Cliff Curtis

For the MLB pitcher, see Cliff Curtis (baseball).
Cliff Curtis

Born Clifford Vivian Devon Curtis
(1968-07-27) 27 July 1968
Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
Nationality New Zealand
Occupation Actor
Years active 1991–present
Spouse(s) name unknown (m. 2009)
Children 3

Clifford Vivian Devon "Cliff" Curtis (born 27 July 1968) is a New Zealand actor whose film credits include The Dark Horse (2014), Whale Rider (2002), Blow (2001), and Once Were Warriors (1994). He's also had television series roles on NBC's Trauma and Body of Proof, and ABC's Missing. He currently plays Travis, a lead character on the AMC horror-drama series Fear the Walking Dead, a companion series of The Walking Dead.[1] Ethnically Māori, his many character roles have included a range of ethnicities, such as Latin American and Arab. Curtis is co-owner of the independent New Zealand production company Whenua Films.

Early life

Curtis, one of nine children, was born in Rotorua, in the North Island of New Zealand, and is 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 then competitively in rock 'n' roll dance competitions.[5] He received his secondary education at Western Heights High School, Rotorua.

New Zealand career

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 soil and the line "Uncle f**ken Bully" whom Cliff Curtis played and spoken by "Jake the Muss" Temuera Morrison, became one of New Zealand films most memorable and quoted lines, as well as being part of the "Kiwiana" zeitgeist. He also 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 title character in the international hit Whale Rider.

In 2004 with producer Ainsley Gardiner, Curtis formed independent film production company Whenua Films.[1] 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, a relationship comedy titled 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.[7]

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

Curtis at the 2011 MIPCOM, in Cannes.

Curtis has appeared in films such as 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), and Push (2009). In M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender (2010), he played the main villain, Fire Lord Ozai.[10] Curtis portrayed Lt. Cortez in the film Last Knights (2015) and Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) in the film Risen (2016).[11]

In the NBC TV drama Trauma,[12] he played daredevil flight medic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuck.[13] On December 4, 2014, it was officially announced that Curtis had been cast as Travis Manawa, a leading male role of the AMC TV series Fear the Walking Dead,[14] the official spin-off of The Walking Dead.[15]

Personal life

Curtis guards his personal life closely. He married in late 2009[16] in a lavish private ceremony at his home marae.



Year Title Role
1993 The Piano Mana
1993 Desperate Remedies Fraser
1994 Kahu & Maia
1994 Once Were Warriors 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 Lt. Cortez
2016 Risen Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth
2018 Meg Mac


Year Title Role Notes
1991 Under Cover Zip TV Film
1994 Hercules in the Underworld Nessus TV Film
1995 Mysterious Island Peter Episodes: "Make Yourselves a Home"
"First Impressions Are Skin Deep"
1996 City Life Daniel Freeman 4 episodes
1998 The Chosen Father Tahere TV Film
2002 Point of Origin Mike Camello TV Film
2004 Traffic Adam Kadyrov TV Mini-Series
2009–2010 Trauma Reuben 'Rabbit' Palchuk 20 episodes
2011 Body of Proof FBI Agent Derek Ames Episodes: "Missing" and "Hard Knocks"
2012 Missing Agent Dax Miller 10 episodes
2014 Gang Related Javier Acosta 13 episodes
2015–present Fear the Walking Dead Travis Manawa Season 1-present (Main cast; 18 episodes)


  1. 1 2 "Whenua Films". Whenua Films. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
  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. 2007-01-25. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
  4. Parahi, Carmen (Interviewer) (Dec 15, 2014). "Cliff Curtis: My real life tragedy, violence and triumph". Youtube. Marae TV.
  5. "The Dark Horse: Cliff's Edge". The NZ Herald. July 26, 2014.
  6. "...a funny, warm-hearted comedy set in heartland New Zealand...", New Zealand Film Commission
  7. "Wellington director's feature to be the highest-grossing NZ production". Retrieved 2011-12-03.
  8. "Film review with Dan Slevin". Radio New Zealand National. 24 July 2014.
  9. Baillie, Russell (31 July 2014). "Movie review: The Dark Horse". The New Zealand Herald.
  10. Hibberd, James (December 4, 2014). "Inside TV: 'Walking Dead' spinoff casts male lead". EW.
  11. Moore, Debi (March 29, 2015). "News: See the First Teaser for AMC's Fear the Walking Dead". Dread Central.
  12. "''Cliff Curtis starred as daredevil flight medic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuck...''". NBC. July 14, 2010. Retrieved 2011-12-03.
  13. Prudom, Laura (News Editor) (2014). "The Walking Dead' Companion Series Casts Cliff Curtis as Male Lead". Variety.
  14. "Cliff Curtis explains why Fear the Walking Dead is more than a zombie show". Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  15. MrDisgusting (March 29, 2015). "'Fear The Walking Dead' Trailer: Get Your Flu Shot!". Bloody Disgusting.
  16. "Cliff Curtis' NZ wedding". The New Zealand Herald. 3 January 2010. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
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