From wigs to plaits: Behind the seams of ‘Blood and Water’

We speak to the head make-up artist from the local smash hit to find out what went into crafting the beauty looks in the latest season

08 March 2024 - 13:23
By Thango Ntwasa
Make-up artist Carine Nnama Oko strikes a pose on set.
Image: Supplied Make-up artist Carine Nnama Oko strikes a pose on set.

Carine Nnama Oko is no stranger when it comes to what we watch on television. That is, of course, if you're looking at the make-up and hairstyles of popular shows such as Real Housewives of Johannesburg and, most recently, the fourth instalment of Blood and Water.

The series stars Ama Qamata, who plays Puleng, a young high school Nancy Drew meets Veronic Mars who often gets herself into sticky situations for her curious investigations of the many people around her. In the first season she reunited with her perfectionist sister, Fikile (played by Khosi Ngema), who deals with the repercussions of the last season's events that saw her adoptive mother's passing.

“Blessed and honoured” to be a part of the dramatic fourth season, Oko said she was grateful to be selected to head one of the most pivotal roles on the set of the popular series and shared how she took on the mantle of the young and old characters on the series.

1. With your experience on reality TV productions, what differences do you find between a scripted show like Blood and Water and the reality shows you've worked on?

The difference  is that scripted shows are meticulously planned well in advance. Writers draft dialogues and plot lines in advance. Actors portray characters who make-up artists need to bring alive based on the content of the script that we must study meticulously and fully understand. This is followed by a script breakdown, continuity checks and so on.

With non-scripted shows like reality TV, they rely solely on participants reacting in real time to situations. In this case, the make-up artist’s job is mainly to make the participant look beautiful. No script is needed and as a result no script breakdown is needed because they are themselves. As real as can be.

2. We got a lot of party make-up and hair this season as the cast was in many club scenes. What inspired your approach to the looks the young cast wore when going out to have fun?

Every party had a specific theme, and for that reason it wouldn’t have made any sense to have the characters appearing at one party looking the same way as they did at the previous one. That’s not what young girls their age do. 

I wanted something that resonates with girls of their age group. They want to play with their hair, they want to change their hairstyle every weekend and as soon as they return from school on Friday, they start getting ready for the weekend. They dress up for the next party and there’s always one of those. In character/script, the parties were planned and we knew they were going to happen. Therefore, it wouldn’t have been logical to have them at the parties without changing their hair and make-up, and have fun letting them be who they wanted to be.

Ultimately, my inspiration was simply the lifestyle of Gen Z. The show depicts their lifestyle and the inspiration is the trends they follow, what interests them and how they approach life.

3. Wendy had daring hair this season. Where did you pull inspiration from, specially the looks that featured a lot of beads?

For Wendy’s hairstyle, wgot the inspiration from an African woman called Sarraounia Mangou, specially the one with the beads at Chris party

When I read the part where Lunga says her hairstyle invoked “Sarraounia Mangou meets Vogue” my first instinct was to immediately research her so I could bring both ladies together in one hairstyle. Not only is it the reason we chose the look for the character but it’s also why we added beads, so we could match Wendy’s character. We all know Wendy loves beads.

4. Each make-up artist throughout the seasons has kept Puleng in braids. What motivated that decision for you?

Continuity played an important role in this decision. At the end of the previous season, Puleng was not in a good state of mind. She was distressed, so we couldn’t take her from that state of mind  when the previous season ended, to a completely different one. That’s not very realistic for what we’re trying to achieve or how we’re telling the story. It wouldn’t have made sense without a good reason.

5. While Puleng spends most of her time getting into messy situations and getting injured, her sister Fikile often maintains her pristine image. What went into your approach for her beauty look?

From the first season Fikile had  been established as a princess wherever she went. At school, she was a princess, and to her parents she was too. She was also a swimming champion, a shining star. She had maintained that beautiful image throughout the seasons, and for continuity the beauty look you’re referring to had to be kept the same.

I’m a mother of girls only, and I enjoyed planning her looks and changing them. What made it even more interesting was that she [Ngema] was involved in the process and was usually very excited when I shared my ideas with her.

6. Fikile and Wendy’s plaits change several times in this season but seem to go back and forth from beginning to end. Was this due to the days the scenes were shot or did you and your team have to keep plaiting them anew for continuity?

For these two characters we had planned from the beginning to have hair for school days and hair and make-up styles for parties. For example, when they’re on school grounds it’s light make-up, day make-up, and the hair is tied in the back of the head. The front is kept neat and tidy, like most girls their age

For the party looks something different was needed. Achieving this was a challenge because we had to find the right balance between delivering on time and being creative, while, most importantly, preserving our prestigious cast’s scalp and skin, given the hair and make-up changes we had to do regularly.

What we did was to create ready-made hair out of plaited fibres and used hair clips to make it easier for us to switch the styles as required, without hurting their scalp and skinThe hairstyles you see are ready-made hair  positioned firmly on their heads using clips. That way we could preserve the scalp and skin. 

Scalp and skin preservation and protection were the number one priority in all the hair and skin work we needed to do for this season. You could see different hairstyles on screen but achieving them did affect the health of the cast and they were usually delivered on time because we had prepared everything well in advance.

The cast of 'Blood and Water' season 4.
Image: Instagram/ Netflix The cast of 'Blood and Water' season 4.

7. We also see flashbacks of a few characters like Fikile and her teammates in the swim team. How did you approach making them look young?

Understanding their skin type is the first step. Then choosing the right products for their skin follows. Avoid overburdening the skin with excessive amounts of products or masking them with products

Using the least amount of product, minimalism is what eventually goes into it. Minimalism usually results from a proper understanding of the skin which leads to choosing the right products and deciding on the application techniques that will help achieve the best results, namely making them look young. This subject of minimalism is very close to my heart and there’s more on that coming soon.

8. Puleng’s cousin, Lunga, sports bleached hair throughout the season. How did you maintain the colour as filming a series like Blood and Water can run for quite some time? 

To maintain Lunga’s hair we bleached it every three weeks to not only protect his scalp but also ensure he didn’t experience any sensitivity during filming. We also trimmed the edges once a week and did a hair mask weekly.

The edges were growing quickly and needed to be watched closely to avoid the appearance of black hair which could compromise the integrity of the look.

9. What tips can you give to men and women looking to dye their hair and maintain it?

To maintain hair after dyeing, it’s important to understand bleaching sucks moisture out of the hair and dries it. To maintain your hair, do a hair mask once or twice a week and use a leave-in conditioner and moisturiser daily.

10. A lot of criticism has come in the past seasons about the use of wigs in the show. We see Fikile’s father, Anthony, wear a dreadlocked wig. What work went into sourcing and maintaining the wig that critics might not understand?

Many of the characters in the show were established and Fikile’s father is one of them. As a creative who joins a project of this kind, you develop a vision that has your personal touch. When this vision comes alive you’ll always have some who love it and others who don’t, and out of this there are two outcomes, which are learning and growth. I love that about the work we do. 

There’s a huge amount of individuality and imagination that come into play to achieve the results required by production. We are given a script and a brief and based on that we use the resources at our disposal, including the individuality and imagination I mentioned earlier to arrive at the result viewers see on screen. There are many people involved in the creation process of these special items that help us present the character on screen. Even the actors have a say in the process of creating the items. It’s a huge creative endeavour that is usually outside the ordinary and people who participate are challenged to produce outstanding work. That’s no simple matter.

I think in the end the mere fact that people are challenged and manage to deliver brings growth. Positive growth adds a contribution to the whole industry that can then thrive. Without all  that there wouldn’t be much to criticise, would there?

11. Speaking of wigs, we see fewer cast members use them this season. Was this intentional?

Yes. We were briefed by the producers and showrunners on what was required for the seasonDuring our preparation, we took that into consideration

The brief was less wigs and more African authenticity, and I personally loved that without reservation, especially since we could inspire young African girls to embrace their natural hair. That’s also the reason behind the different styles.

13. The male cast is always impeccably groomed. What advice would you give to male fans of the show to attain the level of clean-cut beauty the gents have on the series?

Study the skin type so you choose the right products suitable for your skin type, the right machines and so on. Age is important too because some actors are in their puberty which comes with issues that must be taken into consideration when handling their skin and grooming them.

It’s very important to start from the beginning, which is to know your skin. That usually sets you on the right path to doing the right thing. A huge part is subjective and the rest is about cleanliness (we always sanitise the tools we use), consistency, moderation, and minimalism.


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