July 27, 2003|The lower level of Denver's Magnolia Hotel features as its twin centrepieces a fountain and a wet bar, an idea of water in a grotto that appropriately found me meeting Maori actor Cliff Curtis, who was in town to promote the opening of Niki Caro's Whale Rider. Dressed casually in jeans, loose shirt, and sandals, Curtis is an extremely warm, curious sort of fellow at once unfazed by his rising status in Hollywood (having appeared in numerous high-profile pictures playing a variety of ethnicities) and possessed of that particular airy disconnection of folks reared in the theatre. He's at the cusp of stardom, essentially, with leading-man good looks and an ineffable quality of fearless integrity that allows him to back away from the big-budget blockbusters in which he has found himself of late to take a small role in a small film, just because it's important to him. Simplicity itself, it seems, the call of Hollywood too often turns idealism into avarice, making a man doing the right thing for himself and his culture an anomaly--and a welcome one. With a heavy Kiwi accent and a relaxed attitude imported from the poetically-named Pacific, Curtis spoke to FILM FREAK CENTRAL, against the soft clatter of that fountain, about all manner of things in the middle of another murderous Colorado summer.