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Dallas Liu & Elizabeth Yu

On Fire Nation siblings reborn: from animation to live-action


Talent: Elizabeth Yu @lizz.yu & Dallas Liu @dallas_liu

Photos: Haven Kim @thehavenkim

Fashion: Sky JT Naval @sky_is_dlimit

Grooming: Tammy Yi @tammyyi for Exclusive Artists using T3 Tools

Makeup: Tami El Sombati @tamielsombati

Hair: Alex Thao @alexthaohair

Photo Assist: Eugene Ham @bobloblawlawbomb

A familiar chime resonates, followed by the words, “water, earth, fire, air”—it's the unmistakable precursor to the iconic opening of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender. When the beloved animated series was released, my brother and I, like countless others, eagerly awaited each new episode, immersing ourselves in the epic saga week after week. We witnessed the characters grow up alongside us, and well into our adulthood, we've revisited the series time and time again. Now, with Netflix's highly anticipated live-action adaptation set to premiere on February 22nd, it's a chance to revisit the beloved characters and stories we've cherished for years, brought to life in a new format.

Sitting side by side, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu warmly greet me over Zoom the day after the premiere event in Los Angeles. With anticipation for the live-action adaptation reaching a fever pitch, Liu and Yu sit down with Timid to delve into their roles as the dynamic Fire Nation siblings, Zuko and Azula. Their excitement is palpable as they reflect on the journey of bringing these beloved characters to life and the profound impact the series has had on their lives and careers.

With my curiosity piqued, I inquire about their personal connections to the show. Without hesitation, Liu fondly discusses his childhood introduction to the series, recalling Zuko's training on the boat with Uncle Iroh as the moment he fell in love with the character. "The show has been a big inspiration to me, influencing my decision to pursue martial arts. So, it was a dream come true, getting to incorporate both acting and martial arts into a childhood series that I loved.”

Yu shares a different reflection and responds, “Avatar was my first introduction to this style of animation. So, it was really cool to see faces inspired by our own in an animated style and in a positive way.” Reflecting on their responses, it becomes clear that for both Liu and Yu, as well as countless fans, Avatar: The Last Airbender holds a special place in their hearts, serving as a source of inspiration and connection.

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The deep impact of the show has cultivated a dedicated fan base, and as members themselves, Liu and Yu were beyond excited to play Zuko and Azula. Their eyes light up as they recall key moments, such as joining the cast, and express their gratitude for being part of such an iconic series. "Every single cast member, writer, producer, director, and even our transportation and craft teams deeply loved the series," Yu says, emphasizing the collective passion driving the project. Liu expands on this sentiment, saying, “It’s special! The fans will really appreciate that there's a new level to the story, which is really interesting to watch.”

Amidst the excitement, the duo acknowledges the weight of fan expectations and the responsibility of honoring the beloved characters. “I grew up with a lot of friends whose whole personality is this show, because they love it so much. They grew up with it. So, you definitely don't want to mess it up. You want to do it right,” Yu shares. Liu nods in agreement, recognizing the monumental task of filling the shoes of beloved characters like Zuko, voiced by Dante Basco in the animated series. Despite the pressure, Liu and Yu remain committed to capturing the essence of their characters authentically. Liu describes their approach as taking a “grounded route in our performance, rather than trying to impersonate cartoon characters.”

While watching the show, it became increasingly apparent that while the characters' progression retained a comforting familiarity, there were also instances where the actors infused their own unique essence into their performances. Some moments paid homage to the original, but others showcased the actors' individual interpretations, breathing fresh life into the characters.

In the animated series, Zuko emerges as a dynamic and complex character, navigating his identity as Prince of the Fire Nation while grappling with his personal journey towards redemption and self-discovery. When portraying Zuko in the live-action adaptation, Liu aimed to convey the character's depth and inner turmoil. He explains, “I wanted to make this a real-life person that has experienced real-life trauma. Someone that people could relate to.”

One scene in particular that stood out to me while I was watching the show was when Zuko returned to his boat and was met with an unexpected welcome from his crew. In that scene, upon Zuko’s face, you could see his inner conflict come into play. Now, as I share with Liu that I got emotional during this scene, he, too, said that it was pretty emotional for him as well. Liu reflects, “In that scene, without dialogue, you can see how much it affects Zuko. You can feel it in your heart.”

For Yu, the slight retelling of Azula’s story in the adaptation provided her with the freedom to explore the nuances of her character. Azula, a formidable antagonist with a complex persona, embarks on her own journey of self-discovery. Yu explains, “I'm not even in the first season of the original series, so my whole character arc in the first season is new, which is cool to see because it adds so much more of a grounding point for the character later on.”


As Avatar: The Last Airbender unfolds, Azula’s complex relationship with her father, Lord Ozai, portrayed by Daniel Dae Kim, begins to unravel as she asserts her dominance in the Fire Nation. Yu’s portrayal delves deeper into Azula's psyche, offering viewers an enriched understanding of the character's evolution. Both Yu and Liu note the distinction between the original series, initially intended for a younger audience, and the live adaptation, which delves into the darker aspects of their characters' pasts and the realities of growing up in the Fire Nation. “We get to see the gravity of their situation,” Liu says. “Neither of our characters are truly evil. They experienced trauma that not everyone goes through.” This is especially true as you see both Zuko’s and Azula’s interaction with Lord Ozai.

A turning point arises when Azula confronts her father, showcasing her capability to follow in his footsteps. Yu describes how she prepared for that scene, saying, “As a fan of the show, I was living vicariously through all of it. We were waiting for that switch, when does she turn into Azula that we all know and love? What shifted inside of her. That scene shows that switch, and you also see what makes her different from Zuko.”

Throughout the first season, there are glimpses of the characters' motivations, shedding light on their intricate bond. Yu offers insight into their dynamic, stating, “They want the same thing at the end of the day, but the way they go about it is different because of who they are.” These motivations are evident, particularly in the characters' quest for their father’s approval and love. However, alongside this desire, there exists a palpable sibling rivalry. This dynamic even extends beyond the screen, as Liu jests about Yu, “She did a great job at being the conniving younger sibling, but as the series continues Azula is like, ‘Oh, this is my dumb older brother.’”

This banter continues as I pose a playful question to both of them, asking, “What type of bender would you consider each other as?” Their eyes met, and with a smile, Liu responds, “She wants me to say water, but when you’re talking about her ambition for Azula and their similarities, it’s fire. For example, her approach to Azula was eye opening because she really cared about the performances that we're giving rather than just stick to the original. I gained respect for her as an artist and it was super sick to see.” Yu laughs and chimes in, “I want to be a water bender so bad, but everyone keeps saying fire.”

For Liu, Yu chooses earth bending. “I feel like you’re an earth bender,” she says to an immediate response of “What makes you think I’m an earth bender?” Yu explains her reason, noting Liu's grounded approach to various aspects of life, coupled with his passion and perseverance, akin to the characteristics of an earth bender.

In the realm of storytelling, Avatar: The Last Airbender has captivated audiences around the world. Dedication permeates every aspect of the first season, from the committed production team to the powerful performances. Whether you're a longtime fan or new to the world of bending, the live adaptation offers a fresh perspective while staying true to the essence of the beloved series. "It is fanmade," Yu passionately declares when asked about the message she hopes viewers will glean from the first season.

Disclaimer: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Avatar: The Last Airbender premieres February 22, 2024 on Netflix.