‘The Book of Clarence’ Makeup Artist Matiki Anoff Dishes On The Behind-The-Scene Secrets To Create the Perfect Looks For the Cast Plus 500 Extras

The award-winning makeup artist only had four days to prepare for the "biblical chocolate" comedy-drama.

Reimaging a time in which neither film nor photo has ever been captured can either miss the mark or be a brilliant interpretation. Last month, “The Book of Clarence,” emerged as a creative example of a Biblical-adjacent tale, telling the story of a time that has no visual records. And so for that reason, the film is able to take some liberties with its largely Black cast, including LaKeith Stanfield and Alfre Woodard

Director and writer, Jeymes Samuel was smart enough to give some of that responsibility to acclaimed celebrity makeup director Matiki Anoff. You’ve seen her previous work in acclaimed films such as “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,” “Fences,” “Daddy’s Little Girls,” and “Juice.”

Matiki Anoff

Three-time makeup director, Matiki Anoff.

In her last project, “The Book of Clarence,” Anoff curated makeup looks for the immediate cast along with 500 extras by relying on craftsmanship and undisputed creativity to bring Samuel's "biblical chocolate" vision to life.

Sony Pictures

Despite Anoff’s nearly 40 years in Hollywood and working alongside big timers including Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Michael B. Jordan, working on “The Book of Clarence,” challenged her in unimaginable ways. From having less than a week to prepare to collaborating with an all-Italian crew, Anoff ultimately accomplished the challenge of a lifetime that turned into a cinematic masterpiece. spoke to the three-time Emmy-nominated makeup artist, who revealed how she managed to pull off this assignment , the incredible creativity from the Black talent and crew members on set, and how the film challenged her to go beyond her comfort zone. How did this assignment for “The Book of Clarence” compare to the others you’ve had in the past like “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, “A Journal For Jordan” and “Fences”? What was it like being on this massive set?

Matiki Anoff: This was incredibly different. Usually, the things I've worked on are often a play converted into a movie, so there's a sense of family and there's that kind of community. With this one, I had never met Jeymes [Samuel] before, and I had four days to prep. I arrived in Italy [and] had a completely Italian crew [and] most didn't speak English [so] it was quite a challenge. I have to be really honest and say that I was really intimidated on this one. What exactly intimidated you about this film?

Matiki Anoff: With each project, [you] get to prep. You meet the actors, you do camera tests, you consult with the costume designer, with the hair designer, with the production designer, even with the directors and producers. Everybody kind of gets on board before. [With] this one, there was none of that. My first day, I arrived, had a camera test and we started shooting four days later. It was craziness, but I had an incredible Italian crew and we got it done. The transformations among the cast along with the 500 background actors was astounding. How did you mentally, and physically prepare for the task at hand and did you feel a spiritual connection during the transformation process?

Matiki Anoff: Absolutely. I'm actually from Ghana, and the majority of the cast were African, so it just really sang to my soul. Once I [read the script], I knew I could handle the cast. I felt a lot more comfortable. The film also maintained the integrity of the lifestyle during those times in history. Take us into the research that was necessary to achieve this standard.

Matiki Anoff: As I read the script, I thought, 'Who are these people? What tribes would have migrated to this part of the world? Did they come as a slave? Did they come as a tradesman?' All these factors were coming in.

I immediately met with Laura [Borzelli] –the crowd supervisor– and we just sat down and said, 'Okay, so this group of people would have come from this region. So let's look at the specifications. Let's look at the facial structures, let's think of what type of beards they would have had in that day.'

If they were travelers, they would be dusty. So, let's have dust on their feet [and] on their hands. If they were impoverished, let's have a lacquer. For men, we had to plug up all the piercings because that wasn't relevant at that time. With the women, they weren't heavily made up at that time, but we researched henna and henna paintings from that era [and used] kohl on the eyes [because] they beautified themselves. Even in that era, [they did so] with clay masks. So it's those little things that take you out of the period. 

Sony Pictures Fans also notice that some of the characters have distinguishable scars in the film that represent their African heritage. How did you make sure that this was done authentically?

Matiki Anoff: I wasn't able to pre-make these scars. We made them on site and also the prosthetics. So we'd make them and then we'd make up the principal actors. I'd send them to set and then my talent pool and I would sit there and just start practicing, prepping, and then we'll send pictures to James, [asking] “Do you like this for the leprosy? Do you like this for the scar on Samson?” It was very collaborative. It’s interesting the way the eye looks on the men helped bring their characters to life. Why was that black eyeliner used in thy way?

Matiki Anoff: That [eyeliner] on men was very prevalent in that era, especially to keep glare out of their eyes and also to adorn themselves if they went out. So if you see in the later scenes, Clarence goes from being very poor to quite rich so his crew have a little bit of that shading on their eyes when they're more successful.

Director's Cut: Filmmaker Jeymes Samuel Crafts an Epic Tale of Ambition and Faith in 'The Book of Clarence' Which transformation from the cast was the most shocking for you?

Matiki Anoff: None was shocking to me because I was just going through the motions, [but] when we did the lepers, people's mouths were like, “Oh my God,” because it really looked like a leper colony. Another aspect that had its challenges were the beards worn by men. Take me into the daily shoot schedule when you had to apply over 20 beards each morning. What was the most challenging part of that task?

Matiki Anoff: All praise to the Italians because they know their lane so well. They would stay up at night [and] braid, and do everything so the beards would be all ready in the morning. And it was just like one after the other. When we'd finish, we'd be like dizzy, like 'How did we do this?' It was really quite something.

Sony Pictures What time in the mornings did you and your team start?

Matiki Anoff: Ninety percent of the movie [was shot] in [the] daylight. So we didn't start ridiculously early. We would start maybe [around] five-ish. And we would get all the apostles done in two hours. So it was really good. And we didn't do super long days either because it was daylight dependent. I just think it is quite prevalent with Black directors. I think they're just more prepared. I just think they have to be [because] so often they don't get the budgets, [but] this was a very healthy budget. So I think this was all James's preparation. He knew that it's his story. He knew it inside out. He knew the shots he wanted. He knew the angles. He was just brilliant in this.

Jeymes Samuel Put His Foot in 'The Book Of Clarence' Many times in film or TV, either we here from the Black talent that there is a lack of expertise from the hair and makeup team on set or the fans notice it when they watch in post. You were not only able to perfectly match skin tones as well as undertones, but you also allowed the makeup to tell a story. Let’s talk about that objective, how did you go from ideation to reality.

Matiki Anoff: The mantra for this movie was biblical chocolate. So I took it from there. Whether they were a leper, a rich person, or whoever, they [were] going to look gorgeous. That was really the theme. We really detailed different skin colors. We wanted the natural, glowing [skin]. We would add almond oil to makeup just to make the skin glow and glisten. We really spent a lot of time on that.

It was a challenge to make everybody up to be realistic to the period. It's easy to make somebody up to look gorgeous, but that can be a challenge when you have to make them up to look as if they don't have any makeup on. Now that “The Book of Clarence” is available everywhere, what masterpiece are you working on next? 

Matiki Anoff: I'm sworn to secrecy on both of them. One is a nice classic TV show that has welcomed ethnicity into it. That's all I can say, and the other one I really can't talk about but it's massive. Is there anyone in Black Hollywood who you haven’t worked with but would love to work with?

Matiki Anoff:  I am also a writer and I've written a screenplay [so] I would really like Damson Idris to star in the screenplay. That's who I'd like to work with, but not as a makeup artist.

“The Book of Clarence” is now available to stream, rent or purchase.

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