The Last Airbender: Jackson Rathbone & Nicola Peltz
Films succeed when they have great dialogue, dynamic action, incredible special effects or like-able characters. While I can’t vouch for the dialogue because the film opens on July 1 and I haven’t had a chance to screen it, it’s clear from The Last Airbender’s trailers that action and effects are covered. As for like-able characters, if they are anything like the real-life actors who play them I can assure you that they will be compelling.
I had a chance to sit down with Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz, who play brother and sister Sokka and Katara in The Last Airbender. Jackson is 25 and also a star in the Twilight film franchise. At 15, Nicola is getting her big break in this film, though she has acted on Broadway and done smaller film roles. Despite the fact that their film will likely be a massive hit with acclaimed director M. Night Shyamalan at the helm, it seemed to me that Jackson and Nicola have their feet on the ground and savvy heads on their shoulders.
A quick primer on why The Last Airbender will be so huge: it’s based on an animated series called “Avatar: The Last Airbender” that aired on Nickelodeon (and yes, it came out before the film with the blue people.) The series, which had a big following, follows the journey of Sokka, Katara and Aang, a young Avatar who has the ability to master all elements – earth, water, fire and air. Are you still following? Together they try to create a peaceful world…and that will entail a lot of martial art action and big fight scenes.
At any rate, you know a film is a big deal if it involves collateral items like action figures and special edition Flip video cameras.
Both Jackson and Nicola are actors you’ll start to see everywhere. Jackson will be especially visible this year. In addition to The Last Airbender, Jackson’s Jasper Hale character can be seen again this summer in Twilight: Eclipse and Girlfriend (release tba) which he not only stars in, but also produced and provided the soundtrack with his band, 100 Monkeys. (check out the band’s video at the end of the q&a – the song is not from the film)
The Last Airbender opens July 1 in both 2-D and 3-D (rated PG for fantasy, action, violence.) Carve out time during your Independence Day weekend for this big action film with a great director and a cast of inspiring young actors.
What role do you two play in The Last Airbender?
Jackson: Nicola and I play brother and sister. I play Sokka and Nicola plays Katara, the only water bender left. Our mom has been “taken” by the Fire Nation. Our dad has gone off to fight the Fire Nation and has left me (Sokka) in charge.
Nicola: The story is that Sokka and Katara are out walking one day and we see a boy frozen in the ice who ends up being the Avatar. He’s been missing for 100 years and he has the ability to bend each element: fire, water, earth and air. So the 3 of us go on a big journey and try to bring peace to the world and we become a family.
Jackson: The Avatar is a young warrior – though he’s not yet really a developed warrior or leader. In the film, you see him, Sokka and Katara grow. This is a coming of age film set in the midst of war. It’s about having faith in yourself and trying to take on all odds and obstacles. It’s about believing in yourself and relying on family.
There must be so many surreal things happening to you — adoring fans, fan websites, action figures. What or who keeps you grounded?
Nicola: Our family. I have 6 brothers and a sister so if I ever act up, I’m in trouble.
Jackson: At the end of the day, it’s all family. There are a lot of things in life that can get difficult and my family’s always there to back me up…or knock the pedestal out from under my feet. I’m blessed to have a loving supportive family.
How did you get into acting? Do you come from creative families?
Nicola: I come from an athletic family, we play ice hockey. But I did a school play and I really really liked it so I asked my mom if I could get into acting. She didn’t know where that came from and didn’t support it. But I kept begging her and she finally gave in and took me to an agent. They signed me. I did get turned down for a lot of roles, but I love acting…and my mom’s happy now, too.
Jackson: My father’s an engineer and my mom’s a dental hygienist. I moved around for a lot of my life. When we settled in Texas I was in 6th grade and I wanted to make friends. My two older sisters had been in theater so my parents threw me into theater to see if I could make friends easier. I started behind-the-scenes doing set building. My dad’s an engineer and I’ve always loved building. Then I kind of noticed that a really large amount of pretty girls were actresses and I decided I needed to meet these girls…they weren’t coming back to the set shop. So in 7th grade I auditioned for the actor’s troupe and made it in. I didn’t get the girls but I fell in love with the art.
(note: since I’m interested in nature v. nurture, it was interesting to learn that Jackson’s two older sisters are artists…right is a poster one of them did for Jackson’s band, 100 Monkeys)
On working with M. Night Shyamalan:
Nicola: M. Night Shyamalan is such an amazing director and I was so blessed to work with everyone in the film. Our first week of shooting was in Greenland and we all got really close, really quickly. Jackson shoved me in a snow bank and said “I’m just getting into character.”
Jackson: Well, that’s what big brothers do, right? As far as working with directors, I’ve been really lucky that in the past few years in my career I’ve worked with some great directors that I respect and like such as David Slade (Twilight film Eclipse) and Chris Weitz (Twilight film New Moon.) I just count my blessings.
M. Night Shyamalan is an extremely technical director. He’s not a modern-day “fast cut, fast cut, fast cut” director. He lets the shot play out. There was an 8 minute long tracking shot in the film and to be a part of that…those are the kind of shots I’ve always admired when watching a film. I always kind of wondered what that feeling is, how do you do a shot like that? How you do it is to rehearse it for a long time and you hope that on the day you shoot it you give a take that works. It was incredible to get to work with M. Night Shyamalan.
On how they trained for their action-packed roles:
Nicola: I went to Philadelphia to do a martial arts “boot camp.” I learned that Kung Fu is force against force and Tai Chi is using the other person’s force against themselves. So Tai Chi is more equivalent to water-bending (Katara is a water bender.)
Jackson: I trained at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles with other stunt men and women, going over the big choreography. I watched how amazing they were and how not-so-amazing I was. I studied Kung Fu. We wanted Sokka to be not a very technical fighter, we wanted him to be more like brute force and go head first into battle. He’s a kid and not an experienced fighter, but over the course of the film you see him grow into a young rebel leader and he gets more confident as a fighter. Hopefully there will be two more films and I’ll get to train more.
Jackson on being in two huge franchises, Twilight and The Last Airbender:
I’m blessed. It’s surreal. I moved out LA seven years ago with no films under my belt. I’d done one professional theater production in my life. I was busking on Venice Beach and working as a caterer doing anything I could to make a living. So now, 7 years later it’s a dream come true.