Cliff Curtis on ‘Missing’ – Exclusive

The costar of ABC's action series tells us about filming the show around the world and dealing with backlash from The Last Airbender.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

“Missing” debuted earlier this year on ABC and the show focuses on Becca Winstone (Ashley Judd) as she kicks ass around the world to find her kidnapped son. On her trail is CIA agent Dax Miller. Cliff Curtis plays Miller, and we got an exclusive interview with the Whale Rider/Training Day/Live Free or Die Hard star at the ABC Television Critics Association party. We even brought up The Last Airbender to keep it real.


CraveOnline: You’ve gotten to play a few authorities in law enforcement. Have you gained any insight into that world?

Cliff Curtis: They’re kind of emotionally retarded. I think the characters that I choose at least, they’re serving kind of the idealists at some level. Whatever place they are in their career, because to get into the CIA honestly, you have to have a pretty impressive intellect. You have to be able to speak numerous languages. You have to have physical ability.

The requirements you have to be in the CIA are very steep. And then you also have to have a great sense of service to humanity and your nation, so it’s a tall order. You can’t have a history of drug offenses. You can’t have any misdemeanors. CIA you have to have a clean slate. You have to have a high moral code. I don't know, you’ve got to kind of understand what would drive a person.

And then they’ve got to live within all of these worlds. They’re kind of like accountants and lawyers. They’ve got to know the law, they’ve got to understand the minutiae of how that is expressed through law. It’s a different animal to me, man. That’s a completely different world.

CraveOnline: Why can’t they ever keep the rogue action hero in line?

Cliff Curtis: Because they’ve got to play within the lines. That’s what I mean. They’ve got to keep a clean record. My character can’t do many of the things he wants to do. So there’s this interesting relationship he develops with Becca Winstone because she can do things he can’t do.

CraveOnline: Do you think he admires her?

Cliff Curtis: Oh, yeah. But she can do that because she’s no longer an operative so it becomes a sort of trade off where “Oh, I get it. You can do stuff that I can’t do because you’re not an operative. But as long as we have the same goal it can kind of work.”

CraveOnline: In the same way, do you think FBI Deputy Director Bowman admired John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard?

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, I suppose. In a word, yes. When you’re heading a department, you reflect on the department. So legally you’re bound by what you can and cannot do, the characters that I play.

So when you’re dealing with a rogue, it’s like ah, yes. Somebody punch that guy in the face, because I can’t. I’ll lose my job or I’ll get fired, unless I fill out all of the forms. Unless I fill out the forms, check with the legal department, check with protocols, I don’t get to punch the guy in the face, unless I get the warrant.

CraveOnline: Do you get in on any of the action in “Missing?”

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, I do. I get to get out there, get in the field, run around, get to take my gun out a little bit, mix it up a bit.

CraveOnline: Do you do a lot yourself or turn it over to stuntmen?

Cliff Curtis: We always turn it over to the stuntmen, and then we double what they double us doing. So even though they double us, we then double them. Everything they do generally speaking we do as well. That’s my experience. You always want to see them do it. The more times a stunt is done, the more dangerous it gets because you’re playing a game of odds.

So if you get the lion’s share done by the stunt double and then you do a limited amount of takes, they will prefer to use the actors’ footage because they can connect you to the action. They just reduce the risk factor for insurance purposes but pretty much I’ve got to do everything the stunt guy does unless it’s something impossible.

CraveOnline: Have you gotten to have fun in the locations you’re shooting in?

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, the food is awesome. I ate fantastic Italian food in Croatia which you wouldn’t expect. The food in Istanbul was amazing. I never would’ve expected that and the food, I guess you’re learning something about me, the food in Prague, they’re very, very heavy meat eaters, like a lot of meat, which is great.

But I was very surprised to find that there is a very strong community of vegetarianism there and they have these amazing fantastic vegetarian restaurants in Prague. And a proliferate amount of them.

CraveOnline: When you’re at work on location, do you play off the locations?

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, you can. Usually the work schedule is pretty heavy and pretty tight so there’s not a lot that I did. I mean, there are. I don’t play. I’m a married guy. I’m pretty tethered. There are those among us that partay and partake. For me that part of my life is no longer.

CraveOnline: At what point during making The Last Airbender did you sense that a backlash was coming?

Cliff Curtis: Oh, straight away. From the beginning. I mean, because true die hard enthusiasts of that franchise, it’s grounded in Asia and Asian culture. So straight away, the minute they went off that, people were like going, “No way!” It’s like all the different Asian cultures that made up the four elements, just straight away it was like mud slinging stuff going on.

CraveOnline: How do you get through that as an actor?

Cliff Curtis: As an actor you’ve got to have faith in the director’s vision, that the director has a vision for this that is greater than the critics say. So you follow their vision. Nobody knows. Honestly, everybody hopes it turns out for the best and you go along for the ride.

CraveOnline: What impact do you personally hear movies like Once Were Warriors and Whale Rider are still having today?

Cliff Curtis: Well, they always come up. People love those movies, they’re still very beloved movies and people continue to watch them and enjoy them.

CraveOnline: Those movies were made before social media, so it was our first introduction to those cultures.

Cliff Curtis: Well, I produced a movie called Boy and we’re releasing that in March at the same time as the TV show. That’s another small town story from New Zealand so we’re hoping it’s going to have the same level as acceptance of those two films. It’s about a young boy who’s obsessed with Michael Jackson in the ‘80s and his absent father returns. He’s got to reconcile the reality of his father with the fantasy of Michael Jackson.

CraveOnline: Are you able to use any Michael Jackson music?

Cliff Curtis: No, we were actually talking to him. We were in the process of talking to him to get the rights to one of his songs at least and he passed away as we were entering production.