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Why Azula from The Last Airbender looks so familiar

M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender may not have been the fantasy blockbuster for which anyone was hoping, but it's hard to argue with the fact that the film featured a pretty malevolent cast of villains.

The cinematic catastrophe that was The Last Airbender is old news at this point. The once-acclaimed The Sixth Sense director took a not-so-valiant crack at a live-action adaptation of a vaunted Nickelodeon animated series, and the results were ... not good. The plan at the outset of the project was to have Shyamalan direct a trilogy of features, each one adapting a single season of Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino's Avatar: The Last Airbender. Obviously, after the first film's disastrous reception, any and all plans to develop sequels were hastily turfed. The failure was so complete that Netflix is now gearing up to take another crack at bringing Avatar: The Last Airbender to life barely ten years after Shyamalan's effort crashed and burned.

One of the strengths of the source material is its wide cast of compelling villains with complex motivations. Aside from principal antagonist Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), The Last Airbender film featured another popular villain who wasn't introduced until later seasons of the original animation (except for that brief tag scene from the season 1 finale). Zuko's sister, Azula, was played in all her sociopathic glory by actress Summer Bishil, and there's a pretty good reason she looks so familiar.

The Last Airbender's Summer Bishil made several TV appearances before finding a show that fit

Summer Bishil has been involved in the entertainment industry since she was a young teen. She was born in Pasadena, California, just east of Los Angeles in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. According to IMDb, her parents moved her abroad when she was three, and she attended both British and American schools. She returned to California to attend high school in Pasadena, and started acting professionally that same year.

Bishil's fresh face and pedigree quickly earned her guest spots on daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives and popular Nickelodeon series Drake & Josh and Hannah Montana. By 2011, with the failure of The Last Airbender in the rearview mirror, Bishil did a four-episode arc as Leila on the CW's 90210 reboot, and landed the lead role of Samira Lakshmi on the 2013 series Lucky 7. Lucky 7 only lasted for one season, but its cancellation left Bishil open to land what has certainly become her most recognizable role.

While her performance as the evil Fire Nation princess in The Last Airbender didn't provide the kind of big break for which the young actress was likely looking, Bishil did eventually find enduring success on another television series featuring kids with magical powers.

Summer Bishil enrolls at Brakebills Academy on The Magicians

In 2015, Bishil landed a lead role on The Magicians, a SYFY series adaptation of a popular trilogy of fantasy novels by author Lev Grossman. The show quickly found an audience and ran for five years, concluding with the April 1, 2020 finale, "Fillory and Further."

For the uninitiated, you can think of the series as Harry Potter: The College Years. Grossman, himself, suggests he began building the world of The Magicians from the question, "What if Harry Potter took place at an American University?" Add in the TV-MA rating, and you have a pretty good idea what to expect from SYFY's long-lived take.

On the show, Bishil played the over-sexed, drug-seeking Margo Hanson, a loose translation of the character Janet from Grossman's source material. Hanson was BFFs with Hale Appleman's Eliot Waugh, another fan favorite. Both of their flamboyant performances fit their charismatic characters to a tee.

Although The Magicians has concluded its television run, the success of the series and the warm reception of Bishil's Margo should guarantee we'll be seeing more of her in the very near future.