Dev Patel Talks Taking Over For Jesse McCartney In ‘Last Airbender’

'Slumdog Millionaire' actor marvels at co-star Jackson Rathbone's 'massive fan following' after 'Twilight.'

As if “Twilight” star Jackson Rathbone weren’t enough already, blockbuster director M. Night Shyamalan landed another hot young Hollywood up-and-comer this week, signing [movie id="364450"]“Slumdog Millionaire”[/movie] star Dev Patel as the latest addition to his soon-to-shoot “The Last Airbender.” Now, in his first public comments since landing the role, Patel told us he’s eager to go from the mean streets of Mumbai to the fantastical world of “The Last Airbender.”

“It’s based on a Nickelodeon cartoon,” explained Patel, who replaced Jesse McCartney earlier this week as the character of Zuko, the 16-year-old exiled prince of Fire Nation who is eager to regain his honor. “There’s this character called Avatar [played by Noah Ringer] who can harness all these powers in a slightly different world, and they have different nations like the Firebenders — who can form fire and use it to their abilities — and there are Waterbenders and Earthbenders,” Patel explained.

“[Aang the Avatar] is the Airbender — he can harness air and all the other ones as well,” he added. “He’s a special being, and I’m part of that.”

Discussing his role in the flick, he said, “I play a character called Zuko who is the Prince of the Fire Nation, and it’s good because it’s a dark role. I’m not playing the hero, whereas in ‘Slumdog’ it was real character acting and performance-oriented. This is [as well], but it’s much more physical, with martial arts. I’m learning on the job, so this is a great new experience for me.”

According to reports, it was this intensive martial-arts training that led to McCartney’s departure, after the chart-topping singer’s touring schedule wouldn’t fit in with Shyamalan’s planned boot camp.

“I didn’t,” Patel said enthusiastically when asked whether he had “kicked out” the “Leavin’ ” singer. “I came on very late, so I didn’t hear about the Jesse McCartney thing . In all honesty, I swear.”

Patel has, however, heard about the “Twilight” thing — and told us that he’s very excited to work with series star Jackson Rathbone . “I watched ['Twilight'] — I got invited to the premiere, luckily, in London,” the 18-year-old U.K.-born Patel marveled. “The amount of fans they had for that, screaming young girls for Jackson and Robert Pattinson? I was just, like, ‘Wow.’

“He’s got a massive fan following, so that’s good,” Patel said of Rathbone. “And I guess he’s used to the whole CGI thing.”

These days, Patel is finishing up his “Slumdog” interviews as the film opens worldwide, and he’s also holding February 22 open so that he can go pick up an Oscar or two. As soon as all the madness dies down, however, he’s eager to meet the 100 Monkeys frontman face to face.

“No, I haven’t [met Rathbone yet],” Patel explained, “because I’ve been so busy with the press on ['Slumdog']. I’m going to hopefully get down to the training for the martial-arts stuff after this. It’s a quick turnaround.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Last Airbender.”

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