Jeanne Sager | Democrat
ISAAC JIN SOLSTEIN of Bethel has landed a role in irector M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender,” currently filming for release in 2010.
Bethel native has caught the acting bug
By Jeanne Sager
BETHEL Rabid fans of an anime cartoon the world over were salivating last month over a picture on the Internet.
The kid in the photo? None other than Bethel native Isaac Jin Solstein, the 10-year-old son of Eric Solstein and Hee Jeon Choi.
These days, he’s better known to fans of the cult hit Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” as “Earthbending Boy.”
One of the stars of “Les Miserables,” currently showing at the Forestburgh Playhouse, Solstein got his first major acting break this past school year with casting in the M. Night Shyamalan recreation of the show. Expected to be the summer blockbuster of 2010, “The Last Airbender” will hit theaters next July.
But with a following around the world for the Peabody Award-winning show, any news about the film adaptation has been grabbed and regurgitated at rapid pace by its fans. And that includes the casting of Solstein, whose spot in the film became public knowledge in June.
Since then, folks have been spending hours in online chat rooms debating how similar the 10-year-old looks to the character “Earthbending Boy” he is meant to represent (a non-disclosure agreement means the Solstein family can’t reveal the character’s actual name) and watching YouTube videos of the boy in karate tournaments.
Solstein has studied karate since he was 4, starting with Tang Soo Do at Hong’s Karate School in Monticello and moving on to Soo Bahk Do, which he studies with Master Joe Poppo in Liberty these days.
Whether his martial arts background played a role in vaulting him onto the big screen in a movie based on a cartoon that was heavily influenced by martial arts, the Solsteins can’t say.
But something about Isaac Jin Solstein is turning heads.
With only two shows at the playhouse on his resume and a headshot that shows off his striking light brown eyes, the boy started getting calls from agents almost immediately after his father sent off 100 to a general list he’d found in a bookstore.
“Practically every agent we met wanted to sign him to an exclusive contract,” Eric said, shaking his head. “We’d never done this, so we didn’t know how rare that was. But they liked his look.”
Everyone likes Isaac’s looks, including little girls. His reaction is pure 10-year-old a shrug, a grimace. But it’s when he opens his mouth that you’re sure he can handle a significant role in a major motion picture.
Isaac Jin Solstein knows what he wants, and the 2008 US National Karate champion is accustomed to working to get it.
“I love having everybody looking at me and all the lights on me,” Solstein says without a hint of irony as he commands the attention of the room. “After I did the Prince Chulalongkorn role [which he reprised in the ‘King and I’ at Forestburgh last summer], I told my mom and dad I wanted to get more serious with acting.
“I know the last scene was really exciting for me. . . everybody’s on the floor, bowing to me, my dad’s dying behind me, and I’m giving this long speech,” Solstein said of the King and I performance. “Every single time I was on stage, I got a chill down my spine.”
When he made that decision, so did his family. Eric and Hee Jeon planned to make Bethel a part-time home. But as of last year, they’d been there five years. Isaac had spent several at the Homestead School in Glen Spey, and his brother Rafi did not know any place but Sullivan County.
But with Hee Jeon, a native of South Korea, missing the city and Isaac’s dreams, the family headed back to the city, making Bethel a weekend and summer retreat. They’re back every week for Isaac to practice with his master at the dojo, and they’re here all summer while Isaac plays Gavroche in “Les Miserables.”
“I don’t think without the work at Forestburgh, he would have done as well as he has,” his dad noted. “Forestburgh is like a boot camp for actors.”
It prepared Isaac well. On set in the Philadelphia area, where Shyamalan is famous for filming his movies, he found the other actors treated him as a young professional. They spoiled him but respected him, and he found his home among the stunt men and martial arts extras who recognized him as a fellow black belt.
Now that he’s had a taste of the acting bug, Isaac says he’s hooked.
“It’s fun to meet new people and fun to act as another person for a little while,” he noted.
He’s auditioning now for future roles with his parents’ support.
“We have rules in this house, and one of them is you have to taste everything,” Eric Solstein noted. “Another is you have to finish everything you start.”
And Isaac Jin Solstein is just getting started.