Ben Affleck says he never would have made “Air” without Michael Jordan’s blessing, but that blessing came with one important 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 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 wouldn’t make this movie without asking him, ‘What’s important to you? ‘ Interesting and telling, he had a few things that mattered.
“One of them was that Howard White had to be in the movie,” Affleck said, referring to brand vice president Jordan. When Affleck heard about White, he realized he had the chance to cast Chris Tucker, who he had wanted to work with for a long time.
“I got the script and then got another chance to talk to Michael. Michael Jordan, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the most intimidating, impressive 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 on his face. It was a look of reverence, awe, love, gratitude and innocence. He said, “This would never have happened without my mother.” I said, ‘Who would you like to play your mother?’ He said, “Well, it must be Viola Davis.”
“That’s like saying, ‘Can I play basketball on your court?’ “Yes, if you get Michael Jordan.” “Viola Davis is the best actor I’ve ever seen,” continued Affleck. “This is a tough business. It’s hard to know if you’re successful. It’s hard to know if you’ve accomplished anything. But to be fair to God, I’ve always felt that if I were 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.”