Avatar: The Last Airbender Zuko’s Live-Action Vs. Animation Differences Explained by Dallas Liu (Exclusive)

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Avatar, The Last Airbender, Zuko, Dallas Liu

Avatar: The Last Airbender actor Dallas Liu explained how his live-action Prince Zuko differs from the original animated version of the character.

While many have praised the live-action Netflix adaptation of the show for its accuracy to the source material, especially on a visual level, that doesn't mean numerous changes weren't made.

Shifts include a different personality for King Bumi, Princess Azula’s inclusion in the Season 1 plot, Katara and Sokka’s journey to the Spirit World, and more.

[ Avatar: Moon Spirit's Live-Action Vs., Animation Key Difference Explained ]

Changes Between Prince Zuko Across Live-Action & Animation

Dallas Liu as Zuko in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender

In an exclusive interview with The Direct’s Russ Milheim, Avatar: The Last Airbender star Dallas Liu explained the differences between his Zuko and the original from the animated series.

The star admitted the difference is how “he’s a real-life person” in the live-action series while other changes “more so come from the writing:”

"One of the biggest things is, my Zuko is, he's a real-life person coming from an animated series… I did try, I think, to become a real-life version of what this character would be like; in terms of differences, it more so comes from the writing. In Season 1, you see Zuko be an asshole to his own uncle, the one that's looking out for him."

From his comment on Zuko’s treatment of Uncle Iroh, Liu admitted that he felt he couldn't do the same for this iteration:

"So, naturally, I can't do that. Because in those future episodes, you see the relationship that they have, right? While he is still like a spoiled brat, he does care for his uncle. And we see that growth in Zuko of realizing that in Omashu quite quickly and much faster than you would in the animated series."

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Iroh and Dallas Liu as Zuko in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender

"I’m going to be a dick to Paul [Sun-Hyung Lee]," the star admitted to thinking at the beginning of production, though that mentality quickly fell apart:

"But that's one change that, in the beginning, when I started shooting, I was like, 'Yeah, I'm going to be a dick to Paul [Sun-Hyung Lee] in this scene.' And then everyone reminded me, they're like, 'Hey, so, remember, he's the only one that's supporting you through all of this.' And 'm like, ‘Yeah, that's right.'"

Fans who have seen the animated series will know that at some point, there’s a massive fracture between Uncle Iron and Zuko which pushes them apart for a while.

While Liu shared that he and Lee "haven't discussed it," when the moment arrives, Liu "can only assume that it’ll feel real:"

“We haven't discussed it, but I can only assume that it'll feel real. All of my scenes in this series have been with Paul. So to not work with him in those scenes is hard because, for me, he feels like the backbone. That relationship is truly why I think the chemistry between the two of us is why those scenes feel so strong."

He described how his co-star was just as supportive "in real life and behind the scenes" as Uncle Iroh would be:

"And I'm thankful for Paul because he was so supportive when I was feeling stress and worry, in the same way, that I think Uncle Iroh would care for Zuko during those times. And so what was going on in real life and behind the scenes sort of played out on camera really well."

Dallas Liu as Zuko in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender

Adapting any kind of material to a different medium can be challenging, especially when the respective project has millions of dedicated fans.

Dallas Liu agreed with the sentiment, saying that you have to think about “How can you get the original fans excited, but also bring in new ones:”

"I completely agree. I love anime. And obviously, when I watch a good anime, I'm like, ‘Oh, yeah, we should adopt this because it's so cool. It's such a cool concept.’ And if we made it into live-action, maybe we can pull in a bigger audience to get involved in this world. But you think about it realistically... Because, in live-action, not only do you have to think about budget VFX and not making a one-for-one [or] line-for-line remake. How can you get the original fans excited but also bring in new ones?"

As for what Netflix’s Avatar changed, the actor pointed to how they handled a "combination of plots in Omashu" and that there "was a lot of room to explore" when it came to the Fire Nation’s plot:

"It's a tough balance because, in our show, we did the combination of plots in Omashu. We all knew that was going to be difficult, but I think, in many ways, how are you going to fit all three of those into eight episodes? Each one of those stories was a key point in the original series that was part of the journey… Luckily, for the Fire Nation, in the first season of the animated series, you don't get a whole lot of them. So, naturally, for us, there was a lot of room to explore."

As for whether he has any comfort episodes of the original series that he likes to watch, "Crossroads of Destiny" and "Zuko Alone" were two he pointed to while also giving credit to the entirety of Zuko’s storyline in Season 2:

"'Crossroads of Destiny' and 'Zuko Alone,' because it's my character. Zuko is literally my favorite character, man… That second season, growing up and seeing that internal conflict in his character was so crazy for me to see because I felt like, when you're a kid, you think that all these experiences that are happening in your life are only personal to you. But it's so universal for so many people that, when I saw that, I really connected. I was like, 'I'm going through this as a teenager, right?' Like, I want to be a good person... Just like little kid teenager things, wanting to be emo, right?"

When asked if he’s also watched The Legend of Korra, Liu confirmed he has and remembers "the bending just look[ing] so much better:"

"Yeah, although my memory of it is not that good. The bending just looked so much better in 'Korra.' And that was the whole reason I watched it, but I loved their additions of the lava bending."

Avatar: The Last Airbender is now streaming on Netflix.

Read more about Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender:

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- In This Article: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Release Date
February 22, 2024
Dallas Liu
Gordon Cormier
Ian Ousley
- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.