It didn’t take long for Nicola Peltz to forge a fierce sibling rivalry with Jackson Rathbone, her mischievous co-star in “The Last Airbender,” M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action adaptation of the popular animated fantasy.
“The first day we were on set, he dunked me in the snow,” Peltz, 15, says of Rathbone, her on-screen big brother. “He said he was just trying to get in character. He is such a liar! But I got to slime him later on, so we’re even.”
“It was at the Nickelodeon Choice Awards,” says Rathbone, 25, who’s competing against himself at the box office, starring in “Airbender” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” both opening this week.
“She slimed me,” he said. “It was karma. But she’s like family. From the moment we met at the casting mixer in Philadelphia, we were like brother and sister.”
In “Airbender,” Peltz plays Katara, the last living waterbender, whose ability to manipulate the elements proves critical when the belligerent Fire Nation declares war on Earth. Rathbone watches over her as Sokka, a warrior blessed with a sharp intellect but none of Katara’s supernatural abilities. And he wields a punishing boomerang.
“There was boomerang training, so we had a real boomerang,” says Rathbone, who also took crash courses in kung fu and wrestling. “I threw it a couple times, but I was afraid I’d hit the stuntman, so most of the tosses were CGI.”
“Airbender” is the latest from Shyamalan, who ventured into R-rated territory with his 2008 natural-disaster thriller “The Happening.” Now, he’s back to crafting family-friendly adventures, which Peltz says suits his temperament.
“I got really close with Night’s daughters, cause they’d come to the set a lot,” says Peltz, an avid fan of Shyamalan’s 1999 breakthrough, “The Sixth Sense.” “We had sleepovers all the time. The movie was their idea in the first place, and he wanted to make it because they were such big fans. He’s a great family man.”
Rathbone agrees, noting that the Indian-born director is a natural virtuoso behind the camera, but still solicits ideas from his actors. “He values our opinions,” says Rathbone, “but he’s definitely got his own style — an old-school Kubrickian style, which I really enjoy.
“He does longer shots that linger with the audience and encourage you to think with the film as it progresses. He shoots epic battles, introducing dialogue, characters and all the elements — fire, air, water — in one take. It’s amazing, and to an actor it’s refreshing. He has a vision, and you’ve got to think on your feet to keep up.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Dev Patel, Jackson Rathbone
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Running time 1 hour 43 minutes