Ben Affleck says he never would have made “Air” without Michael Jordan’s blessing, but that blessing came with one major request. Her name? Viola Davis.
Directed by Affleck, the movie stars Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike employee who convinced Jordan (Damian Young) to sign the deal that allowed for the creation of the Air Jordan shoe line. Affleck also stars as Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
Introducing “Air” at its South by Southwest world premiere, Affleck said, “I had a chance to sit down with Michael Jordan, because I just wasn’t going to make this movie without asking him, ‘What matters to you?’ Interestingly, and tellingly, he had a few things that mattered.”
“One of them was that Howard White needed to be in the movie,” Affleck said, referring to the vice president of the Jordan brand. Hearing about White made Affleck realize he had an opportunity to cast Chris Tucker, with whom he’d wanted to work for a long time.
“I got the script and then had the chance again to talk to Michael. Michael Jordan, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the most intimidating, impressive men you’ll ever see in your life,” Affleck said. “He told me about is father. And then he talked about his mother. It was the first time I saw this look cross his face. It was a look of reverence, of awe, of love, and gratitude, and innocence. He said, ‘None of this would have ever happened without my mother.’ I said, ‘Who would you like to play your mom?’ He said, ‘Well, it has to be Viola Davis.”
“That’s like saying, ‘Can I play basketball on your court?’ ‘Yeah, if you get Michael Jordan.’ “Viola Davis is the best actor I’ve ever seen,” Affleck continued. “This is a hard business. It’s hard to know if you’re successful. It’s hard to know if you’ve accomplished something. But honest to God, I always felt that if i was a director one day, and I had Viola Davis in a movie, that would really be something. That would mean the world to me. And it does.”
“This is the best night of my professional life, and I want to welcome the best actor in the world,” he concluded, bringing Davis onstage for a brief moment in the spotlight before audiences got their first look at “Air.”