Clifford Vivian Devon Curtis
27 July 1968
Clifford Vivian Devon Curtis (born 27 July 1968) is a New Zealand actor. His film credits include Once Were Warriors (1994), Three Kings (1999), Blow (2001), Training Day (2001), Whale Rider (2002), Sunshine (2007), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and The Dark Horse (2014), for which he won the Best Performance by an Actor award at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Curtis had television series roles on NBC's Trauma and ABC's Body of Proof and Missing. From 2015 to 2017, Curtis portrayed Travis Manawa on the AMC horror drama series Fear the Walking Dead.
Though Curtis is ethnically Māori, his many character roles have included a range of ethnicities, such as Hispanic, Samoan, Indian and Arab. He is the co-owner of the independent New Zealand production company Whenua Films.
Curtis was born in Rotorua, in the North Island of New Zealand. He is one of eight children, the son of an amateur dancer. Curtis is of Māori descent; his tribal affiliations are Te Arawa and Ngāti Hauiti.
As a boy he studied mau rākau, a traditional Māori form of taiaha fighting, with Māori elder Mita Mohi on Mokoia Island, which nurtured his abilities as a performer in kapa haka. Curtis later performed as a breakdancer and competitively in rock 'n' roll dance competitions. He received his secondary education at Edmund Rice College, Rotorua.
Curtis started acting in amateur productions of musicals Fiddler on the Roof and Man of La Mancha with the Kapiti Players and the Mantis Cooperative Theatre Company, before attending the New Zealand Drama School and Teatro Dimitri Scoula in Switzerland. He worked at a number of New Zealand theatre companies, including Downstage, Mercury Theatre, Bats Theatre, and Centre Point. His stage roles include Happy End, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, The Cherry Orchard, Porgy and Bess, Weeds, Macbeth, Serious Money, and The End of the Golden Weather.
His first feature film role was a small part in the Oscar-nominated Jane Campion film The Piano. He went on to win attention in Once Were Warriors, one of the most successful films released on New Zealand screens; the line "Uncle fucken Bully" referring to Curtis's character spoken by "Jake the Muss", played by Temuera Morrison, became one of New Zealand film's most memorable and quoted lines, as well as being part of the "Kiwiana" trend. He played Kahu in the short-film Kahu & Maia, a contemporary depiction of a Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Rongomaiwahine legend. He played a seducer in the melodrama Desperate Remedies. In 2000 Curtis starred as family man Billy Williams in Jubilee, before playing father to the lead character in the international hit Whale Rider.
In 2004 with producer Ainsley Gardiner, Curtis formed independent film production company Whenua Films. The goals of the company are to support the growth of the New Zealand indigenous film-making scene, and support local short filmmakers. He and Gardiner were appointed to manage the development and production of films for the Short Films Fund for 2005–06 by the New Zealand Film Commission. They have produced several shorts under the new company banner, notably Two Cars, One Night, which received an Academy Award nomination in 2005, and Hawaikii by director Mike Jonathan in 2006. Both short films circulated through many of the prestigious international film festivals like the Berlinale.
At the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Miramax Films bought US distribution rights to relationship comedy Eagle vs Shark their first feature film, directed by Taika Waititi. Waititi's follow-up feature Boy, also from Whenua Films, went on to become the highest grossing New Zealand film released.
In 2014, Curtis played the lead role in The Dark Horse, which the National Radio review called "one of the greatest New Zealand films ever made." The New Zealand Herald praised him for his "towering performance" as real-life Gisborne speed chess player and coach Genesis Potini, who died in 2011. Curtis studied chess and deliberately put on weight for the role.
Curtis has appeared in the films Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Three Kings (1999), the drug drama Blow (2001) with Johnny Depp, Training Day (2001), Collateral Damage (2002), Live Free or Die Hard (2007), Sunshine (2007), Push (2009), and Colombiana (2011). In M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender (2010), he played the main villain, Fire Lord Ozai. Curtis portrayed Lt. Cortez in the film Last Knights (2015) and Jesus Christ in the film Risen (2016).
In the NBC TV drama Trauma, he played daredevil flight medic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuck. Curtis was cast as Travis Manawa, a leading male role of the AMC TV series Fear the Walking Dead, the spin-off of The Walking Dead.
Despite being of Māori descent, Curtis has been cast in a variety of roles that have challenged him to play different ethnicities from Hispanic/Latino, Indian and Middle Eastern descent. Upon being asked about his place as an "all-purpose ethnic" actor, he actually responded quite positively to it stating, "It's been a real advantage, I love being ethnic, I love the colour of my skin. There are limitations in the business, that's a reality, but I've been given such wonderful opportunities."
New Zealand animated series, Bro Town references a character who’s big brother made a career playing Arab terrorists and Hispanic characters in Hollywood. This is an indirect nod of the head to Cliff Curtis.
|1994||Kahu & Maia||Kahu|
|1994||Once Were Warriors||Uncle Bully|
|1994||Rapa Nui||Short Ears|
|1998||Six Days, Seven Nights||Kip|
|1999||Three Kings||Amir Abdulah|
|1999||Bringing Out the Dead||Cy Coates|
|1999||The Insider||Sheikh Fadlallah (as Clifford Curtis)|
|2001||The Majestic||The Evil But Handsome Prince Khalid|
|2002||Collateral Damage||Claudio 'El Lobo' Perrini|
|2003||Runaway Jury||Frank Herrera|
|2004||Heinous Crime||Pizza Delivery Man|
|2006||The Fountain||Captain Ariel|
|2007||Live Free or Die Hard||FBI Deputy Director Miguel Bowman|
|2009||Crossing Over||Hamid Baraheri|
|2010||The Last Airbender||Fire Lord Ozai|
|2012||A Thousand Words||Dr. Sinja|
|2014||The Dark Horse||Genesis Potini|
|2015||Last Knights||Lieutenant Cortez|
|2016||Risen||Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth|
|2018||The Meg||James 'Mac' Mackreides|
|2019||Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw||Jonah Hobbs|
|2019||Doctor Sleep||Billy Freeman|
|1991||Under Cover||Zip||Television film|
|1994||Hercules in the Underworld||Nessus|
|1995||Mysterious Island||Peter||2 episodes|
|1996||City Life||Daniel Freeman||4 episodes|
|1998||The Chosen||Father Tahere||Television film|
|2002||Point of Origin||Mike Camello|
|2004||Traffic||Adam Kadyrov||3 episodes|
|2009–2010||Trauma||Reuben 'Rabbit' Palchuk||20 episodes|
|2011||Body of Proof||FBI Agent Derek Ames||2 episodes|
|2012||Missing||Agent Dax Miller||10 episodes|
|2014||Gang Related||Javier Acosta||13 episodes|
|2015–2017||Fear the Walking Dead||Travis Manawa||21 episodes|
|2016–2017||Talking Dead||Himself||3 episodes|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cliff Curtis.|
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