Actor Cliff Curtis has played a wide range of ethnicities in his career -- everything from an African American drug dealer in Bringing Out the Dead, to an Iraqi rebel in Three Kings, to the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in Blow. In reality, Curtis is Maori -- as in, the Maori who are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.
After decades of playing terrorists and gang members, Curtis is at last finding more complex and nuanced roles. Recently he even played Jesus in Sony's movie Risen.
And now there are two leading-man projects where he gets to play his own ethnicity. In the AMC drama Fear the Walking Dead, he appears as Maori-American high school teacher Travis Manawa. In the new bio-pic The Dark Horse, he portrays the late Maori speed chess champion and teacher Genesis Potini, who triumphed despite extreme bouts of bipolar disorder.
When Curtis sat down with KCRW's Matt Holzman, he said that while he's spent much of his career avoiding roles that were ethnic stereotypes, opportunities for non-white actors in Hollywood have been getting better.