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The Surprising Movie That Inspired Admiral Zhao In The Last Airbender

When it comes to memorable villains, "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is never in short supply throughout its three-season run. In addition to its central antagonist, the evil and prideful Fire Lord Ozai (Mark Hamill), the animated series also introduces some powerful and formidable supporting villains, like Princess Azula (Grey Griffin) and the treacherous Long Feng (Clancy Brown), for its team of heroes to face off against. 

Of course, it wouldn't be right to talk about the best "Last Airbender" villains without mentioning Admiral Zhao (Jason Isaacs). Introduced in the series' third installment, Zhao may only appear in a total of eight "Avatar" episodes (via IMDb), but he still manages to make his presence felt throughout most of the show's first season. Acting as the leader of the Fire Nation Navy, Zhao emerges as not only an antagonist to Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen) but also to Prince Zuko (Dante Basco). Indeed, Zhao plays a major role in the first season of "The Last Airbender," resorting to increasingly deranged and sadistic methods in order to capture the Avatar before his rival, Zuko. 

As fans of the series already know, Zhao ends up paying a major price for his arrogant and vicious actions. However, what "Avatar" fans may not realize is that Jason Isaacs, who voiced Zhao, also played the movie character who directly inspired the creation of the ambitious Fire Nation leader.

Jason Isaacs' Patriot villain inspired Avatar's Admiral Zhao

Before he voiced Admiral Zhao in "Avatar: The Last Airbender," Jason Isaacs had already made waves with several of his other TV and film performances, including his turn as Col. William Tavington in "The Patriot."

The character serves as the central villain of the 2000 period film, which follows the efforts of a colonial farmer (played by Mel Gibson) when he decides to lead a militia during the American Revolution. Tavington's actions in the film are not only what lead Gibson's Benjamin Martin to join the American war effort, but also pave the way for the two characters to engage in a violent and intense battle in the film's final act. Like many of Isaacs' most memorable screen villains, Tavington is arrogant, condescending, and merciless. As a result, it probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the "Patriot" character was one of the primary inspirations for Admiral Zhao in "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

In a 2007 interview with IGN, "Last Airbender" co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino revealed the role that Isaacs' Col. Tavington played in the creation of Admiral Zhao, saying, "When I was first writing dialogue for the character of Zhao, I was inspired by Jason Isaacs' chilling performance as the villain in 'The Patriot.'" The "Avatar" co-creator went on to say that Isaacs' "Patriot" villain was so present in his mind when he was creating Zhao that he told the show's casting director to try to bring in an actor like Isaacs for the role. "A few days later, she got the real deal instead," DiMartino playfully noted.