As we step into the live-action world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, y’all better keep up with actress Elizabeth Yu (she/her). Lizzy plays none other than firebending prodigy and princess Azula, and she’s not holding back on making her character’s complexities known. (Or any female characters, for that matter.)

Here, we discuss how she had no idea she was even auditioning for ATLA, the pressure of bringing a beloved animated series to life, and what she hopes for the future of the franchise.

What was your “pinch me” moment during this whole process?
It’s all been one big, “Oh my God, this is happening!” thing for the past two years. But, there was a moment during my last audition. I had memorized my lines and worked extra hard with my acting coach, and as soon as they opened the meeting, they said, “We’re not going to have you do the scenes or read today. We wanted to tell you that this is Avatar: The Last Airbender, you’re auditioning for Azula and you got the part.”

Prior to that moment, I was auditioning for three years straight and didn’t book anything. So this was my first major project, which was very overwhelming and magical. I immediately FaceTimed my mom and cried [laughing].

Wait, so you had no idea you were auditioning for Azula? How did that work?
It was so cool. When I got sent the audition, they sent me this completely fake storyline. However, it was still a description of a young, Asian woman who was conniving, manipulative, and smarter than whoever she was in the scene with. I’ve never auditioned for a part like that, so even then I was still freaking out.


Well, now that the show is out, how are you feeling about everything?
I’m chilling. I had my phone shut off the day the show dropped, then went on FaceTime with all my friends, and then did a deep dive of the reviews. Honestly, I’m just happy that people are watching it. The weirdest part about the show being out is having this little secret and finally letting people know about it, too. Like, there’s fan-fave scenes and episodes such as the cabbage merchant and “The Cave of Two Lovers” that people are commenting on, and I’m just as giddy watching those moments alongside them.

Speaking of fan-fave moments, the live-action had some small and big changes from the OG series. Is there a change you appreciated?
I mean, I wouldn’t have been in Season 1 if they didn’t make that change [laughing]. I think that’s probably the one that I was excited about people seeing and still am excited for people to see.

So true, and we need more complex female characters like Azula anyway. What was the preparation for her like, BTW?
It was so much fun. I love getting this kind of origin story for her, ya know? She’s not out in the world being this conniving, witty, and manipulative person we all know yet. Many people describe Azula in the original series as “crazy” and “evil,” and as a woman in power, we have to show why she’s driven to be what she becomes.

Is there another complicated fictional character that you would compare Azula to?
There was an on-set acting coach named Melee Hutton who talked about the Fire Nation being Shakespearean, and how the way they speak is completely different from every other character. So, we looked at Lady Macbeth for Azula, which made my inner theater kid’s heart very happy. Also, men and women go about villainy way differently, and have a completely different tool set at their disposal naturally. We see that a lot with Zuko and Azula, and were able to dive deeper on that by showing what Azula was experiencing while Zuko was away.

What is something from the original series that you hope to see in the future of your show?
In our Season 1, we got to meet a lot of characters and lay down the basis of the storyline. So for Season 2, we can really dive in and have all the fun. Personally, I hope we do “Appa’s Lost Days” and “Zuko Alone.” Those are a few of my favorite episodes. Oh! And “The Painted Lady” for Katara. That would be so much freakin’ fun.