His great-grandfather was the chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, which later became Exxon, so his father’s job at Mobil Oil forced young Rathbone to move around quite a bit throughout his youth. He acted in local musical theatre in Midland, Texas, before attending Interlochen Arts Academy, a private school for the arts in Michigan, where he sharpened his acting skills. Following high school, Rathbone decided to test the waters and moved out to L.A. He was initially cast as an MC in “Disney 411,” a news show on the Disney channel where he interviewed starlets like Hilary Duff, and then landed a 2-episode arch on the popular teen TV drama “The O.C.” Rathbone struggled at first, only landing minor supporting roles in forgettable fare, like the straight-to-DVD directorial debut of Rob Schneider, “Big Stan.” Remember? The one about a real estate con artist trying to avoid prison rape? Didn’t think so.
And then there was “Twilight.” A still relatively unknown Rathbone was cast as Jasper Hale, a member of the Cullen vampire clan who can sense and manipulate the emotions of those around him. The first installment made immediate stars of Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and his human mate, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). While the sequel, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” transformed Bella’s six-pack sporting werewolf admirer Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), into a teen heartthrob. Now, it’s Rathbone’s time.
Merely decoration in the first two “Twilight” films, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” sees Jasper Hale’s character grow by leaps and bounds. The film delves into his background as a Confederate Civil War soldier and how he was seduced by an evil vampire named Maria and turned into a manipulator of young vampires, training them to start an army for Maria. In addition, Rathbone was cast in a starring role as Sokka, a warrior from the Southern Water Tribe, in M. Night Shyamalan’s epic “The Last Airbender.”
With two blockbuster franchises under his belt – included two more “Twilight” films – and rumored projects galore, Rathbone’s star is rising fast. MMM sat down with the young actor to chat about his two high-profile projects and impending stardom.
[Jackson comes in wearing a red tuxedo jacket with black lapels and white shirt]
JACKSON RATHBONE: I’m channeling Jack White today. And I cut my long hair off.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: How familiar were you with the universe of “The Last Airbender” prior to accepting the role?
RATHBONE: I was fairly familiar. I was a big fan of the “Cowboy Bebop” series for a long time. My friends actually kind of pulled me into the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” show and I found out through the wire that M. Night was going to be directing a live adaptation of it. I was clawing at my agent’s door saying, “You better get me into this, please!” I originally read for Prince Zuko and met with Night for that. And a year later he called me in for Sokka. It just felt right.
MMM: What sort of training did you have to do for the role?
RATHBONE: Kung-fu training started in January in Los Angeles. It’s funny because I’d go to train at the Paramount lot where all the amazing stuntmen and women were training as well. So I’d be kind of breaking a sweat and learning the basics while they were doing all this amazing choreography. We did boot camp in February and really studied Gong Li Quan, which is Power Fist Form – a really aggressive form of Kung Fu. I also studied wrestling and grappling because we wanted to make Sokka more of a head-first, go-for-it type of fighter as opposed to a tactical fighter.
MMM: How did your fight training in this differ from “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse?” Cause you play the resident fight expert in that film.
RATHBONE: It’s interesting because I went from “The Last Airbender” to “Eclipse,” so I had all the background training on “The Last Airbender” which really serviced me well. We were going through the motions so I was teaching all the other actors, “You don’t have to punch this close. Really, don’t punch this close.” Peter Facinelli [Dr. Carlisle Cullen] was really gung-ho about getting it real.
MMM: How cool is it to be in these two gigantic films opening within a few days from each other? It doesn’t suck to be you, does it?
RATHBONE: The vampire joke aside, you mean? [Laughs] You should be punished. Send him to the pun-itentiary. [Laughs] OK, that’s worse. I have a problem with puns. It’s true. It’s an addiction. I’m trying to keep it under control! But no, it’s definitely an interesting time. I’m blessed to be in one film that gets seen, let alone two back-to-back. I moved out to L.A. when I was 18 with my car and my guitar and just kind of really hit the pavement trying to find a job. I would pick up any job I could – catering, mostly. I used to busk on Venice Beach. I love art. I love getting a chance to make it, because, at the end of the day, it’s going to outlast me. And getting to be a part of these two franchises, something bigger than you, is great. I never, in a million years, thought I’d be a part of one franchise, let alone two. I always pictured I’d be a character actor in indie films my entire life and I’d barely make a living.
MMM: How psyched are you that “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is finally getting good reviews, compared to the other two?
RATHBONE: Really? Wow. I honestly don’t pay that much attention to the reviews. I try not to. I’m sorry, but we make movies for the moviegoers. The audience. The people who can watch a movie the way that I can’t watch a movie anymore; the people who can watch a movie and not think about the script, the camera angles, the lighting. That’s not who movies are made for. At the end of the day, I’m just excited people like the movies.
MMM: How did you feel that your character is really given a ton of back-story in this film? It’s probably the largest leap in character development of any character in the film.
RATHBONE: I’m definitely pleased. The way I see it, I do one job at a time and always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. But honestly, I’m not where I want to be in any means. I think the work of the artist is to constantly grow and to develop. I think maybe 15 years down the line I might be closer to where I want to be.
MMM: Aside from the allure of starring in a blockbuster and working with M. Night Shyamalan, what else attracted you to your role in “The Last Airbender?”
RATHBONE: I’ve got a 15-year-old sister and I’ve always been extremely protective of her. I’ve actually got two older sisters and I’ve always been extremely protective of them as well. My Dad taught me well. Whenever my older sisters would bring their boyfriends over – and I was about 12 years old – my Dad would be teaching me how to clean the shotguns. I’m honestly not kidding! I’d be sitting there with a shotgun on my lap cleaning it and my sister would walk in and go, “Dad! I can’t believe you’re doing that!”
MMM: Did it work?
RATHBONE: Oh, yeah it worked. Maybe too well! But I have a very close bond with my family and it’s very important to Sokka, especially with his mom being taken away by the Fire Nation and all he has left of his family is his little sister. And also he’s a young rebel. I was always a young rebel, except I didn’t have a cause.
MMM: If you had to have a power, what would it be?
RATHBONE: I’ve always loved the idea of the element of water. Bruce Lee talks a lot about it in “The Artist of Life” – what it means to live like that, and how something as simple as a stream can eventually cut away to the Grand Canyon. It’s a very powerful element. It comprises most of who we are as individuals, and comprises most of the world as we know it. But I can’t say. People ask what you would change about your life and about the world, but to me, it’s the way it is. There are ups and downs, there are travesties and there are miracles. It takes one to see the other.
MMM: What was it like working with M. Night Shyamalan?
RATHBONE: He gives you the scope of the entire film. He has a vision of what he wants from the get-go, and he works with you to achieve that vision. He’s a very collaborative director – from the actors to the DP’s, gaffers, set designers.
MMM: How did working with M. Night on “The Last Airbender” compare to working with David Slade on “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse?” Slade has really indie sensibilities with “Hard Candy,” while M. Night has always had a Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking mentality.
RATHBONE: It’s definitely interesting. With David, he was stepping into a franchise so there were certain bits and pieces in place that you can’t fool with too much. He was really great having meetings with us one-on-one to talk about how our characters fit in the world of “Eclipse,” as opposed to “Twilight” and “New Moon.” Night would do pretty much the same. We’d do one-on-one meetings, rehearsals and talk about how we’d best serve the story. The stories are so different. “Airbender” is more of a family-oriented action films with morals and an amazing spirituality and philosophy. “Twilight” has that romance. And like you said, [David] was fighting against a lot of preconceived notions about the franchise. I watch films from a hoping-to-be-a-director standpoint. I find them both fascinating. One of the things I love about David is that a he moves the camera like your eyes would move if you were there. And Night shows you a film. [Night] has an old-school sensibility like Stanley Kubrick, or Kurosawa. I might be pulling there, but I think that’s the people he’s looked up to and the people that I see in his work whenever I watch his films.
MMM: So I’ve gotta ask: what’s it like being a teen heartthrob?
RATHBONE: I don’t know. Honestly, I love making art at the end of the day. I never thought of myself as a leading man, let alone a heartthrob. I was a character actor my whole life. I always played characters parts – the off-kilter, weird guy. To be in that position… I don’t feel like that, personally. I just want to keep working and keep experimenting with different characters as different from one another as possible… It definitely makes me blush!
MMM: What do you have in the pipeline?
RATHBONE: I’ve got “Breaking Dawn,” of course, which will be split into two parts. I’m taking meetings to really figure out my next project. I really want to produce a movie and take it into production by next year.
MMM: What about this project “Truckstop” you’re attached to star in [along with Melissa Leo, “True Blood’s” Ryan Kwanten and “Winter’s Bone’s” Jennifer Lawrence]?JRO
RATHBONE: “Truckstop” is not set in stone yet, but I really hope it comes together. They’re looking for the last bit of funding!