June 30 2010 12:00 AM

’Airbender’ stars keep it in the family


Sometimes, it takes a tag team to promote a movie properly. So Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz have been hitting the road together to promote “The Last Airbender,” director M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action adaptation of the popular animated Nickelodeon network series. It opens nationwide on Thursday.

Peltz and Rathbone play a brother and sister in the film, and they behaved like supportive siblings during a phone interview last weekend, singing each other’s praises and joking around. Peltz, 15, is a relative newcomer to the acting world, while Rathbone, 25, is already well known, thanks to his appearances in the first two films in the “Twilight” saga.

Rathbone, whose Jasper character has been one of the quieter members of the Cullen coven of vampires, gets a much meatier part in “Eclipse,” the third “Twilight” chapter, which also hits theaters in time for the July 4 weekend.

“I wouldn’t say they’re in competition,” he said of his two concurrent films. “I think they’re both going to do really well.”

At the time of the interview, Rathbone and Peltz were en route to a promotional appearance at Penn’s Landing in sunny Philadelphia, a town they knew well, having shot part of “Airbender” there last summer.

“It’s a good day for barbecue,” Rathbone announced, in his Texan drawl. “‘Course, I’m from the South, so we say that about every day.”

Peltz grew up in Connecticut and New York. “I have two younger brothers and I used to watch ‘Airbender’ with them all the time,” she said. So she was well versed in the adventures of Aang (Noah Singer), the boy who must bring together the nations of the Air, Water and Earth to combat the sinister forces of Prince Zuko, the Fire Lord (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”).

Peltz had plenty of background on her character, the “waterbender” known as Katara, and she was able to give Rathbone some pointers on his role as Sokka.

“She filled me in on some things I didn’t know,” Rathbone said. He describes Sokka as “a young warrior who’s not exactly a tactical fighter. He goes in head-first to do whatever he can to take down the enemy, armed with his sharp wit. He becomes a rebel leader over the course of the film, as they’re pursued by the Fire Nation.”

Rathbone had originally auditioned for the role of Zuko. “It was just one of those things,” he said. “As soon as we went to the mix-and-match audition process and (the casting directors) read me and Nicola together, we fit together like brother and sister.”

They’ve now spent so much time together that Rathbone joked he’s “been adopted into the Peltz family.” “He has!” Peltz happily confirmed.

Peltz and Rathbone had plenty of opportunities to get acquainted during a monthlong “boot camp” in Philadelphia. “We did a lot of martial arts training in Philadelphia two years ago,” Peltz said. “We learned kung fu and tai chi.”

“We were with each other pretty much every day,” Rathbone said. “Until he went off to ‘Twilight,’ and I didn’t have a brother for three weeks,” Peltz griped in a teasing whine.

Peltz said the hardest part of “Airbender” was not the combat or working with the special effects. “The biggest challenge, I think, was leaving everybody after the last day (of filming),” she said. “It’s so upsetting, because you do become a family.”

Rathbone quickly agreed. “You’re hoping that a year or a year and a half later you’ll get to make more. At the end of the film, you really want more. And you’re hoping the rest of the world does, too.”

For reviews see Cole Smithey’s Movie Week at www.lansingcitypulse.com/movies