Ben Affleck says he would never have made Air without Michael Jordan’s blessing, but that blessing came with an important request. your name? Viola Davis.
Directed by Affleck, the film stars Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike employee who convinced Jordan to sign the contract that enabled the creation of the Air Jordan shoe line.
Introducing ‘Air’ at the South by Southwest world premiere, Affleck said, “I had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Jordan because I just didn’t want to do this movie without asking him, ‘What’s important to you?’ Interestingly and significantly, 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. Upon hearing from White, Affleck realized he had an opportunity to cast Chris Tucker, who he had long wanted to work with.
“I got the script and then had another chance to talk to Michael. Michael Jordan, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the most intimidating and awe-inspiring 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 that look on his face. It was a look of awe, reverence, love, gratitude and innocence. He said: ‘Without my mother none of this would have happened.’ I said, ‘Who would you like to play as a mother?’ He said, “Well, it has to 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. “It’s a tough business. It’s hard to know if you’re successful. It’s hard to know when you’ve accomplished something. But honestly to God, I’ve always felt that if one day I was a director and I had Viola Davis in a film, that would really be something. That would mean the world to me. And it does.”