Cliff Curtis Chats to Ahlan! Live in Dubai
You've probably seen Cliff Curtis while he's doing his big budget T'Town movie thing, acting in everything from Three Kings and Training Day to Live Free or Die Hard and Colombiana. But, as he told us when we met him in Dubai, his heart's in producing. One of the reasons for this, he confesses with a laugh, is that "being a producer is more my nature in terms of... getting my way."
It sure looks like his way's the right way. Boy, which Cliff produced and whose special screening by The Scene Club he was in Dubai for on 15 January, picked up the Audience Award for Best International Film at the AFI Fest in LA, Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival and Most Popular Film at the Melbourne International Film Festival, among other awards. Plus, it's the highest grossing film of all time in his native New Zealand. Impressive!
A coming-of-age flick that's as funny as it is real, Boy is much like its producer – as the Kiwis would put it – too much! Ahlan! Live has more with Cliff...
Welcome to Dubai. Is this your first visit?
This is my first visit to Dubai. I've flown through the airport many times and I've been invited in the past. So I've been wanting to visit for a while and thought that I'm just going to have to make the schedule work. I liked the idea of showing this unique little film from New Zealand here.
What do you think of Dubai so far?
I haven't seen too much of the city but I've had very good food and I'm staying in a very nice hotel [Jumeirah Zabeel Saray]. There's great infrastructure here, fantastic roads, massive buildings... it's impressive. And it's all happened so quickly, that's amazing. Also, so many diverse cultures from around the world live here... from New Zealanders to Brits and lots of others.
What made you want to produce Boy?
I wanted to form a production company back in New Zealand so I could produce local films for an international audience that were kind of about where I'm from. This film was shot in a place that's literally an hour away from where I went to school. I was raised in these very small communities. And it's also set in a period when I was at school in the 80s when Michael Jackson was this huge craze. So in Boy there's this 11-year-old who has his father absent and he develops this fantasy life about Michael Jackson. But then his father comes home after being in prison for many years and he has to reconcile the difference between what his dad's really like and his ideas about his dad. It's very comedic, there's a lot of slapstick humour. The writer-director [Taika Waititi] is also the star of the movie. He's a very talented comedian so there's a lot of humour but there's also a genuine, heartfelt story about a son looking for the approval of his father and then discovering that perhaps his father should be looking for approval from him.
As a boy, what was the naughtiest thing you did?
The first thing that comes to mind is when I was five years old and was given money to put in the bank book... it was like 10 cents. One day I completely forgot to do it. So I had my bank book and realised I had my money. So what I did was I threw the money away and I went back to the bank with the book. They looked at the book to see whether I'd put the money in the bank and they didn't believe that I actually threw the money away. They thought I'd spent it. That was the worst thing and probably the dumbest thing I did.
For an international audience, like the one in Dubai, what would you recommend as three movies from New Zealand that they have to watch?
It's very difficult to go past Whale Rider, this movie and Once Were Warriors, which is a classic but a very brutal film. They're all very different films. One is social realism, one is [about] magical mythology, and Boy is a very unique blend of pop culture and comedy. It's hard to go past those three, unless you like Lord of the Rings of course!
How do producing and acting compare for you? What's more challenging?
I really, really, really do enjoy producing. It engages a different level of grey matter. I like the responsibility of it, the idea of industry, the commerce side of it, creating jobs and creating revenue for investors. I like the big picture of it and the decision-making. As an actor, I think I like my opinion just a little bit too much. As an actor, you're part of the team – you've got a director and producer who're making the big decisions. As an actor you have to hold on to your opinion. As a producer, you have to work with creative people, which is infuriating because you're on the other side of it, trying to deal with the business. But I really do like producing, sometimes I think I like it more than acting. It's more my nature in terms of... getting my way [laughs].
What are you working on next, as an actor and a producer?
Right now I'm doing a movie [The Last Knights] in Prague with Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman. It's an interesting movie... I don't know how to describe it. It's got swords and knights, it's a good story about honour, inspired by samurai movies. After that I go back to New Zealand to work on a real-life story of a man who was a chess champion and is trying to make a comeback. And then producing-wise the last project I had was Great Expectations [Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes star] that Mike Newell's directing, I'm co-producing that.
INFO: Movie buff, are you? Do check out The Scene Club, a monthly film club that highlights the best of international independent cinema and aims to create film awareness in the UAE. They organise screening events every month showcasing feature films/short films from around the world and invite the movie's director or producer to attend the event. There's also a Q&A session with the audience at the end of the screening. Tickets are free and you can register for them online on www.thesceneclub.com.