Cliff Curtis is an actor from New Zealand. Clifford Vivian Devon Curtis is his full name. He was born on July 27, 1968. Cliff has appeared in films such as The Piano, Whale Rider, and Blow, and most recently in NBC’s television series Trauma. He is also a co-owner of Whenua Films, an indie film production firm. Curtis, who is Mori, has played a variety of ethnicities in cinema, including Latin American and Arab characters. He has performed as a character actor in several Hollywood films, although he is typically the main star in New Zealand.
Cliff Curtis was a performer before he began his professional schooling. He was born in New Zealand in 1968 and is of Maori origin. He studied at theatrical schools in New Zealand and at the Teatro Dimitri Scuola in Switzerland. When he returned to New Zealand, he began by performing classics on stage, but his heritage definitely played a factor in the roles he acquired, particularly in his early work on cinema. His earliest appearances on screen were in New Zealand-produced movies and TV shows, which is not unusual. Surprisingly, many of these minor roles rewarded Curtis with international exposure.
Explore the career and life of actor Cliff Curtis, known for his roles in Training Day, Fear the Walking Dead, and Avatar. Learn about his net worth, personal life, and diverse filmography. Discover his ethnic background and involvement in upcoming projects.
Cliff was 3 years old when his mother died. He was born in Rotorua, New Zealand and was the youngest of seven siblings. Cliff’s late father, George, was an alcoholic, and when he was 12, he became a ward of the state. At the age of 14, he dropped out of school to work a variety of jobs. The jobs included that of a labourer, glazier, cleaner, and builder. Curtis’s dad loved to dance. Dad’s love of rock ‘n’ roll dance had rubbed off on his son, who competed in it as well as breakdancing and choreography.
He has ties to the Te Arawa and Ngati Hauiti tribes and is of Mori origin. At a young age, he was taught a traditional type of Mori taiaha fighting called as mau rākau. He was taught by Maori elder Mita Mohi, which also aided his abilities as a kapa haka performer. He eventually used his dance skills to compete in breakdancing and rock n roll dancing.
Despite being Maori, he has only played a Maori in a few films, notably Whale Rider (2002). He has played several additional dark-skinned races, including Mexican-Americans, Colombians, Arabs, Persians, and Chechens.
Education and Skills
Cliff Curtis was a performer before he began his professional schooling. He was born in New Zealand in 1968 and is of Maori origin. He studied at theatrical schools in New Zealand and at the Teatro Dimitri Scuola in Switzerland.
As a boy he studied mau rākau, a traditional Māori form of taiaha fighting, with Māori elder Mita Mohi on Mokoia Island. It honed his skills as a kapa haka performer. Curtis went on to perform as a breakdancer and in rock ‘n’ roll dance competitions. He attended Edmund Rice College in Rotorua for his secondary education. Curtis earned a Diploma in Acting from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School in 1989.
From there, it was amateur shows and a term at Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School. Here he famously showed up in his work boots, later wondering who this “Bobby” De Niro his classmates kept mentioning. When he was performing as Firpo in Bruce Mason’s End of the Golden Weather, Jane Campion noticed him. She gave him a small part in The Piano. He has now encountered Robert De Niro enough times to refer to him as Bobby. His journey had begun. He’s also appeared in films directed by Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, David O. Russell, Danny Boyle, and Darren Aronofsky. He has established himself as an ethnically versatile character actor on both the big and small screens in America.
Cliff Curtis Movies
Cliff Curtis was a performer before he began his professional schooling. He was born in New Zealand in 1968 and is of Maori origin. He studied at theatrical schools in New Zealand and at the Teatro Dimitri Scuola in Switzerland. When he returned to New Zealand, he began by performing classics on stage, but his heritage definitely played a factor in the roles he acquired, particularly in his early work on cinema. Not unexpectedly, his earliest onscreen credits are for New Zealand films and television. Surprisingly, many of these niche assignments provided Curtis with international visibility.
- His debut appearance was in Jane Campion’s Academy Award-nominated “The Piano” (1993).
- He had a larger role in another notable New Zealand export, “Once Were Warriors” (1994). He plays the vicious character Bully.
- This film’s international success gave him an entry into Hollywood. Here he began to perform supporting roles in major movies. The romantic comedy “Six Days, Seven Nights” (1998), political satire “The Insider” (1999), and cop thriller “Training Day” were all part of it (2001).
- Curtis never forgot his roots. He appeared in 2002’s Oscar-nominated Whale Rider as a Maori father struggling to comprehend his little daughter.
- He proceeded to take minor roles in feature films until he was cast as a series regular on “Trauma” (NBC, 2009-2010). Despite the fact that the sitcom only lasted one season, fans continued to respond positively to his work.
- Curtis co-starred in the ABC series “Missing” (ABC, 2012) with Ashley Judd and was a series regular on the Fox show “Gang Related” in 2014. (Fox, 2014).
- Curtis was cast as the lead of AMC’s first spinoff from the massively successful series “The Walking Dead” in 2014. (AMC, 2010- )..
Cliff Curtis Parents
Cliff lost his mother when he was three years old. Curtis was born in Rotorua, New Zealand, as the youngest of seven siblings. Cliff’s late father, George, was an alcoholic, and when he was 12, he became a ward of the state. At the age of 14, he dropped out of school to work as a laborer, glazier, cleaner, and builder, in no particular order. Dad’s love of rock ‘n’ roll dance had rubbed off on his son, who competed in it as well as breakdancing and choreography.
Cliff Curtis Wife
Cliff Curtis is currently a happily married man. But getting into his personal life is challenging. In 2009, he married his long-term lover in a secret ceremony. His wife is of Asian descent, and she is the mother of their four children.
Cliff Curtis Net Worth
According to 2023 sources, his net worth is predicted to be $3 million. Cliff hides the annual pay he receives.
Cliff is quite good at avoiding both scandals and rumours. He is a member of the Avatar: The Way of Water main cast.
When asked about being an “all-purpose ethnic” actor, he said, “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.”
Cliff Curtis Height
Cliff Curtis stands at an average height of 6 feet and weighs a healthy amount. To add to that, he has dark brown eyes and dark brown hair.
Cliff Curtis Instagram
Cliff Curtis is not currently available on any social media platforms. He has no Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, or Twitter profiles.
Cliff Curtis’s zodiac sign is Leo.
As of 2023, he is 54 years old.
Cliff Curtis Trivia
- He nearly missed his trip from Auckland to Los Angeles on his way to Mexico to film Blow (2001).
- He would approach Rawiri Paratene in the mornings and annoy him. It was in order to keep them both in character while filming Whale Rider (2002).
- Cliff Curtis is in two separate films titled “Fracture”. He plays a detective in both of the films.
- In Blow, he filmed his role as Pablo Escobar in three days.
- Cliff is one of seven siblings.
- Since 2016, he has been a member of the ‘Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ (AMPAS).
- Toby Curtis, a Maori educator and leader, is his nephew.
Cliff Curtis Films
- Curtis began his career as an amateur actor in amateur productions of Fiddler on the Roof. He was also in Man of La Mancha with the Kapiti Players and the Mantis Cooperative Theatre Company.
- After that, he attended the New Zealand Drama School and Teatro Dimitri Scoula in Switzerland.
- He worked at Downstage, Mercury Theatre, Bats Theatre, and Centre Point, among others, in New Zealand.
- Happy End, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, The Cherry Orchard, and Porgy and Bess. Weeds, Macbeth, Serious Money, and The End of the Golden Weather are also among his theatre roles.
- His first feature film role was a small cameo in Jane Campion’s Oscar-nominated film The Piano.
- He went on to gain attention in Once Were Warriors, one of New Zealand’s most successful films. The statement “Uncle fucken Bully,” referring to Curtis’ character, delivered by “Jake the Muss”. It is one of the most iconic and repeated lines in New Zealand movies. Jake was played by Temuera Morrison. It also became associated with the “Kiwiana” trend.
- He portrayed Kahu in the short film Kahu & Maia, a modern take on a Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Rongomaiwahine legend.
- In the melodrama Desperate Remedies, he plays a seducer.
- Curtis played family man Billy Williams in Jubilee in 2000.
- He also played the central character’s father in the international smash Whale Rider.
- Curtis starred in The Dark Horse in 2014. It was also dubbed by the National Radio as “one of the greatest New Zealand films ever made.”
- The New Zealand Herald complimented him for his “towering performance” as Genesis Potini. He played a real-life Gisborne speed chess player and instructor who died in 2011. Curtis studied chess and purposefully gained weight for the role.
Cliff Curtis Film Production: Whenua Films
Curtis founded the indie film production business Whenua Films in 2004 with producer Ainsley Gardiner. The company’s goals are to assist the growth of New Zealand’s indigenous filmmaking scene and local short filmmakers. The New Zealand Film Commission engaged him and Gardiner for the Short Films Fund in 2005-06. It was to handle the development and production of films. Under the new company name, they have produced several short films. It included Two Cars One Night, which garnered an Academy Award nomination in 2005. It also included Hawaikii by director Mike Jonathan in 2006. Both short films were shown at numerous important international film festivals, including the Berlinale.
Miramax Films acquired US distribution rights to Taika Waititi’s first feature film. It was a romance comedy “Eagle versus Shark”, at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Waititi’s follow-up feature Boy, also from Whenua Films, went on to become New Zealand’s highest-grossing picture.
Cliff Curtis Hollywood
- Firstly, Curtis has starred in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead and Three Kings in 1999. He was in the drug drama Blow (2001). Here, he was alongside Johnny Depp. He also appeared in Training Day (2001), Collateral Damage (2002), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) and Sunshine (2007). Lastly, he appeared in Push (2009), and Colombiana (2010).
- He played the major antagonist, Fire Lord Ozai, in M Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender (2010).
- Curtis portrays Lt. Cortez in Last Knights (2015) and Jesus Christ in Risen (2016).
- He portrayed daredevil flight medic Reuben “Rabbit” Palchuck in the NBC TV drama Trauma.
- Curtis was cast in the lead male role of Travis Manawa in the AMC TV series Fear the Walking Dead. It was a spin-off of The Walking Dead.
- Curtis was cast as Tonowari in 2017. He is set to feature in all four Avatar sequels, including Avatar: The Way of Water and Avatar 3.
- In 2019, he portrayed Jonah Hobbs, the Samoan brother of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
Teagan Croft and Anna Paquin will co-star with Curtis in True Spirit. In February 2023, it will be available on Netflix. The story is based on Jessica Watson’s adventure as a 16-year-old Australian sailor undertaking a solo world tour.
Cliff Curtis Avatar
It’s been 13 years since fans saw Pandora. It was the mythological world at the centre of director James Cameron’s environmentally conscious sci-fi epics. Curtis, on the other hand, is joining the Avatar family for the first time.
The sequel to James Cameron’s epic Avatar has finally arrived in theatres, more than a decade after the original. The sequel picks up years after the original, with Jake and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). They now have children and leads the Omaticaya clan. Humans, as usual, come in and screw things up, prompting them to depart. They arrive at Pandora’s waters and join the Metkayina clan, which is led by Tonowari and Ronal (Kate Winslet). The principle is simple and builds on the previous one, but with more layers.
Tonowari and Ronal’s clan, the Metkayina, are among the new characters we encounter here. Curtis plays Tonowari, the leader of a semi aquatic alien people called the Metkayina. They are a Caribbean/South American/Pasifika-inspired society we meet for the first time in The Way of Water.
Maori Culture in Avatar
Cliff, in addition to his role, closely worked with James Cameron. It was to include components of Māori culture into the Metkayina Clan. He used elements such as the Rotorua haka as inspiration for dances performed by the clan.
He’s previously stated that he drew inspiration for Tonowari from his Maori ancestors. He pictured the Metkayina as a kind of idealised, mythological depiction of old Mori civilization. However, their fictitious struggle against human colonisers serves as a metaphor. It is a metaphor for all of the real-world challenges that indigenous tribes endure.
Kiwi actor Cliff Curtis travelled to Hawaii with the cast of Avatar. It was to practise playing a semi-aquatic alien entity. He was around actual coral reefs before he began filming Avatar: The Way Of Water. The goal was to give the cast a sense of what it’s like to live and play underwater. It was in one of the world’s most vulnerable habitats.
Curtis spent hours submerged, practising free diving and holding his breath for increasing lengths of time. Curtis was encircled by a school of huge manta rays during a night dive in those crystal transparent seas. These reports are according to Avatar producer Jon Landau.
Cliff Curtis Tonowari
Tonowari is the Metkayina clan’s Olo’eyktan (chief). He is also Ronal’s mate and the father of Ao’nung, Tsireya, and an unborn child. When Jake Sully and his family came to the clan for shelter, Tonowari accepted their visit. He promised to train them to adjust to their ways. However, Tonowari and the clan supported Jake in his struggle against the RDA to save their children. They also adopted Jake and his family as clan members.
Tonowari appears to know Jake Sully. He addresses him by name when he and his family first arrive at the Metkayina tribe. Thus they may have encountered or even aided each other when Jake was Toruk Makto.
In 2170, he and Ronal make the difficult decision to provide shelter for the Sully family. For this decision, he suffers with the consequences for his family and tribe.
Tonowari, as Olo’eyktan, controls the welfare of his tribe. He is respected by his clan for his beliefs and abilities to lead them through difficult times. He is also a bold commander, prepared to join his clan’s front lines during war. Although he is a strong leader, he values Ronal’s contribution in decision-making and will not act without her advice.
He is much stricter as Ao’nung and Tsireya’s father. When Ao’nung’s bullying threatens Lo’ak’s life, he demands an explanation and an apology from his son. He also chastises his children and Lo’ak when the latter unites with Payakan, but he also explains the Tulkun’s past.
Tonowari is also generous. He takes in the Sully family not long after they arrive and begs for refuge. He urges his clanmates to keep their whereabouts hidden even as the RDA is causing havoc. After the final conflict with the RDA, he also accepted the Sullys into the Metkayina clan.
- His casting is ironic considering Cliff Curtis played another commander in another “Avatar” film. He was Fire Lord Ozai in The Last Airbender. It’s odd because Tonowari and Ozai represent opposing elements (water and fire). Tonowari is a nice guy while Ozai is a bad guy.
What ethnicity is Cliff Curtis?
Curtis is of Maori origin, with Te Arawa and Ngati Hauiti tribal ties.
Where does Cliff Curtis live now?
Curtis was born in Paraparaumu. He grew up on the Kapiti Coast, and currently resides in Rotorua.
Is Cliff Curtis related to Toby Curtis?
Tony Curtis is the uncle of actor Cliff Curtis.
What is Cliff Curtis known for?
Firstly, Cliff Curtis has featured in and produced many of New Zealand’s most acclaimed films. The films include The Piano, Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider, Boy, and The Dark Horse. He has also crafted a career in Hollywood as a chameleon character actor.