WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — [movie id="369195"]"Twilight"[/movie] star [movieperson id="1017548"]Jackson Rathbone[/movieperson] is a busy guy these days, between getting ready to film "New Moon" in March and a side gig as lead singer/ keyboardist/ guitarist/ bass player/ everything else for his band 100 Monkeys.
Nevertheless, the fast-rising actor/musician is still finding time to catch some air.
"I'm focusing mostly on music and another movie I have coming up," the 24-year-old actor told us about the high-profile gig he recently landed after one of Hollywood's most iconic directors recruited him. "We're going to be working on [movie id="334326"]'The Last Airbender'[/movie] with M. Night Shyamalan, so that's very exciting."
The "Sixth Sense" director is hard at work adapting the popular cartoon about an "Avatar" hoping to save the world through a mix of martial arts and elemental manipulation. "It was great. They flew us all out to Philly," Rathbone remembered of his audition. "I got to meet the other castmembers that they hired on. I got to read with them, even. It was a blast. It was a great chance to get a free trip to Philly and get a chance to meet M. Night. He's an incredibly nice guy, and I think we hit it off pretty well, and now I get to play Sokka."
A young warrior of the Southern Water Tribe, Rathbone's Sokka will accompany his cinematic sister Katara (Nicola Peltz, "Deck the Halls") as they help the heroic Aang (newcomer Noah Ringer) take on evil. Jesse McCartney is also reportedly onboard. "It's a fantastic show," Rathbone said of the Nickelodeon animated series. "I've always loved that kind of deep, mythical fantasy. It's got a lot about the four elements: water, fire, earth, wind. It's just really cool. It's a really interesting series and such a cool character. I've always liked the show, and I thought it would be fun.
"For me, it's a great chance to show my range a little bit more," Rathbone added, comparing Sokka to his "Twilight" character. "It's a chance to do something a little funnier. Something less serious than Jasper."
Due in theaters in summer 2010, "Airbender" has already begun to face a bit of controversy over the casting of white actors like Rathbone, Ringer and McCartney to play Asian characters — a concern the actor was quick to dismiss. "I think it's one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan," he said of the transformation he'll go through to look more like Sokka. "It's one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit."
He's also excited to work with Shyamalan on what's not only being envisioned as a trilogy, but also as an eagerly anticipated departure from the director's typical "thriller with a twist" flicks. "I think 'Airbender' has a lot of suspenseful twists as a TV show, but I think it's something he's really looking forward to, for expanding his own horizons," Rathbone said. "He has kids. How many films has he made that his kids would be able to watch? So I think it's really great that he's making a family film. I have a sister; it's exciting to make a film that my whole family can enjoy."
So, soon enough, Rathbone will put down his banjo-lele and pick up a badass sword.
"It's just an action-packed, epic film," he beamed. "I'm starting to do martial-arts training, which is going to be so much fun, and we're doing a lot of interesting work with the green screen. It's such a mythical world. We get to go to Asia, go film abroad. It's just going to be such a blast."
Check out everything we've got on "The Last Airbender."
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