Tak­ing on the role of a men­tally dis­turbed but highly gifted chess player in The Dark Horse was another as­tute decision by Kiwi Cliff Cur­tis

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - VICKY ROACH

You might not recog­nise his name, or even nec­es­sar­ily his face, but Cliff Cur­tis has ap­peared op­po­site some of the big­gest names in the movie in­dus­try – Johnny Depp ( Blow), Bruce Wil­lis ( Live Free Or Die Hard), Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger ( Col­lat­eral Dam­age) and Den­zel Wash­ing­ton ( Train­ing Day) among them.

While most ac­tors feel con­stricted by Hol­ly­wood’s ten­dency to­wards racial stereo­typ­ing, the Kiwi chameleon has turned it to his ad­van­tage – shift­ing seam­lessly be­tween Latino, Arab, African Amer­i­can and even In­dian char­ac­ters (in M. Night Shya­malan’s The Last Air­ben­der).

“I have found a lit­tle niche,’’ Cur­tis says of the strat­egy, which has seen him play CIA agents, Mob bosses, and even Colom­bian drug lord Pablo Es­co­bar.

“You have to be a lit­tle bit picky about the roles and who you work with. I had to turn down lots and lots of work.

“But I have found a way to turn (racial stereo­typ­ing) into a pos­i­tive.”

Cur­tis takes cen­tre stage in The Dark Horse, the most re­cent hit from across the Tas­man – a box of­fice sen­sa­tion in New Zealand and a strong per­former on the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit.

The ac­tor is again barely recog­nis­able as real-life character Gen­e­sis Po­tini, a gifted chess player who strug­gled with bipo­lar disorder for most of his life.

Cur­tis, who gained 30kg for the role, was ini­tially re­luc­tant to take on the job, fear­ing rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced writer-di­rec­tor James Napier Robert­son might suc­cumb to the Mighty Ducks style pos­si­bil­i­ties of Po­tini’s story – the film fo­cuses on his men­tor­ship of a bunch of lost and dis­en­fran­chised young­sters that he knocks into shape for an im­por­tant chess com­pe­ti­tion.

A pow­er­ful TV doc­u­men­tary changed the ac­tor’s mind.

“When you see the real guy, he is so ex­tra­or­di­nary, and such a mass of con­tra­dic­tions. He didn’t fit inside any box.

“In par­tic­u­lar, I was fas­ci­nated by his men­tal ill­ness and how he coped with it and how he never gave up. And how he had this abil­ity to en­gage peo­ple.

“He would just draw peo­ple into his world and con­vince them to come along.

“He be­lieved chess should be played on park benches and in pubs and pub­lic places. He played chess with judges and lawyers and philoso­phers and math­e­ma­ti­cians as well as gang mem­bers and home­less peo­ple.

“He loved the idea that on the board (it) was a level play­ing field where a 12-yearold kid could wipe the floor with a master of com­merce.”

Cur­tis was ini­tially resistant to Rober­ston’s sug­ges­tion that he go method with the role, but in the end, it seemed like the right thing to do.

“At a cer­tain point I just thought there is no other way to play the role ex­cept to com­mit to be­ing (Po­tini). I wasn’t try­ing to im­i­tate the guy, just try­ing to un­der­stand. It be­came my way of life for six months,” he says.

“I looked like a home­less guy a lot of the time. “It was a bit odd. “I had to main­tain the other as­pects of my life while I was ne­go­ti­at­ing it, be­cause I have got chil­dren, and they have to live with me as that character.”

Dur­ing the 2½ months of film­ing, Cur­tis wore a den­tal ap­pli­ance that made it look as though he had lost his front teeth.

“My wife wasn’t im­pressed – she got up in the morn­ing to this moun­tain­ous guy with a very gummy grin.”

Cliff Cur­tis plays Gen­e­sis Po­tini in

The Dark Horse.

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