Four years ago, Netflix announced that it would be moving ahead with a live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Now, the project feels more real than ever before. What started as a promise to fans has evolved into a cast list, a custom-built facility, and multiple open letters from behind-the-scenes creators. This is all to say, it’s really happening, people.
Avatar first premiered on Nickelodeon in 2005. Around the time when Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were dominating the box office, Nick wanted its own epic saga. This pressure combined with creators’ Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko imaginations gave birth to one of the most expansive and brilliantly human American cartoons ever created. Now it’s all coming full circle as Netflix plans to bring this saga to life. From its cast to its premiere date, here’s everything we currently know about the upcoming live-action Avatar adaptation.
What Will the Live-Action Avatar Be About?
Netflix’s upcoming adaptation won’t be a continuation of Nickelodeon’s breakout 2005 series. Instead, it will be a retelling of the original.
Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a war-torn universe where certain people (called benders) have control over one of the four elements: water, earth, fire, or air. Only the Avatar, a reincarnated bender, has the ability to master all elements and bring peace to the world. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years later, Aang the Avatar reemerges in an iceberg to a land now terrorized by the Fire Nation. Though his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone.
Are Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko Involved in the Live-Action Avatar?
Once upon a time, these Nicktoon creators were involved. In September of 2018, Netflix announced that it was moving forward with a “reimagined” live-action version of the 2005 series. During those beginning stages, Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s original creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were announced as the project’s executive producers and showrunners. That changed in 2020.
In an open letter to fans, DiMartino revealed that he and Konietzko were stepping away from the Netflix project. Why this departure happened is still not entirely clear, but it seems as though it came down to creative differences. The duo has called their time with the studio a “negative and unsupportive” environment. But though the fathers of Avatar have left this one, Netflix’s take on the series is in promising hands.
In August of 2021, Albert Kim, who has previously worked on series like Sleepy Hollow and Nikita, stepped into the role of showrunner. Kim revealed in a blog post that he was initially hesitant to take on the project. He ultimately accepted for three reasons: the VFX technology would let him bring this world to life, Netflix’s format would let him tell the story as an ongoing serialized narrative, and because the series is an opportunity to showcase “Asian and Indigenous characters as living, breathing people.” In addition to Kim, Dan Lin (The Lego Movie, It), Lindsey Liberatore (The Day After Tomorrow), Michael Goi (Glee, American Horror Story), and Roseanne Liang (My Wedding and Other Secrets) will be the series’ executive producers. Goi and Liang will also direct episodes.
Who’s in the Cast of the Live-Action Avatar?
Now it’s time to get to the good stuff, starting with our central benders (and Sokka). Gordon Cormier will star as out lovable Avatar himself, Aang. Prior to this series, Cormier appeared in CBS All Access’ The Stand as Joe, a silent boy who travels with Nadine. He also appeared in Lost in Space. Next up are Kiawentiio as the determined waterbender Katara and Ian Ousley as her goofball brother, Sokka. Kiawentiio has appeared in Beans, Anne with an E, and Rutherford Falls, and Ousley has starred in Physical, 13 Reasons Why, and Big Shot. That leaves our Zuko, Dallas Liu. Prior to Avatar, Liu has starred in Tekken and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
But wait, there’s more. Lost and Hawaii Five-0 star Daniel Dae Kim will star as Fire Lord Ozai, Prince Zuko’s power-hungry father and the show’s ultimate big bad. Speaking of Zuko’s complicated family, Kim’s Convenience and The Mandalorian’s Paul Sun-Hyung Lee will star as Uncle Iroh, Zuko’s loving, wise, and always funny voice of reason. Finally, Elizabeth Yu will play Princess Azula, Zuko’s sister who makes his lust for power look levelheaded and reasonable. Before the series, Yu starred in All My Love alongside Harry Shum Jr.
We also know who will play several other prominent characters. Kim Kay Siu (Anna and The King, Nightwatch) will star as Gyatso, an Air Nomad who was Aang’s father figure and best friend. Ken Leung (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Industry) will play Commander Zhao, a Fire Nation general who uses a chance encounter to negotiate with Prince Zuko. Casey Camp-Horinek (Reservation Dogs) will play Gran-Gran, Katara and Sokka’s wise and mysterious Southern Water Tribe grandmother. Maria Zhang (All I Ever Wanted, Continuum) will play Suki, the head of an elite group of all-female fighters known as the Kyoshi Warriors and an important ally to our main trio. Tamlyn Tomita (The Good Doctor, Cobra Kai) will play Yukari, a new character who is Suki’s mother. And finally, Yvonne Chapman (King Fu, Family Law) will play Avatar Kyoshi, one of Aang’s past lives. We’ll keep updating this list as we know more.
Is There a Trailer for the Live-Action Avatar?
Sadly, it’s too early for that. Once that changes, we’ll let you know.
When Will Netflix’s Live-Action Avatar Premiere?
That’s hard to say, especially because this show has had such a precarious road to development. As mentioned before, Netflix first announced the project in 2018 and started production in 2019. But filming didn’t officially start until November of 2021. At the moment, filming is supposed to last through May of this year, assuming that there will be no major delays. If the series keeps to that schedule, we could see it as early as the end of this year, or in early 2023.