Cliff Curtis

Cliff Curtis
Cliff Curtis (cropped).jpg
Curtis in 2018
Clifford Vivian Devon Curtis

(1968-07-27) 27 July 1968 (age 52)
Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealand
Years active1991–present
(m. 2009)

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.[1]

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.

Early life

Curtis was born in Rotorua, in the North Island of New Zealand. He is one of eight children, the son of an amateur dancer.[2] Curtis is of Māori descent; his tribal affiliations are Te Arawa[3] 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,[4] which nurtured his abilities as a performer in kapa haka. Curtis later performed as a breakdancer and competitively in rock 'n' roll dance competitions.[5] He received his secondary education at Edmund Rice College, Rotorua.


New Zealand

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.

Curtis at the 2011 MIPCOM, in Cannes.

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,[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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."[9] The New Zealand Herald praised him for his "towering performance"[10] 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.


Cliff Curtis at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con International.

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.[11] Curtis portrayed Lt. Cortez in the film Last Knights (2015) and Jesus Christ in the film Risen (2016).[12]

In the NBC TV drama Trauma,[13] he played daredevil flight medic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuck.[14] Curtis was cast as Travis Manawa, a leading male role of the AMC TV series Fear the Walking Dead,[15] the spin-off of The Walking Dead.[16]

In 2017, Curtis was cast as Tonowari and is set to appear in the four sequels to Avatar, including Avatar 2 and Avatar 3.[17]

In 2019, he played Jonah Hobbs, the brother of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw; their characters are Samoan.[18]

Personal life

Curtis guards his personal life closely. He was married in late 2009[19] in a private ceremony at his home, and has three children. He is Roman Catholic.[20]

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."[21]

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.



Year Title Role Notes
1993 The Piano Mana
1993 Desperate Remedies Fraser
1994 Kahu & Maia Kahu
1994 Once Were Warriors Uncle Bully
1994 Rapa Nui Short Ears
1996 Chicken Zeke
1996 Mananui Mana
1998 Deep Rising Mamooli
1998 Six Days, Seven Nights Kip
1999 Virus Hiko
1999 Three Kings Amir Abdulah
1999 Bringing Out the Dead Cy Coates
1999 The Insider Sheikh Fadlallah (as Clifford Curtis)
2000 Jubilee Billy Williams
2001 Blow Pablo Escobar
2001 Training Day 'Smiley'
2001 The Majestic The Evil But Handsome Prince Khalid
2002 Collateral Damage Claudio 'El Lobo' Perrini
2002 Whale Rider Porourangi
2003 Runaway Jury Frank Herrera
2004 Fracture Detective Franklin
2004 Spooked Mort Whitman
2004 Heinous Crime Pizza Delivery Man
2005 The Pool Husband
2005 River Queen Wiremu
2006 The Fountain Captain Ariel
2007 Sunshine Searle
2007 Fracture Detective Flores
2007 Live Free or Die Hard FBI Deputy Director Miguel Bowman
2008 10,000 BC Tic'Tic
2009 Push Hook Waters
2009 Crossing Over Hamid Baraheri
2010 The Last Airbender Fire Lord Ozai
2011 Colombiana Emilio Restrepo
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
2021 Reminiscence Post-production
2022 Avatar 2 Tonowari Post-production
2024 Avatar 3 Tonowari Filming


Year Title Role Notes
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


  1. ^ "AMC's 'Fear the Walking Dead' Begins Production in Vancouver" (Press release). AMC. 11 May 2015. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  2. ^ Haines, Leah (12 February 2006). "Cliff Curtis, the megastar with a mortgage". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  3. ^ ""Don't cry for me, Waititi" says Pita Sharples". Scoop. 25 January 2007. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
  4. ^ Parahi, Carmen (Interviewer) (15 December 2014). "Cliff Curtis: My real life tragedy, violence and triumph". Marae TV – via YouTube.
  5. ^ "The Dark Horse: Cliff's Edge". The NZ Herald. 26 July 2014.
  6. ^ "...a funny, warm-hearted comedy set in heartland New Zealand...", New Zealand Film Commission
  7. ^ "Whenua Films". Whenua Films. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
  8. ^ "Wellington director's feature to be the highest-grossing NZ production". Retrieved 3 December 2011.
  9. ^ "Film review with Dan Slevin". Radio New Zealand National. 24 July 2014.
  10. ^ Baillie, Russell (31 July 2014). "Movie review: The Dark Horse". The New Zealand Herald.
  11. ^ Hibberd, James (4 December 2014). "'Walking Dead' spinoff casts male lead". Entertainment Weekly.
  12. ^ Moore, Debi (29 March 2015). "News: See the First Teaser for AMC's Fear the Walking Dead". Dread Central.
  13. ^ "Cliff Curtis starred as daredevil flight medic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuck..." NBC. 14 July 2010. Archived from the original on 9 December 2011. Retrieved 3 December 2011.
  14. ^ Prudom, Laura (2014). "The Walking Dead' Companion Series Casts Cliff Curtis as Male Lead". Variety.
  15. ^ Ross, Dalton (11 August 2015). "Cliff Curtis explains why Fear the Walking Dead is more than a zombie show". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  16. ^ MrDisgusting (29 March 2015). "'Fear The Walking Dead' Trailer: Get Your Flu Shot!". Bloody Disgusting.
  17. ^ "'Fear the Walking Dead' Star Cast in All Four 'Avatar' Sequels". Entertainment Weekly. 9 May 2017. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  18. ^ Davis, Brandon (27 January 2019). "'Hobbs And Shaw' Casts Cliff Curtis As A Hobbs, More Brothers Revealed". ComicBook. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  19. ^ "Cliff Curtis' NZ wedding". The New Zealand Herald. 3 January 2010. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  20. ^ "Cliff Curtis discusses playing Jesus in new film Risen". Stuff (company). 14 March 2016. Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  21. ^ Beale, Lewis (1 April 2016). "'Fear the Walking Dead's' Cliff Curtis talks ethnic roles". Newsday. Retrieved 10 March 2021.

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