Ben Affleck says he wouldn’t have made “Air” without Michael Jordan’s blessing, but that blessing came with one major request. her name? Viola Davis.
The Affleck-directed film stars Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro, a Nike employee who convinces Jordan to sign a contract that allows him to create the Air Jordan shoe line. Affleck also plays Nike co-founder Bill Knight.
When Southwest introduced “Air” at its South by Southwest world premiere, Affleck said, “I had a chance to sit down with Michael Jordan because I asked him, ‘What’s important to you?’ I wasn’t going to make this film without asking him. There were some things that were important to him that were interesting and telling.
“Having Howard White in the movie was one of them,” Affleck said of Jordan Brand’s vice president. “When Affleck heard about White, he realized there was an opportunity to cast Chris Tucker, and he wanted to work with him for a long time.
“I got the script, and then I got the chance to talk to Michael again. Michael Jordan, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the most intimidating, impressive people you’ll ever meet in your life,” Affleck said. I saw this look for the first time. It was a look of respect and awe and love and gratitude and innocence. None of this would have happened without my mother.’ And I said, ‘Who do you want to play your mother?’ He said, ‘Well, it has to be Viola Davis.
“It’s like, ‘Can I play basketball on your court?’ ‘Yes, if we 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’ve succeeded. It’s hard to know if you’ve accomplished anything. But honest to God, if I’m a director one day and Viola Davis is in a movie, that’s really something.” I always felt it would. It meant the world to me. It does.”
“This is the best night of my career, and I want to welcome the best actor in the world,” he concluded, bringing Davis onstage for a brief moment before the audience got their first look at “Air.”