Clifford Vivian Devon "Cliff" Curtis (born 27 July 1968) is a New Zealand actor who has had major roles in film, including The Piano, Whale Rider, and Blow, and most recently has appeared in NBC's television series Trauma. He is also co-owner of independent film production company Whenua Films. Curtis, ethnically Māori, has on film portrayed a range of ethnicities, including Latin American and Arab characters. He has appeared as a character actor in many Hollywood films, while in New Zealand he is usually the main star.
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 revival dance competition. Curtis also pursues a hobby of impersonating Tim Cahill and is an avid Everton supporter. He received his secondary education at Edmund Rice College, Rotorua (now named John Paul College).
He started acting in amateur theatre productions of the 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 in a number of New Zealand theatre companies, including Downstage, Mercury Theatre, Bats Theatre, and Centre Point. He appeared in stage productions of 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 in the Oscar-nominated New Zealand film The Piano. Other notable New Zealand film roles were Once Were Warriors, Desperate Remedies, River Queen and Whale Rider.
Since then he has appeared in films such as Three Kings, Blow, Bringing Out the Dead, Sunshine and Live Free or Die Hard in 2007, Training Day, Collateral Damage and Push in 2009. His international reputation grew further in 2003, when he was one of the leads in the New Zealand film Whale Rider.
In 2004 with producer Ainsley Gardiner, he formed the independent film production company Whenua Films. The goals of the company are to support the growth of the New Zealand indigenous filmmaking scene, and to be supportive of local short filmmakers. He and Gardiner were appointed to manage the development and production of 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 the successful Hawaiki by director Mike Jonathan in 2006. Both short films have 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 Eagle vs Shark.
He produced Taika Waititi's film Boy, which has gone on to become the highest grossing New Zealand film. 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 Fire Lord Ozai.
Curtis guards his personal life closely. He has two children and in late 2009 he married in a lavish but private ceremony at his home marae.