Ben Affleck, the renowned actor, and filmmaker, recently opened up about the challenges he faced in convincing basketball legend Michael Jordan to give his blessing for the biographical sports drama film ‘Air.’ In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, Affleck shared his concerns about approaching Jordan and the powerful moment that helped secure Jordan’s support for the film.
‘Air’ is an upcoming film directed by Ben Affleck, which tells the story of how Michael Jordan’s family and a group of Nike executives revolutionized the sneaker business. The movie is set to premiere at the South by Southwest film festival on March 18, followed by a wide theatrical release on April 5. The ensemble cast includes Viola Davis, Matt Damon, Chris Tucker, and Jason Bateman.
Speaking to Hollywood Reporter, Ben Affleck explained that he had a casual relationship with Michael Jordan through mutual friends and playing cards together. He mentioned that Jordan is a hero to him and highlighted the importance of getting the story right and treating it respectfully. Affleck then described how he approached Jordan to discuss the movie, emphasizing his commitment to not making the film if Jordan didn’t approve.
Ben Affleck said about Michael Jordan:
“I periodically play cards sometimes with Michael, and we’ve got mutual friends. 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*ck around with talking about Michael Jordan, do it respectfully.
Nobody’s asking you to do a hagiography, but get it f*cking 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 and met with him. I waited for him to finish playing. I don’t golf myself. Because I just feel like it eats people’s lives up.”
The actor shared how their conversation at the golf course led to important changes in the film’s script, focusing on Jordan’s family and his mother, played by Viola Davis. Affleck discussed the pressure he felt when Jordan suggested casting Viola Davis as his mother, especially considering the character had just one line in the script at that point. He explained how he eventually managed to secure Davis for the role, fulfilling Jordan’s vision for the film.
Recalling their conversation at the golf course, Affleck said:
“I look at golf like meth. They have better teeth, but it doesn’t seem like people ever come out of that. Once they start golfing, you just don’t ever see them again. So anyway, I waited. 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*cking 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*ck.’ 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. 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.
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. The discussion was over. However it happened, it wasn’t his problem, but it was going to f*cking happen. And I was like, ‘OK, Mike.'”
Reflecting on the dedication and passion that Ben Affleck brought to the making of ‘Air,’ his determination to honor Michael Jordan’s story resulted in a powerful and poignant film. With the movie set to premiere soon, audiences can look forward to witnessing this remarkable journey on the big screen.