Cliff Curtis has featured in a string of local classics —Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider, The Dark Horse— while simultaneously carving a career as a sought-after Hollywood character actor, on everything from Three Kings to Fear the Walking Dead. Along the way he has worked with acclaimed directors like Martin Scorsese and Danny Boyle, and produced films (Boy, Eagle vs Shark) in New Zealand.
Cliff studied at Toi Whakaari before acting in a number of theatre productions, the TV roles, his feature debut in The Piano (1993) and the period melodrama Desperate Remedies for which he received his first NZ Film and TV award for Best Supporting Actor. The role that brought him to a wide local audience was in Once Were Warriors (1994). Curtis still gets New Zealanders calling out ‘Uncle Bully’ when they see him.
Cliff also studying at Teatro Dimitri Scoula in Switzerland. He won another award for mini-series The Chosen before joining Temuera Morrison and Harrison Ford in Six DaysSeven Nights. He started winning industry attention after roles in David O’Russell’s acclaimed Three Kings, Martin Scorsese’s Bringing out the Dead and Michael Mann’s The Insider. He went on to appear in Johnny Depp’s Blow, Oscar-winning drama Training Day, Danny Boyle’s sci-fi film Sunshine, Live Free or Die Hard and Colombiana.
In New Zealand, Cliff starred in Whale Rider, one of the most successful Kiwi films that decade. He won a local Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Porourangi, a well-meaning but troubled father to the central character.
In 2004 Cliff co-founded production company Whenua Films whose mandate is to foster the telling of indigenous stories. The team produced numerous short films which have debuted at film festivals. In 2007, Whenua Films produced Taika Waititi’s debut feature, Eagle vs Shark, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and his follow-up Boy, which became one of the biggest hits on home soil and won the Grand Prize in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival.
In 2014 Cliff starred in Kiwi feature The Dark Horse, putting on 60 pounds to play a bipolar chess champ fallen on hard times. The film won rave reviews after being chosen to launch the 2014 NZ International Film Festival in Auckland and Wellington. In the same period Curtis spent a month living alone, preparing for the part of Jesus in the Kevin Reynolds movie Risen.