Jackson Rathbone on Getting Kubrickian in 'Airbender' and Aping RPattz on Twitter
It’s Jackson Rathbone Week at the multiplex. The 25-year-old, Texas-twanged actor is featured in both of this week’s major releases, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and The Last Airbender, so regardless of which film ultimately prevails at the box office, Rathbone will be able to claim victory.
In The Last Airbender, Rathbone plays Sokka, a precocious teenager from the Water tribe (Airbender’s world is divided into four nations, each aligned to a specific element) who joins forces with two other young warriors to prevent the warlike Fire nation from conquering and enslaving the planet. We caught up with Rathbone yesterday for a brief chat about his experience bringing the hit animated series to life on the big screen:
When you first met your director, M. Night Shyamalan, what did you call him? M? Night? M. Night?
Well, when we first met, he introduced himself to me as Night, so we call him Night. But you should call him Mr. Shyamalan.
Let’s face it: Shyamalan hasn’t exactly had the best track record of late. And The Last Airbender is a very different kind of movie for him. Did either of those issues make you skeptical about joining the project?
Well I think, you know ... you could say critically, you know ... that vein maybe was there on a critics’ circle, but Night’s been one of those directors that I’ve always waited for his next film to come out and I’ve always been excited about his next film coming out. Just to have a chance to be part of his next film was exciting in and of itself, because he’s a director I’ve respected and admired his work for years. So when I found out he was going to be adapting the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, I was extremely excited. That’s a show that I’ve known for a while and that I’ve been a big fan of.
How does he differ from other directors you’ve worked with?
One of the things I really like about his directing sensibility is he’s got kind of this old-school cinema style that’s very Kubrickian. He has long shots which keep you in the moment, these long tracking shots in which he doesn’t cut away. He lets the camera do the work and lets the story unfold before your eyes. And it’s really exciting in a lot of the action scenes that we have in The Last Airbender, because most action films will be constantly cutting and cutting and cutting -- you almost feel like you’ll have an epileptic seizure while watching -- but we have these amazingly choreographed fights and in some cases, there’d be shots that last five minutes or even eight minutes. Which in the film world is a feat to be able to capture on camera.
But isn’t that more challenging for the actor?
I think it’s more challenging for everyone involved. For instance, we had this one scene where you follow these three kids, Katara, Aang, and myself playing Sokka. We were kind of captured by the Fire nation and brought Earth nation prison, and we’re being walked into the prison. There’s a lot of dialogue kind of discussing the prison, Aang has this big monologue, and this big fight sequence with 75 stuntmen and stuntwomen and all of these explosions and all of these things happening at once. Which is hard on the actor, but you also have to think about the camera guys who are lugging these heavy cameras around, the special effects guys who have to set off the explosives at certain times, and all of the other actors involved. For Night to keep track of that watching on a little tiny monitor, I mean, those are difficult shots. They’re not easy to get. If it was easy, it probably wouldn’t be as beautiful on camera.
He’s known to be extraordinarily protective of his scripts. Did you have to deal with any elaborate security measures when you were first given the Airbender script to read?
Basically we were given scripts that you could only open them after it took your blood DNA type and it would open only if you bled on the page a little bit. Kidding. Yeah, he’s definitely protective. I think most studios are protective of their scripts and everything having to do with a film. You want a certain sense of magic whenever someone goes to see a film, even if it’s based off of a book series, like the Twilight films, or based on an animated series, like The Last Airbender.
Did you really pretend to be Robert Pattinson on Twitter?
No, that was a joke. It’s funny how -- no offense -- the press doesn’t seem to have a great sense of humor. We were talking and Rob and I were doing a dual interview. They asked him if he had a Twitter account and he was like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got a fake Twitter account,” and I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ve got a fake Robert Pattinson account too.” But that’s all lies and speculation. In all honesty, I only have a fake Rob Pattinson MySpace account.