Award-winning make-up artist Islyn Salie makes characters come to life on TV

Suidooster’s award-winning Head of Hair & Make-up, Islyn Salie. Picture: Supplied

Suidooster’s award-winning Head of Hair & Make-up, Islyn Salie. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 7, 2024


Cape Town’s vibrant film and television industry is brimming with talent, both in front of and behind the camera. But one crucial element often goes unnoticed: the artistry that brings characters to life on screen.

Today, we shine a spotlight on Islyn Salie, the award-winning mastermind behind the stunning looks on the popular local soapie, Suidooster. With her make-up brushes, products and creativity, Salie transforms actors and actresses into believable characters, episode after episode.

When we watch anything on TV or in cinemas, we rarely realise the amount of work that happens behind the scenes before the final product reaches us.

We never see the make-up artist who makes an actor look convincingly injured after a car accident or the lighting technician who creates a natural, stylised scene to evoke a specific emotion.

Islyn Salie’s make-up magic makes her subject look heavily beaten up. Picture: Charlene Goliath-Green

IOL contributor Riedwaan Jacobs gave Suidooster’s head of hair and make-up, Islyn Salie, a challenge: “Make my face look like an actor who needs to appear as though the character Nazeem has beaten him up.

Upon arrival, I was escorted to Salie’s make-up department, where her talented sister and second-in-command, Charlene Goliath-Green, was attending to some cast members. I was seated in Salie’s chair, and the magic began.

Suidooster’s award-winning Head of Hair & Make-up, Islyn Salie busy transforming Riedwaan Jacobs with her magic. Picture: Charlene Goliath-Green

In record time, I was transformed into a battered and bruised man. I was astonished to see my reflection, with one eye appearing smaller than the other. Salie had used all her skills and tricks to transform me.

The hair and make-up hub at the studios seems like the heart of this soapie. The feeling of one big happy family hangs in the air with no diva personalities around – everyone is grounded and works very hard towards the final product.

Islyn Salie’s make-up magic makes her subject look heavily beaten up. Picture: Charlene Goliath-Green

Some cast members were curious about what Salie was doing, so we filled them in. The highlight, however, came when actress Jill Levenberg, who plays Mymoena Samsodien, finished shooting her scenes and finally saw me. Unaware of the make-up, she genuinely thought something had happened to me.

When I explained to Levenberg why I looked this way, she was relieved. It made everyone realise just how superb Salie’s skills truly are.

Salie is fortunate to have her sister, Charlene Goliath-Green by her side, and her husband, Faizel Salie, is also part of the technical crew at Suidooster.

Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves: 2IC, Charlene Goliath-Green and her sister, IslynSalie. Picture: Supplied

“Working long hours at the studios means we’re in it together. I don’t have to worry about him being home while I’m still working. We understand the demands and hours of the TV production industry, and the support comes naturally,” Salie says.

As the head of her department, Salie needs to know the story ahead of time so she can meticulously plan for each character.

Journalist Riedwaan Jacobs enjoying a moment on the Anker set of Suidooster. Picture: Lauren Joseph

“I love reading, so reviewing the scripts in advance and planning accordingly is right up my alley. For instance, with Zeempie and Layla’s car accident, I had to thoroughly plan the specific make-up. Since we don’t shoot scenes in chronological order, I have to make detailed notes to ensure continuity flows smoothly. This requires careful coordination with the director and being extremely organised.

“I also have to account for the healing process of wounds, adjusting the make-up to reflect this. After a few days post-accident, the make-up is softened to show that the wounds are healing,” Salie explains.

Salie’s day begins with transforming the actors into their various characters.

“The first group of cast members arrives according to their call times. If it’s a morning scene for Moena in her house, for instance, we wash her hair, dry it, but don’t really style it,” Salie explains.

“This is when you see her in the mornings without a scarf and with minimal make-up

– what we call ‘pyjama make-up.’ Realistically, no one wakes up with colourful eyeshadow and pink nails.

“We then move on to the next actor as per our call sheet, and that’s how our day progresses. The key is being detail-oriented and knowing exactly what time of day a scene is set, among many other factors,” Salie adds.

According to Salie, every actor has a “big” make-up bag labelled with all their specific shades, hues, and brushes. They also have a smaller make-up bag that the stand-by make-up artist takes to the set.

Being a qualified beauty therapist and nail technician Salie always had a flare for making people pretty.

“I remember my matric ball day, I headed to Edgars for my make-up, and when I got home I told my mom I don’t like this. I washed my face and did my own make-up.

“Me and my sisters always played around with make-up and doing each other’s hair and eyebrows.

“After school, I studied at Cape College and learned the technical skills of all that is beauty and make-up,” Salie says.

Salie was ready to start a career on the cruise ships when someone approached her for a job as a stand-by make-up artist at the then-Sasani Studios at the Waterfront.

“Before Suidooster, I worked on quite a few productions in Joburg and here in Cape Town.

“I was working on a series for Penguin Films when I learned about a new soapie in the works. I emailed the producers, interviewed, and mentioned that my sister and I make a great team. We got hired, and voila, here we are!”

Hailing from Mitchell’s Plain, the two sisters have made their mark, make-up brush in one hand and hairdryer in the other hand.

In 2016, Salie won a SAFTA for Best Achievement in Make-up and Hairstyling for the movie “Ingoma,” with many nominations following. In 2023, she was nominated for a SAFTA for Best Make-up Artist for a soapie.

Journalist, Riedwaan Jacobs enjoying a moment on the Anker set ofSuidooster with hair & make-up artist, Charlene Goliath-Green and actress, LaurenJoseph who plays Zoe October. Picture: Islyn Salie


Whose make-up is the easiest to do?

Eden Classens that plays Justin.

What is the wildest make-up you have created for a character?

In the very beginning of Suidooster, I had to create a very gory bloody look for a character that got injured and it was quite hectic.

Which character’s make-up style is most different from your style?

Bridgette Jacobs played by Denise Newman.

What was the most challenging make-up transformation you had to do for a character?

I worked on the TV series, Home Affairs, where I had to transform Vatiswa Ndara into a neglected, drunken woman. Everything about her character had to look dishevelled – her hair, skin, and teeth. It was quite a challenge.

One make-up tip to a viewer?

Choosing the correct shade of foundation is crucial; if your base isn’t right, nothing else you apply will look correct. Using the wrong shade can make you appear too white, yellow, or orange in photos.

Which cast member on Suidooster is the most fun to do make-up for and why?

Dean John Smith, who plays Wade Daniels, is like the brother Charlene and I never had. We always have extra fun when working with him.

Last word?

Everyone at Suidooster feels like family. It’s wonderful to work with such grounded people, free of diva-like personalities. We support each other, making work feel special since we spend more time here than at home. I often say that Denise Newman is my work mom because I see her more than I see my actual mom.