I call Claire “Sex Ed Mama”! She’s our Telly Mum. And she calls us her Telly Babies. She was instrumental in bringing the cast together and creating that family atmosphere on Sex Education,” explains Ncuti Gatwa, nominated in the male performance in a comedy category at this year’s BAFTAs for his role as Eric Effiong.
“Make-up are the first people the actors go to on set every day —they see you at your most vulnerable. Then they paint the character on you, they’re integral to that transformation. It’s such an intimate art form that you develop a really close relationship with your make-up artist.”
And Ncuti’s transformation in Sex Education is key to his character’s development. Eric goes from being a shy, bullied, insecure teen to a confident and proud gay man during the course of the first series — emerging at his school prom looking fabulous in an outfit brought to life with glittering green eyeshadow.
“When I start on a job,” explains Claire Williams, who designed the look for Eric, “I create collage mood boards for each character. Then once they’re approved by production, you take those boards and you sit with cast members, who you don’t know, and you have to sell it to them.
“Ncuti was so open to all my suggestions and really wanted to take Eric’s journey as far as we could. He didn’t seem nervous about any of it and was happy to go anywhere that he needed to go for the character.”
Gatwa may not have appeared nervous, but the prospect of creating such a bold look was daunting. “I had never worn make-up other than on stage — a bit of anti-shine. I remember going to Harvey Nichols and buying the entire Fenty line — it’s the brand that I got them to start using on set because it’s Rihanna’s and I like supporting black-owned businesses.
I then went home and watched loads of YouTube tutorials and tried to learn how to do it myself because that’s a big part of Eric’s journey.
“I wasn’t nervous going into the store, but Claire definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. There was one scene in which I wore a wig, full make-up and stilettos and thought, ‘Oh my God, my family, all my friends in Tottenham! Nobody’s ever seen me like this before…’ It was definitely a challenge but it helped me become braver as an actor. I had to get over a lot of my own insecurities and concerns about how other people would judge me. And I felt amazing. I’ve never felt that brave in my own life, so it was very cool to experience that through him.”
These interviews originally appeared in the Radio Times magazine. For the biggest interviews and the best TV listings subscribe to Radio Times now and never miss a copy. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV guide.