Ben Affleck says he never would have made “Air” without Michael Jordan’s blessing, but that blessing came with a big request. Her name? Viola Davis.
Directed by Affleck, the film stars Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike employee who convinced Jordan to sign the deal that allowed for the creation of the Air Jordan shoe line.
Introducing “Air” at the South by Southwest world premiere, Affleck said, “I had a chance to sit down with Michael Jordan, because I just didn’t want to make this movie without asking him, ‘What matters to you?'” Interesting and tellingly he had a few things that mattered.”
“One of them was to have Howard White 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, who he had wanted to work with for a long time.
“I got the script and then got the chance to talk to Michael again. Michael Jordan, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the most intimidating, imposing men you will ever see in your life,” Affleck said. “He told me about his 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 ever have happened without my mother.’ I said, ‘Who would you like to play your mother?’ He said, “Well, it must be Viola Davis.”
“It’s like saying, ‘Can I play basketball on your court?’ “Yes, if you get Michael Jordan.” “Viola Davis is the best actress I’ve ever seen,” Affleck continued. “This is a tough business. It’s hard to know if you’re successful. It’s hard to know if you’ve achieved anything. But honestly, I’ve always felt that if I was a director one day and I had Viola Davis in a movie, it would really be something. It 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 the audience got their first look at “Air.”