Cliff Curtis Gives Career-Making Performance as Genesis Potini
New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis, 46, who gives a career-making performance in fellow New Zealand director James Napier Robertson’s The Dark Horse (now playing the Toronto International Film Festival) is serious about his craft. So serious, in fact, that for the role of Robertson’s real-life Genesis Potini – chess savant, teacher and bipolar Maori – he put on 30kg. How? “Beer. Carbs. Carbs. Carbs,” Curtis said.
In The Dark Horse, Curtis “dressed like Genesis every day, played chess every waking moment and drank beer as much as I could stomach …” The film takes a sometimes violent, sometimes inspirational approach to the life of Potini, who taught and inspired at-risk Maori youth via chess, while battling the demons that come with bi-polar disorder.
Producer Tom Hern had seen a documentary about Potini on television back in 2003 and said he was blown away by the story.
“I think most of us are affected by mental illness in one way or another, or through our families,” Hern said. “My family’s no different than any other. It felt straight away like a story we needed to tell and I reached out to James.”
Potini died in 2011.
What Curtis says the film is really about, though, is “two brothers who are trying to care for each other.” Played by New Zealander Wayne Hapi, Genesis’ brother Ariki is a member of a quasi-criminal gang called the Vagrants, and wants his son, Mana (James Rolleston), to become a member, too. So he hands the boy over to another Vagrant for a brutalising, demeaning process of initiation, while Genesis tries to lead the boy in another direction – maybe to chess, but certainly to a better life.
Curtis has appeared in films such as Three Kings, Blow (with Johnny Depp), Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, Sunshine and Colombiana.
Original article by John Anderson, Indiewire, September 10, 2014.