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The Last Airbender - Jackson Rathbone interview

Jackson Rathbone in The Last Airbender

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JACKSON Rathbone talks about some of the challenges of making The Last Airbender for director M Night Shyamalan as well as getting back to the Twilight movie set for remaining movies, Breaking Dawn.

Q. I believe that in your family roots there is this big screen action history?
Jackson Rathbone: Yeah, I have a close bloodline to Basil Rathbone. He’s my grandfather’s third cousin several times removed. I don’t like to talk about how many times removed! But yeah, he’s one of the greatest swordsmen of Hollywood history. We were talking about that earlier. In the film, I wield a boomerang! I’m going up against all these characters who have all these amazing special abilities like being able to manipulate fire, or being able to manipulate water or earth… and Sokka comes running around with a boomerang and with a great tactical side of warfare. You see him go from just being a young man with a warrior’s heart to a rebel leader over the course of the film and he holds his own, even though he just has a boomerang. Hopefully, if we get to make the next two films then you’ll get to see Sokka become a swordsman. So, I’ll get to really follow in Basil Rathbone’s footsteps.

Q. There’s an incredible amount of CGI in this film. So, do you ever get to a point where you see the first screening when it’s all complete and think, ‘oh that’s what I was looking at, that’s what it’s all about’?
Jackson Rathbone: It was a good mix between going to Greenland and having a sense of that reality of where our characters came from, and getting to film on the most incredible sets that I’ve ever seen in my life – I think it’s the largest sets that were ever built on the East Coast in Philadelphia. With the character of Momo there was a doll that was about the same weight and size that it would be in the film. They’d put it there to give us actors a sense of what it was and then they’d pull it out and we’d shoot.

But I guess the hardest thing was when I first met Appa and I’m just jabbing at it with a spear… on set it was in Greenland and there was absolutely nothing there. Night and I would talk about it and he’d show me pictures of what they’d be doing with it. He explained to me how the scene would work in post [production] and everything. But that was one of the most difficult scenes for me, just kind of knowing how far to thrust the spear in. Am I stabbing this creature? Or poking it? Where do you go? It was definitely an interesting experience to see it a year and a half later after all this incredible work was done by one of the most amazing CGI companies in the business. ILM certainly put the magic into The Last Airbender.

Q. You’ve become hugely famous over the last few years. Where’s the oddest place that you’ve been recognised?
Jackson Rathbone: The oddest place that I’ve been recognised [laughs]? In my own house-hold. That’s pretty odd. I don’t know. It’s one of those things… in my entire life I’ve never really been that kind of guy who goes out to clubs, or goes out to the mall. I’ve always had a very small group of friends that I hang out with and make art with. When I was first getting into the theatre I was much younger – about 13 or 14 and I was getting into the local community theatre in Midland, Texas, and I just had this really small group of friends. I just kind of noticed that all the pretty girls were actresses and I wanted to be where they were [smiles]. So, I got into theatre for that and then I fell in love with the art form. I played music and I acted at the same time.

Now, all I spend my time doing is writing music with my friends who I’ve known for 10 years. I get to act with a marvellous cast, with The Last Airbender with a marvellous director and producer. And with the Twilight series, I have an amazing cast as well… and amazing directors we’ve worked with, and producers. I’ve just been extremely lucky in my career to be able to constantly work with people that I’ve respected and admired, and young actors that I think are some of the most grounded people that I’ve met in my life. I just keep my circle small and I don’t go out and do those things that get you in the tabloids.

Q. I think the question was more designed to reflect an answer that Leonardo DiCaprio once gave, when he revealed that the strangest place that he was recognised was in the middle of the Amazonian jungle, when a native said: “You’re the guy from Titanic…” He said it was bizarre because there were no TVs or cinema. So, that kind of thing…
Jackson Rathbone: Well, we filmed in Greenland and they had this local cinema that we actually screened Raiders at, which was really cool. But yeah, all the Greenlandic people knew us. We were in this small town called Ilulissat and it was incredible. Night hooked me up with a gig at the local pub and I played a set on guitar… just myself and the guitar. Then Frank Marshall and I got up and he sang Stormy Mondays and I played slide guitar with the house band and we got ourselves some fans. So, I guess that was the oddest place I’ve been recognised, to make a very long answer for a nice simple question [laughs].

Q. Your co-star Kellan Lutz said at the Eclipse press conference a couple of weeks ago that you and he got up to some scrapes? Because after doing The Last Airbender you thought you were ‘invincible’?
Jackson Rathbone: [Laughs] Oh God no… I think it got a little bit over elaborated in the press, as things tend to do. It was interesting because I came from The Last Airbender and I had all this kung fu training. So, I went to film Eclipse and we were rehearsing everything, and the other cast and I talked about film technique fighting and how, if you’re the camera, the fist can be literally that far from my face [gestures close to his cheek] and make it look realistic.

Kellan, I think, got a little over excited whenever we were filming because it was his first real action film that he got to do, and that’s what he loves to do, but he made contact with my temple. He didn’t knock me down, but he definitely knocked me for a loop. I was kind of dazed… we kept rolling, though, and we did five more takes. Then we took a little break and I sat down and the world got a little fuzzy. I was like: “This is kind of interesting…” The producers were really concerned because, you know, their money was at stake, so they sent me to the hospital to get me checked out. I was fine. I wanted to go back to work. But they called me for the day and I reported back to work the next day, at 5am, so… It didn’t really leave a mark, but his hand was bruised, so…

Q. You’re the winner then?
Jackson Rathbone: I think so, I think so. He hit me and I didn’t fall down, so I’m pretty excited about that.

Read our review of The Last Airbender