Actor Ian Ousley stars in Netflix’s highly anticipated series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was released on 22nd February. Besides acting, Ian is also an incredibly talented entrepreneur and started a clothing line ‘Kaló Soil’ that utilizes vintage items and repurposes them into unique, timeless pieces.

Ian, you’re starring in Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. The series is set in a war-torn world inspired by Asian and Indigenous American culture where certain people can bend one of the four classical elements – water, earth, fire or air. How exciting was it to land this role?
It was incredibly exciting to be a part of this beautiful world, especially with the original animated show being such a big part of my up bringing. The show really sparked that interest in martial arts for me when I was really young. It all ties in together because my martial arts experience helped me get hired for this role.

In the series, you portray Sokka, who takes his role as leader of the Southern Water Tribe seriously, even though he questions his skills. Tell us more about your character and his story in the series.
Sokka is a sardonic overprotective older brother to his sister Katara and provides a lot of the comedic relief for the main crew throughout the series. Sokka was such a rich character to dive into, especially in this live action adaptation, because I still got to infuse all of his comedic elements while learning how to bring them into a more realistic and grounded setting without losing the fun of it all. I also got to truly portray the humanness and reality of who Sokka is. He’s dealing with a lot of stuff with his father not being around and having to be the protector of his village with no real training as a 16-year-old kid is a lot to carry. He’s truly living off of meat, sarcasm and blind masculine bravery.

What can the fans of ‘Avatar’ expect from this live-action adaptation?
The fans can expect some new content from our show. We really wanted to feed these fans that have been starved for so long and are so passionate about the original IP while also having a reason for our show to exist. We didn’t want to do a shot for shot remake because that would’ve been entirely unnecessary. Everyone who is a part of the show was completely dedicated to breathing in that life and spark from the original animated series without glossing over the themes of what the cartoon brought up, but couldn’t dive into because it was a kids show on Nickelodeon. There are different kinds of stakes when you look at these characters going through loss and their struggle with responsibility with them being real human people. 

If you personally had to pick a tribe to be a part of, which one would you choose?
Water tribe, for sure.

How did your career as an actor begin? 
I was discovered through competing in Taekwondo tournaments and winning a state championship that was covered in my hometown College Station Texas’ local new paper ‘The Eagle’ when a Talent scout ‘Nikki Peterson Talent’ invited me to audition for their class. I ended up getting into the class and finding my first agent and manager through their showcase in Los Angeles, and started acting at the age of 14 professionally from there. 

Before acting, you trained in martial arts since a young age, competed nationally, won state championships and ranked among the top ten in the world for six out of eight events possible to compete in. What attracted you to train martial arts, and why did you decide to focus on acting instead?
I was limited to what kind of TV shows and movies I could watch as a kid, so those that I could watch meant a lot to me. One of those was ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. I also watched stuff like ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’, ‘Narnia’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’. 

After enough jumping around the house, acting like I could bend and hitting the couch with my lightsaber, my parents threw me in a Taekwondo class and I just fell in love with it. I started competing probably 6 months after starting classes and went on to compete for about 6 years. I eventually won my World Championship in Weapons in 2016. I still love martial arts, but that same year that I was going full force trying to win a World Championship was the same year I enrolled in the acting class in Texas and found my new love honestly. I was obsessed with it. Learning about emotions and diving into the complexities of why people are the way that they are was really interesting to me. I also got to be truly vulnerable in acting class, which wasn’t the most culturally normal thing in the small town in Texas I’m from, especially for men. I feel so lucky to be a part of this project for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the opportunity to marry two of the biggest parts of my life, acting and martial arts.

jacket BODE
pant BODE

You were also ranking number one in combat weapon sparing. What did winning the World Championship title in creative weapons mean to you?
That World Championship was probably the biggest moment of my life before booking this show honestly, so it meant a lot. My family sacrificed a lot to put me in the position to be able to compete at the level I was at. When I won, it felt like all that hard work paid off. I was often practicing for 1 – 3 hours a day at home and then going to class at night from 5:15 pm – 8:45 pm, so I was more relieved than anything to win and be able to close the competing chapter of my life for the time being. I love weapons and would say that is my specialty, specifically Bo Staff, so it was very meaningful.  

Besides acting, you are also an entrepreneur and started your own clothing line Kaló Soil with two of your friends, that utilizes vintage items and repurposes them into unique, timeless pieces. What inspired the creation of this clothing line and what is its mission?
My friends Ryan Sullivan and Hunter Baker have been in the clothing game for a long time and most recently opened a curated vintage store located in El Sereno, California. When the acting strike rolled around, I decided to partner with them to help launch a made in house line where we do everything from patterning to sewing in our store front. I’ve worked a lot with Hunter on the creative direction, conceptualizing and directing the vignettes for the first collection. We pair a lot of the things we make with vintage items that we love. 

For all three of us, Kaló really became a creative outlet to sharpen each other, find our individual tastes and combine them to make something new. The mission for Kaló is to keep it that way. We love what we’ve created so far and as I’ve taken a creative step back because of the press for the show release, I’ve still been able to work with them on creating outfits for events, including the ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ premiere. It’s a relationship that I’ll have with those guys forever.

The clothing line also uses cretaive fabrics like an old paint sheet from a film set. What inspires the designs and where do you usually get the ideas on what distinctive fabrics to use?
A lot of the choices for Kaló Soil are based on the concept of value of creation, being determined by the creator, and a way that we often express that is with the materials that we choose to use. A vintage shirt from the 70s that is thrashed and torn up might look like it belongs in a trash can to someone, but for us, we really appreciate the marks from life that can be visualized on a garment, so we value them highly. That is the story we’re trying to capture in everything that comes through the doors of Kaló Soil.

Besides ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, what projects do you have coming up in 2024?
I would really love to direct a short film I’ve written. I’m a very visual person and have loved the experience I’ve had with creative directing and shadowing the directors on ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. My goal is to debut my own film this year. 

I’d also really love to explore something intensely different on the acting side. A type of role that I’d really love to play is a villain of some sort or a slice of life coming of age role. Lastly, I’m excited to see where the fashion journey takes me. Hopefully some new limbs of that will be unveiled in 2024. 

photography NATALIE SOMEKH
photography assistant ZACK SCHLIEMAN
styling assistant ANASTASIA LARAE
editorial director & interview JANA LETONJA