer Natalie Cole. When the opportunity presented itself, as Natalie and I were walking out of LAX airport together, I mentioned to her that I sewed as well as did makeup and hair and if she ever needed anyone I was available. Three days later Natalie’s manager called and told me to meet Natalie after rehearsal, she needed several elaborately made gowns altered and shortly after that I was on a plane to Hawaii with her. 

Being Natalie’s personal confidant, assistant, makeup, hair and wardrobe person was an amazing opportunity. I was young, single, without chick or child and had thrown caution to the wind, but I was losing my passion and everything started to feel like a job. One evening, while at the movies watching the credits roll, it hit me hard that I wanted to see my name roll on the screen so I enrolled in a Makeup Artistry school for motion picture. After graduation everything changed while assisting my brother, Ian Carter, on a Commodores music video; he introduced me to the makeup artist Robin Siegel who, at that time, was fully entrenched in the music video world. We exchanged numbers and I hung around that set and watched her do her thing, including picking up a few meaningful work tidbits at the same time, three days later I was assisting her on a Jeffrey Osborne music video. 

Most of the individuals I met at the beginning of this phase of my career were through Robin, she helped me carve my niche in this industry. It was a very exciting time in both of our careers and a reference was everything back then. She refered me to a few people who worked nonstop; Valli O’Reilly, Anne “Medusah” Aulenta, Lynne Eagan, Lizbeth Williamson and a few others. Whenever they needed extra help or if they were unavailable I got a phone call and I will be eternally grateful to those who took a chance on me. Robin and I did several things together until our paths separated when she chose to develop her career in television and I chose to develop mine in film. We have been best friends for about 30 years and let’s just say the rest is history.

MANW: I believe you may be the first true "all rounder" I've interviewed. If I had to narrow it down you mainly work as a personal makeup artist to well known actors on movies or for tv performances, as well as department heading movies. I know you do lots of campaigns and beauty editorials with personalties but did you ever want to work in fashion or beauty? Or do special effects?

MCN: I have done my share of effects, when I first graduated from makeup school I was gung-ho about effects, but after several bouts with asthma I decided that aspect of my life would take a backseat. I did one or two small fashion shows, lots of bridal work, worked in a salon as an aesthetician and freelanced for several makeup lines however I never really had a burning desire to work in fashion. I paid my dues in video hell (27 hour days filled with mineral oil-based smoke and playback) and then I fell in love with film. Even though I did quite a bit of television, film just kept pulling me back in.

MANW: Do you have a preference for the type of jobs and make-ups you like to do? From the sketch comedy character makeups in In Living Color, designing movies or do you prefer being personal to one person on movies?

MCN: My sketch comedy wasn’t really that much, I worked on In living Color off and on because one of my besties, the very talented Stephanie Cozart Burton who was co-department head, hired me when I was in between movies. I also filled in for her the last two weeks of the show. The pace almost killed me and gave me a whole respect for what she did, as soon as you were ready to do a makeup look there would be a major script change with very little time to create and execute that change into a completely different makeup look. I never did quite figure out how she did it, much respect to my sista, I bow down to her. I love doing clean beauty makeup but I really just love developing that character in the script, there is something very challenging and quite majestic about bringing that character to life. I enjoy being a department head just as much as being a personal to one person, I feel fortunate to have done both simultaneously. 

MANW: What is your process of creating character looks and how much say do you have in the designs? 

MCN: This is my process for developing each characters looks: 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 are not enough details surrounding each character, script notations maybe vague or sketchy or just not there. I like to give each character a somewhat complete life so that the makeup 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 everyones input counts. 

On Malcolm X I spent quite a bit of time working with Denzel Washington to create the look of Malcolm X. We met several times to discuss the various looks and the major transition from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X. After much deliberation we agreed to not use contacts to simulate Malcolm’s green eyes because it was too much using both contacts as well as wearing glasses. We also agreed to apply the moustache in two pieces and to cut the full hand tied lace beard and apply it in a few pieces, this made him feel more comfortable. 

For Ghost Whoopi and I discussed her looks, as well as with the director. I custom blended her liquid foundations as well as her lipsticks, I wanted her skin to look clean and dewy. She really wanted her black lipstick so I used dark brown instead of black and mixed it with a very orange/gold color to create a much softer lip colour. 

Tina, What’s love got to Do With it required a lot of detail. The director, the late Brian Gibson, was very hands-on, we had much discussion prior to shooting. He requested a complete breakdown of every look for Tina and Ike, including nail polish changes, so I handed over a continuity book before we even started shooting.

On my latest project Whitney, which aired on Lifetime Television in January 2015, there was very little time to do anything, we prepped as we were shooting. Changes happened quickly and mostly on the fly, the pace was insane.

MANW: You have worked on some legendary shows and movies, I still watch old episodes of In Living Colour on youtube, the epic Malcolm X and Boyz in The Hood, Jacqui Brown, Sesame Street with Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Tupac, the incredible Angela Basset..it's a very long list of greats. Can you tell us about some of the stand out moments of your career? 

MCN: Wow, let’s see. 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. Her energy, sense of purpose and sense of self were so heightened that it was majestic. We discussed many of the intrinsic nuances that were used to help bring Angela Bassett’s character to life in the movie but the highlight of our meeting was beyond anything that words can describe because, in order for me to get the full picture, Ms. Turner actually got down on her knees and did my makeup. That’s right, Tina Turner did my makeup. She pulled out her makeup bag from her purse and did half of my face in the 1960’s and the other half in the 1970’s to actually demonstrate the stage looks she used during those eras. I was in awe, and she said “I’ve always wanted to do a makeup artist’s makeup”. 

Another standout moment was doing makeup for the legendary and iconic Diana Ross for the movie Out of Darkness. This was an exciting opportunity to breakdown and create the evolution of the character with her. When I first came to the US, as a writer for our Junior High School paper aged 13, I was one of a few students chosen to attend a press junket for The Supremes at the world famous Waldorf Astoria and I got to take photos with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong. Cut to years later I was booked for a photo shoot with Mary Wilson and I took that photo to show her. She loved it and told me she remembered that day. Wow! I had no idea that this was the direction my life would take.

And, the best moment, the pièce de résistance was most recently in Paris. I was invited to be a master instructor for Make Up For Ever’s new Film and Television Academy at Cite du Cinema in Saint Denis. I got a chance to meet and hang with Dany Sanz, founder and creator of Make Up For Ever, I revisited the original boutique that I visited 18 years ago and I was able to go into the back to Dany’s office and actually get my hands into products. It was amazing, electrifying and all those wonderful adjectives, I was like a kid in a candy store. We left the ultimate makeup artist’s paradise and went for a 20-minute leisure stroll through the streets of Paris to our dinner location. What an evening, dinner with Dany Sanz!

MANW: You've been in the industry a long time, how do you think it has differed and what advice would you give to new artists starting out? 
MCN: I feel some things have changed tremendously. The introduction of social media has increased the need for instant gratification and the speed at which producers expect you to deliver has tripled. Movie making time has decreased considerably yet you still have to produce the same high quality. For new artists starting out it’s important to pay more attention to detail and learn the craft properly by continuously educating themselves from the right sources. Stop being in such a hurry to conquer the next smoky eye, instead learn the history and the art of the craft as well as the business entity of the industry.

I am passionate about education and teaching as a whole, in 2009 I took a leap of faith and enrolled in Kaplan University Online and graduated with my Masters in Higher Education with a focus in Adult Teaching and Learning and Online Teaching and Learning. My goal was to learn more about online teaching so I could deliver classes online and I have since created my Lipstick Lectures (a series of free monthly, one-hour sessions that discuss a different topic in film every month and anyone who is interested in a career in Film and TV can tune in) and my Workshops by Marietta Classes which focus strictly on the business of this industry. My other baby is my MUA Planner (a simple tool to assist makeup artists in their daily appointment lives which I designed to be a makeup artist’s backup life) and my recently created eBook on Industry Terminology.

MANW: All artists have 'the wish list'; a face they would love to work on or a show or film they would have loved to have worked on. I  equally enjoy doing beauty and character makeups so In Living Color/SNL was/is a bit of a dream of mine, although the 3 minute bald caps they do on SNL scare me endlessly. And obviously going to Sesame Street is a major life goal! Who or what are yours?

MCN: Wow, that’s a tough one. Halle Berry, I missed out working with her because shortly after interviewing with her she cancelled the project. I would have also loved to have done Sharon Stone and Anne Hathaway’s makeup. I think working on The Devil Wears Prada or Sex in the City would have been a fun makeup experience.

MANW: On to the good stuff, what are your tricks for flawless looking skin?

MCN: I love beautiful skin so I like a good skincare regime which includes regular facials and the right serums. I don’t like product overload so I use minimal stuff, I apply foundation lightly then I blend, blend, blend. I Love using a beauty blender for my final blend. I do my corrective work in creams, especially cream blush. I like to set the foundation properly so I use a powder puff then I buff the face with a large, clean powder brush.

MANW: What are your top 5 holy grail kit products? 

MCN: These are some of the must-haves for my kit. RCMA & Graftobian foundation palettes, RCMA Clear Foundation, Make Up For Ever HD Cream Blushes, Eve Pearl Blush Trio, MAC Orange Full Coverage Foundation, MAC Red Full Coverage Foundation, Eve Pearl Invisible Powderless Powder, Embryolisse lait-crème-concentrè, Ben Nye Five O’Sharp Beard Cover, Embryolisse Rich Balm, Beauty Blenders, a white palette, a white cape, Tweezerman tweezers, Lucas’ Papaw Ointment, RCMA No Color Powder, RCMA Over-Powder in warm gold. Skindanavia Makeup Finishing Spray, Christian Dior Loose Powder in medium, Face Atelier’s loose powder in ochre, Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder, Touche éclat and Lancome Teint Miracle Instant Retouch Pen, Smashbox & Stila Primers, SmashBox O-Glow Intuitive Cheek Color, ELF Studio Eyebrow kit, Cinema Secrets powder puffs and Clarins Instant Smooth Perfecting Touch.

MANW: What's your best make-up artist tip to give women?

MCN: My best makeup artist tip to women is to blend, blend, blend, then blend some more. I love to see clean, beautiful skin accentuated with hints of color on the cheeks, a beautiful crisp mouth and clean pretty eyes. When a woman is over 40, I believe that less is best, so they should spend more time on the skincare to avoid using a lot of makeup.

MANW: Finally, false eyelashes - the longer the better or enough already they look ridiculous?

MCN: I use false lashes in moderation. If the natural lashes are beautiful I prefer to use several coats of mascara. I enjoy mixing a couple of different formulations to achieve maximum results so I might mix lengthening, thickening and full volume mascaras to get the look I desire.

For more info on Marietta, her classes and books visit her website here or follow her on Twitter here.

If you liked this interview and would like to read other leading industry makeup artists stories (including the above mentioned Robin Siegel) have a look at the rest of the series here.

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