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How Elizabeth Yu Found Her Fire On ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender'

How Elizabeth Yu Found Her Fire On ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender'


People, Television,

How Elizabeth Yu Found Her Fire On ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender'

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People, Television,

How Elizabeth Yu Found Her Fire On ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender'

How Elizabeth Yu Found Her Fire On ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender'

People, Television,

How Elizabeth Yu Found Her Fire On ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender'

Published By:   •   February 22, 2024

How Elizabeth Yu Found Her Fire On ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender'

Published By:

February 22, 2024

People, Television,


Elizabeth Yu

Elizabeth Yu can’t wait for Avatar: The Last Airbender fans to see the new live-action adaptation of the series. She points out audiences will learn what goes down at the Fire Nation while its prince, Zuko, is away and working to capture the Avatar.

And offering more than just a better understanding of the crown prince’s home turf, audiences get to better see all that is his sister, Princess Azula.

“[In] the original cartoon, she kind of is this two-dimensional character where you love to hate her,” explains Yu about Azula, whom she plays in the new Netflix series, out Feb. 22. “What I appreciate about [our show] the most is that she’s a woman in power and we’re dispelling that quote-unquote ‘craziness’ that everybody describes her as.”

In both the beloved Nickelodeon animated series, which ran from 2005 to 2008, and the Netflix show, Avatar: The Last Airbender follows Aang, a 12-year-old Airbender and the long-lost Avatar who must master the four elements—earth, water, fire and air—and save the world from the Fire Nation. With his newfound water tribe friends Sokka and Katara by his side, Aang must also stay out of the clutches of Fire Nation Prince Zuko, who has been tasked by his father, Fire Lord Ozai, to capture the Avatar to restore his honor.

“I am a huge fan of the [animated] show and I have a lot of friends of mine who are huge fans of the show, and I know what they love about it and what I loved about it,” Yu reflects about the original series. “I think that those fan moments that we all love to see—the action-packed moments, the heartwarming moments, delving more into characters storylines—is really where our show shines.”

Netflix’s Avatar showcases Azula and her hard-earned fight to become a master of fire bending; acquire power in the Fire Nation and earn the respect of her father, the reigning fire lord. As the fire princess, Yu’s show preparation included a hefty amount of training for stunts, choreography and fight scenes. It was an entirely different experience from her performance in the critic-favorite Todd Haynes film May December, which hit Netflix at the end of 2023.

Just one of her handful of acting credits so far, Yu portrays Mary Atherton-Yoo, the teenage daughter of Julianne Moore’s Gracie and Charles Melton’s Joe. In the Netflix film, tensions rise and the Atherton-Yoo family unfurls when actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) embeds in their lives while researching for an upcoming role in a movie.

“I loved getting to play this normal teenage girl and getting to work with these insane artists,” Yu reflects about May December. “I think that there's a lot of work and a lot of beauty in getting to play a simple, very realistic, very human and grounded role.

Considering Azula, she adds, “There's something so fun and equally as beautiful and complicated as playing this very loud and caricature-like evil character… I learned so many different things from both of those projects. I'm so grateful to have been a part of them. Being on those two projects was like a crash course in being an actor because they're just two completely different sets, two completely different missions.”

Well-versed in working alongside acting powerhouses, Yu is also among a star-studded cast on Avatar. Her Fire Nation compatriots include Ken Leung as Commander Zhao, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Uncle Iroh and Daniel Dae Kim as her on-screen father. “He's such a pro and leader on set,” Yu says of Kim. “You look at him and you're like, ‘You live and breathe this industry. You get this stuff like the back of your hand,’ and it's so inspiring to be surrounded by someone like that.”

Filming for Avatar took place in Vancouver and kicked off in November 2021. Yu joined the shoot later in February 2022, which lasted until that June and involved a high-intensity training schedule.

For the most part, if she wasn’t on set, she was training. Her day-to-day schedule varied according to what type of scenes she had coming up in the shoot. Sometimes Yu just focused on strength training; other days it was memorizing choreography. “It was a lot of fun. That's something I've never done before. I'm not a person who moves a lot,” Yu laughs.

In action and spirit, she differs from Azula, making her Avatar experience all the more rewarding as both an artist and a young 20-something. Yu found it “insanely cathartic” to escape her usual apologetic and non-confrontational tendencies. Metamophosizing from a budding actress to a whipsmart, superbly confident fire princess who is a near untouchable master of her craft can do that to a person.

“[I try] to say please and thank you as many times I can in a day, so getting to play [Azula] and wear this armor and be in a throne room of a palace I live in, it was a lot of fun to get to step outside what I allow myself to do on a daily basis.”

Avatar: The Last Airbender is now streaming on Netflix.

See also: Rachel Zegler Wears Her Crown Well

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