Cliff Curtis never said yes to being part of Once Were Warriors and didn't want to do it.
The actor, currently riding high on acclaim for his role in The Dark Horse, played the infamous Uncle Bully in the hit local movie -- which is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a documentary made by director Julian Arahanga, who, as a young actor played Nig Heke, eldest son of Temuera Morrison's Jake the Muss.
Read more: Once Were Warriors: Twenty years on
The character of Bully, who rapes young Grace Heke in the film, was one of Curtis' first major screen parts.
"That was a role I didn't want to do. I wanted to be Nig," he told TimeOut.
Curtis had got back from Easter Island where he had been shooting Kevin Costner's pre-European epic Rapa Nui to find his agent, the late Robert Bruce, had been unable to get hold of his client so had accepted the role on his behalf.
"I just forgot about the movie to be honest. I am not going to reply," he said. "And I got back and they were into rehearsals and my agent was like 'where have you been? We've been trying to get hold of you. You start work tomorrow'."
Curtis found himself in a quandary, not wanting to play the despicable character, but he sought the advice of an elder at his marae.
"The piece of advice my kuia gave me was there are always jobs on the marae that no one wants to do -- like cleaning toilets, which I did. But they have to be done so you do the best job that you can and people will not remember what you were doing, but how well you did it."
"I had to find my way into that story. ... I focused on the idea that that film was ultimately about the strength and beauty of our women who hold families together against enormous challenges.
Photos: The many faces of Cliff Curtis
"So I could take that role, because ultimately the kaupapa was greater than my individual aspirations. I was serving something greater."
Curtis agrees there are parallels between Warriors and The Dark Horse.
"Yeah it's definitely the same world. It's born into a circumstance where it is pretty hopeless and where do you find your hope? But what's distinct from that movie is in this, hope is a very definite possibility."
Twenty years on, Curtis is still teased about the notorious character he played.
"For sure. That dude is going to be haunting me for the rest of my days I'm sure."
• Once Were Warriors screens on Maori TV on Saturday, 9.30pm with the documentary Pakipumeka Aotearoa: Once Were Warriors: Where Are They Now? screening on Monday.