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Original 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' cast passes on wisdom for live-action remake at ECCC 2021

Dallas Liu will play the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation in Netflix's live-action remake.

By Josh Weiss
Zuko and Katara in Avatar the Last Airbender

Over the summer, Netflix rounded out the principal cast for its live-action remake of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender. Upon landing the coveted role of the firebending Prince Zuko, Dallas Liu (recently seen in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) reached out to the character's original voice actor, Dante Basco, for advice.

"We got in a great conversation and I'm really rooting for the guy and passing the torch on," Basco said at Emerald City Comic Con Sunday afternoon. "I said, 'Look, man, we're part of a small fraternity of the guys that have gotten to play Zuko so far.' Me, Dev [Patel], and Dallas. I said, 'It's your turn.' We had a lot of conversations about the character and about the relationship with Uncle Iroh and how I played the character and what I was thinking. At the end of the day, I said, 'It's your turn, kid.'"

The Netflix project suffered a major setback last year when the original Avatar co-creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, parted ways with the company over creative differences. "The question really is, 'How do you improve on the animated version of this?'" asked Dee Bradley Baker (the voice of Appa, Momo, and Chong) during the ECCC discussion. "What does another rendering in a different space add or improve to what is already a kind of perfect work of art and a fully-rendered world? Now, I'm not saying that can't be done, but there's the bar as far as I'm concerned."

Avatar The Last Airbender

"The crazy thing is a lot of animated projects — whether it be American or anime or whatnot — we all have such a feeling about those projects," Basco added. "It's almost like, 'Have we not learned the lessons?' If you're gonna do it, do the story that's continued where we can no longer have a feeling about that scene because we've seen that scene. If you just took the characters and put them on a new adventure, then it'll free up all the artists to progress it. Because I couldn't think of an animated show that was a live-action [adaptation] that we actually like."

Nevertheless, he is hoping the live-action iteration does turn out successfully. "I don't know what's gonna happen with the new show. We're part of the Avatar family, so we always, of course, root for good things to happen. It's really interesting to see that the fans are on edge just as much as all of us."

The panel also included a live performance of "Secret Tunnel," courtesy of Baker. Afterwards, he recounted the story behind the now-iconic song featured in Book Two, revealing that he was asked to record the song at the very last minute and wasn't sure it would work.

"They sent me the demo on a tape and I just thought, 'Uh, this is not going to be good and I really don't know,'" the actor recalled. "I remember going to the session and them saying, 'Well, what do you think about this guy?' [I said] 'I think it'd be funny if he's just kind of this hippie trippy guy ... The nice thing about the Airbender universe [is that] it allows a sense of character and comedy that is not just this in-your-face attack you kind of comedy, but also an interesting character to exist. I thought I'd try choosing a weird little character and they liked it. So, we sang a little song. It's like, 'Oh...actually, that's kind of a cute little song.' And then I saw the episode and it's like, 'Ohhh, this is great. I love this.'" You never know until you see it."

Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra are currently streaming on Netflix alongside the live-action film adaptation written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The streamer has yet to announce a premiere date for the upcoming remake.