Mâori actor Cliff Curtis has had a busy career since his debut in the early nineties, starring alongside Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp and George Clooney before 2002’s Whale Rider made his name with audiences worldwide. He’s since kept busy with a string of roles in films like Runaway Jury, The Fountain and Die Hard 4.0.
In the wake of the US release and UK DVD release of his latest, Sunshine, Rotten Tomatoes caught up with him on a press day in which we were instructed to prepare for some Zero-G training in the aptly-named “vomit-comet” to find out more about the film. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by novelist Alex Garland, the film joins a crew of astronauts on a mission to plant a bomb in the sun and reignite our dying star.
I came here today to go up in the vomit-comet; how was your experience?
Cliff Curtis: Fun, but nauseating! [laughs]
Did you chuck?
CC: No I didn’t, but I think I partially did. It came up to my throat, it just didn’t project!
Is it just like a giant rollercoaster?
CC: Pretty much. You’re really feeling the g-force and then when he flies upside down for a bit, that’s very cool. It’s just fun, it’s really fun.
All part of preparation for the film?
CC: Yeah, we had to really come to terms with the fact that we were playing astronauts and scientists, and so we had to be really, really smart. Of course there was nothing we could do about that, we had to pretend, but we could do something about the physical training. We did lots of physicals things to make us feel as though we were prepared for a mission that we had to endure. I don’t know if it translates to film, but it was fun doing it. It was fun having that duration of preparation.
Two weeks, wasn’t it?
CC: Eight weeks. We only lived together for a couple of weeks, but the rehearsal period was eight weeks which is just unheard of in film. It’s never done. Theatre maybe, but film? It’s dismissed as a waste.
If Big Brother has taught us anything it’s that if you put people in a room for an extended period fights will happen! Was there any friction between you all?
CC: We’re all pretty tame really. We were enjoying ourselves far too much! We didn’t actually live together for long enough. If we’d lived together for two months that could have been tricky. We lived together just long enough to get to know one another. We’re a good bunch of people really!
Was Danny your biggest reason for doing the film?
CC: The script was the first thing that appealed to me and then Danny combined with the script made it irresistible. The script was actually very philosophical and very intelligent and I thought, “Hey, why not for a change!? I can do Die Hard next; I don’t have a problem with that!”
And Danny’s an interesting guy to direct a movie like this. Usually something like this would be thrown into hyperdrive and you’d end up with the Michael Bays of the world. Which is cool, you know, hey, I’ll work with anyone, and I really liked Transformers!
So I thought it was an interesting take on the sci-fi movie for a film of this scale; Danny is very interested in human beings, you know, and how they inter-relate.
You mentioned the more philosophical aspects of the script; Searle takes the brunt of that stuff in his obsession with the sun…
CC: Brunt, that’s an interesting word…
Well he’s certainly the most spiritual character…
CC: That’s good. I started off thinking of him as more of an esoteric person, but when I got into rehearsals I realised that wouldn’t be indulged, really. It’s a military and scientific missions and those are very serious purposes so I made him much more scientific and much more military in his approach to work. But he ends up in a place where he’s confronted by the duration and trying to understand the effects of the sun on the human psyche. It opens something in him and he’s delving into the deeper questions of life.
Dr. Brian Cox has this whole spin on the thing that nature is volatile and that if we don’t understand the universe we’re living in, we’re going to get sucker-punched and we’ll die. Whereas I think Searle sees something greater than that beyond the veil. He stares into the sun long enough to say, OK, if this star dies and goes supernova, new life will be born from this death and this – without wanting to sound like The Lion King – is the cycle of life. Why are we afraid of dying because new life is always around the corner?
Did you see Pinbacker as the guy Searle could have become if his obsession with the sun had continued?
CC: Alex Garland and I talked about this and even though you could see the similarities Searle is, by his nature, good, and so under the same circumstances as Pinbacker he would sacrifice those beliefs and views, his life, for the greater good, whereas Pinbacker, who’s come to a place he believes is right, would sacrifice the world for his beliefs. They’re two sides of the coin.
And you’ve gone from fire with Sunshine to ice for 10,000 BC what can you tell us about that?
CC: We just did some reshoots on that in London recently, actually. It is kind-of the opposite because we go back 10,000 years to the time of Pangaea when all the continents are joined and we have to journey across, whereas in Sunshine we go fifty years into the future and out into space. 10,000 BC is about the beginnings of civilisation.
How was the Roland Emmerich experience?
CC: Really pleasant, actually. He’s a very pleasant, sociable guy. And it’s a totally different thing from Sunshine. Huge amounts of computer generated stuff whereas Danny obsessed about this wanting to have a very real sense of environment, so the ship was all sets. No laser guns and hover boards and I was wearing Ray-Bans and Birkenstocks.