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Shyamalan cast floats on ‘Air’

'Slumdog' star Dev Patel joins Paramount film

“Slumdog Millionaire” star Dev Patel has joined the cast of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender,” the Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Films live-actioner based on a Nick TV series.

Patel will be featured alongside newcomer Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone and Jessica Jade Andres. Production begins in mid-March in Greenland.

In casting Patel and Ringer, a director accustomed to delivering plot twists to audiences got some surprises of his own. Ringer is a complete unknown who was tapped for the title role off an Internet audition. Patel, meanwhile, steps into a role that Jesse McCartney had all but locked up until the actor’s second career as a musician got in the way.

“Jesse had tour dates that conflicted with a boot camp I always hold on my films, and where the actors here have to train for martial arts,” Shyamalan said.

Patel was “already one of the guys I was interested in. Then I saw ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ and the kid just grew in my eyes,” he said.

Tyro thesp Ringer will play Aang, the film’s lead, who is the last of a race of people who can manipulate the elements of air.

Ringer, a 12-year-old from Texas, landed the part after demonstrating his martial arts skills in an Internet vid that he posted to a website Shyamalan set up for open virtual auditions.

Patel will play Zuko, a member of the Fire Nation. Peltz plays the Water Tribe rep Katara, while Andres is the Earth Kingdom’s representative, Suki.

While McCartney was knocked out by scheduling, Rathbone managed to work around a conflict with “New Moon,” where he will reprise his role as a bloodsucker from “Twilight.”

Paramount is set to release “Airbender on July 2, 2010.

Shyamalan said he is planning a three-picture story arc.

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