One of the most underrated and overlooked new shows this season has been the NBC drama Trauma, but at least our readers have taken notice of its star, Cliff Curtis. We frequently get questions from people inquiring about the New Zealand actor who stars as Reuben “Rabbit” Palchuck, the cowboy paramedic who’s equal parts Tom Cruise in Top Gun and Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. He’s shown up in films such as Training Day, Whale Rider, Sunshine and Live Free or Die Hard, but Curtis says that honestly, the rebellious Rabbit is “probably the most fun character I’ve had in my career. And I’ve had some pretty fun characters.” I talked with him for a piece in this weekend’s Who’s News page, but read more below for what the actor — who next appears as a fire lord in M. Night Shymalan’s summer flick The Last Airbender — has to say about Rabbit and a possible second season for his show. Plus, check out a clip from Monday’ episode of Trauma featuring Curtis and his co-star, Aimee Garcia.
Photos courtesy of NBC
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Have any of your other characters come close to Rabbit in terms of macho craziness?
I think I’ve exceeded macho craziness in the past, with Pablo Escobar [from Blow] and Smiley from Training Day. Those guys are just another level ahead. But over the scope of the season, I think there’s a lot more to him than that. The whole idea, was to start off with this cliché – the Raybans, the blue jumpsuit, the macho bravado – and the hope was that we get to know him a little bit better. He’s such a broad spectrum of possibilities: romantic lead, hero, bad boy. It’s been a really great opportunity to completely have a broad palette to play with.
Have you got any word on if Trauma will get a second season?
We’re still in the mix despite all reports of being cancelled. I’m still contracted till May 17, which will be the day I find out what I’m doing. They haven’t cut me loose to go and take first position on any other projects. We’re all watching.
Would your first choice be to have another year of Rabbit?
I love Rabbit as a character, he’s fantastic. We can get better – we’ve come a long way and we started off with a very broad concept: Basically taking a female-skewed audience of a genre show, a medical show, and skewing it toward the male audience. The pendulum swang a little too far in that direction, we’re pulling it back the other way, and we’re getting really good.
That must have been pretty disheartening to hear the rumors in the fall of Trauma being cancelled and left for dead.
I skipped over all of that because I didn’t want to focus on it. That is not going to help me enjoy my work and is not going to help enjoy my life. Rabbit as a character is somebody who despite all of his flaws and all the tragedy happening around him, he’s just a fun guy in a lot of ways. He’s not the brightest guy at times – he’s got room to grow in terms of how he approaches life, and that’s what keeps me interested in him as an actor. But I just really love his enthusiasm for life. I really admire people who are clear about what they love, and they just go for it. That’s really helped me as an actor to think, “You know, I’m gonna approach it with the same attitude.” People can say what they say. I’m loving my job, loving my work, love the people around me, and I’m going to come to work every day and have the best time I can.
What other similarities do you share with Rabbit?
I understand Rabbit from a young version of me. Rabbit has stopped somewhere around late teens to early 20s in a lot of areas of his life, and I kind of recognize that in him affectionately. As a young man, of course it’s very easy to look at the world and be simplistic about your relationships with women and your work. That’s a part of the enthusiasm that comes with that youthful outlook on life: It’s so much more fun because you’re not looking at the detail and you’re not seeing the mist that you’re creating along the way. In my 20s, I recognize that I made mistakes and I had to learn to grow up and I rushed into things headfirst – and I rushed out of things as well. Now, I’ve grown up a lot more than that, and I can bring that insight into the character and I can relate to it from a personal perspective. But I can also see how this character can grow and evolve. If I was still in that place that Rabbit is in my own personal life now, I don’t think I could do as good a job as I can do now. But I can relate to him affectionately, with hindsight and some wisdom and some insight into who he is. I hope young guys will latch on to this guy and sort of think, “Oh, gee, he’s such a fun guy. Wow, he’s also made really big mistakes. I hope I don’t make mistakes like he’s made.”
On some level do you like the dramatic scenes more than the crazy explosions?
I love them both. I grew up on Conan the Barbarian and Bruce Lee movies. But I like fine art as well. I like the spectrum, personally. As an actor, creatively I love the dramatic scenes. I get to explore a bit more range. Action can be fun but it can be limiting creatively.
I hear you used to dance back in New Zealand.
My dad used to take me to competitive rock ‘n’ roll championships. We won the nationals a couple of times – I was my dad’s partner in 1988 and 1989. When I started acting in drama school, we had a strong physical theater and dance component in our curriculum. For a minute, I considered going into dance instead of acting and I did a couple of professional gigs, danced with a couple of dance companies, before I got my first gig out of drama school. That’s actually part of how I used to pay my way through school.
Do you still do much dancing?
No. I’m too cool to dance now. [Laughs]