Clifford Vivian Devon "Cliff" Curtis (born 27 July 1968) is a New Zealand actor whose screen roles include Whale Rider, Once Were Warriors, Blow, and The Dark Horse. His television work includes NBC series Trauma, and Body of Proof, and starring in ABC's Missing. Curtis is co-owner of independent New Zealand production company Whenua Films. He has also been cast as Travis, the lead role of the AMC series Fear the Walking Dead, the official spin-off of The Walking Dead. Ethnically Māori, his many character roles include having portrayed a range of ethnicities, including Latin American and Arab characters.

Early life

Cliff Curtis

Curtis, one of nine children, was born in Rotorua, in the North Island of New Zealand, and is the son of an amateur dancer. Curtis is of Māori descent and his tribal affiliations are Te Arawa and Ngati 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 then competitively in rock 'n' roll dance competitions. He received his secondary education at Western Heights High School, Rotorua.

New Zealand career

Cliff Curtis

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 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 soil, and played a seducer in melodrama Desperate Remedies. In 2000 Curtis starred as family man Billy Williams in Jubilee, before playing father to the main character in 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 filmmaking 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 Hawaiki 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 their first feature film, relationship comedy Eagle vs Shark, 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 on its own soil.

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.

International career

Cliff Curtis

Curtis has appeared in films such as Three Kings, the Johnny Depp drug drama Blow, Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead, Sunshine and Live Free or Die Hard in 2007, Training Day, Collateral Damage, and Push in 2009.

In the NBC TV drama Trauma, he played daredevil flight medic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuck.

In M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender (released in 2010), he played the main villain, Fire Lord Ozai. 2015 portrayed Lieutnant Cortez in the US Action drama film Last Knights and starred in the Family drama film Clavius.

On December 4, 2014, it was officially announced that Curtis had been cast as Travis, the lead role of the AMC series Fear the Walking Dead, the official spin-off of The Walking Dead.

Personal life

Cliff Curtis

Curtis guards his personal life closely. He married in late 2009 in a lavish private ceremony at his home marae.


Cliff Curtis




Cliff Curtis

External links

Cliff Curtis
  • Cliff Curtis at the Internet Movie Database
  • Cliff Curtis on NZ On Screen
  • Slate video showing Curtis playing several ethnicities and nationalities

Cliff Curtis

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