Ben Affleck recounts real-life Michael Jordan’s influence on the upcoming Nike film Air. Directed by Affleck and written by Alex Convery, Air will follow the story of Nike shoe salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is his efforts to pursue future basketball star Jordan for a sponsorship. Affleck also stars in the movie, alongside Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, and Viola Davis in the role of Jordan’s mother Deloris Jordan.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Affleck provides a detailed account of Jordan’s involvement in Air. Having been in social circles with Jordan for years, Affleck was determined to get the story right, turning to the NBA legend for insight on how to best tell it, including who should play his mother, as Jordan indicated her key presence in his signing with Nike. See Affleck’s detailed story below:
I periodically play cards sometimes with Michael, and we’ve got mutual friends, and … None of it sounds good, OK? And it’s not like he’d be like, “Oh yeah, Ben’s my boy.” (Imitating Jordan’s voice.) He’d be like, “Yeah, I know him.” Jordan is — he’s a hero to me. And I know how important and meaningful a figure he is, in particular in the African American community. If you’re going to f—k around with talking about Michael Jordan, do it respectfully. Nobody’s asking you to do a hagiography, but get it f——ng right. I’ve never known anybody with that kind of charisma and power who walks into a room and it just reverberates. And is it him or is it the way people treat him? Is it your memories of him? I don’t know, but it’s powerful. I said, “Please, can I come out?” And he was great. “Yeah, no problem. Come to the golf course.” Went out, met with him. I waited for him to finish playing. I don’t golf myself. I have to be very clear, this is not the authorized Michael Jordan story. He was not compensated in a way that would be appropriate if this were that. If you’re going to do a Michael Jordan story, they should back the f——ng truck up. This was me saying, “Mike, I’m not going to make the movie if you’re not cool with something about it. I just won’t do it. I want to know what’s important to you.” He was very clear. He was the one who told me about [Nike executive] Howard White, who wasn’t in the original script, who’s played by Chris Tucker. And I said, “Any anecdotes about your dad?” And without going into any more detail, he actually talked about his mom, who wasn’t really in the script. That’s when I understood what the movie was. Talking to him about his mom was incredibly moving, and I realized, “Oh, this isn’t about Nike.” I said, “So, do you have any ideas about who would …?” And immediately I was like, “Oh, f—k.” Because I’m about to ask him who to cast. And if I don’t get them, it’s going to look to him like I ignored him. It’s actually hard to get actors. And I knew who he was going to say because it was the same person that I’ve wanted to direct for so long, who I think is … I don’t think there’s an objective best actor. But I do think there’s a group of people who you can say, “These are the best actors in the world.” And Viola’s quite obviously among them. And [Jordan] looked at me real straight and — by the way, there’s one line for the mother character in the movie at this point — and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, he wants me to offer this to Viola Davis. How am I going to offer Viola Davis a movie with one line? That’s not going to happen.” But he was like, “That’s my mom.” He was dead serious. “Viola Davis, that’s my mom.” And that was it. Discussion was over. However it happened, it wasn’t his problem, but it was going to f——ng happen. And I was like, “OK, Mike.”
Jordan’s Air Involvement Was Key (Even If He’s Not In It)
Even if it likely involved a script rewrite, Affleck was lucky to grab Davis for Air. Not only did casting Davis fall in line with Jordan’s desires, but the largely acclaimed actor has become more sought-after than ever following her recent status as an EGOT winner. The acronym is used to describe those who have garnered an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony win, with Davis finally achieving it with her Grammy win for narrating the audio book version of her autobiography, Finding Me.
With such major co-stars for Air as Damon, Bateman, and Affleck, Davis is not the only superstar talent behind the upcoming Nike movie biopic. With Deloris Jordan clearly receiving a much more prominent role than a one-line feature, Air will look different from how it was originally conceptualized. Michael Jordan’s discussion of mother Deloris was in fact what led Affleck to understand that “this isn’t about Nike,” but rather a more personal story.
That being said, Air’s plot is still ostensibly motivated by an impending shoe: Nike Air Jordan’s. The biopic will thus have to balance this driving the main plot intertwining with Jordan’s life. As Davis takes a more prominent role, it will be interesting to see how much screen time she actually gets in Air.
More: Matt Damon’s Best Movies, RankedSource: THR