Synopsis : From award-winning director Ben Affleck, AIR reveals the unbelievable game-changing partnership between a then-rookie Michael Jordan and Nike’s fledgling basketball division which revolutionized the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand. This moving story follows the career-defining gamble of an unconventional team with everything on the line, the uncompromising vision of a mother who knows the worth of her son’s immense talent, and the basketball phenom who would become the greatest of all time.
Genre: Drama, Sports
Original Language: English
Director: Ben Affleck
Producer: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, David Elison, Jesse Sisgold, Jon Weinbach, Madison Ainley, Jeff robinov, Peter guber, Jason Michael Berman
Writer: Alex Convery
Release Date (Theaters): Wide
- Distributor: Amazon Studios
Press Conference with Screenwriter Alex Convery and Stars Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Marlon Wayans, and Julius Tennon
Q: The greatest basketball player in the world says only you can play his mom. Viola, can you talk about that phone call?
Viola Davis: I didn’t get that call, but I got a trickle-down message. It’s nice to feel wanted but then, the next thought is, now I’ve got to step into the role. If you watch videos of Deloris Jordan, she’s a study in Zen neutrality. The woman is very, very steady and quiet. I would imagine that even when she gets mad, she’s probably very, very, very steady. To really envelop that spirit, everything was a challenge for me, because I’m the woman who always has a chip on the shoulder. I go in bombastic. So, it was both flattering, challenging, and just a joy to work with Matt and Ben and all these terrific actors. Julius [Tennon, the actor and her husband] and I still talk about it to this day. It’s one of my greatest experiences.
Q: Everybody comes and joins and makes this feel like a family affair. It comes from Matt, you and Ben, the way you guys went about assembling this group of folks who chose to do it — and then how you guys set about with the artists equity. Talk about all of those high priorities that you have for this film — honoring the sports, honoring the artists that you brought along to it, honoring Michael Jordan — and how you guys balanced that, as you were trying to tell this story and star in it?
Matt Damon: It all started with the script, really. That was down to Alex at the end of the table. It was just so great. I didn’t know the story and so it was kind of step by step, I’d say. The first step was getting the blessing of Michael Jordan before we got too excited. Ben said we should go see him. My kids were up to something in New York then and I couldn’t go, so Ben went to Florida to see Michael. Michael said, “It’s fine if you make the movie, it’s okay with me.” But Ben said, “Well, what I really would love to know is what’s most important to you.”
And it was out of that meeting that he said, “George Raveling and Howard White.” Then he started to talk about his mom. Ben called me afterwards and said, “You know, Michael’s a very intimidating guy. He’s an icon and all of these things. He has this meaning for all of us.” “But,” Ben said, “He had this look on his face when he spoke about his mom that I’d never seen before.” We felt like, “Okay, well, now we know what the movie is, right?” And he said, “The only bad news is, we have to get Viola Davis. If we don’t, we can’t make the movie.”
That was when we started thinking about how to expand Deloris. One of the great things about this cast is that everybody is really a filmmaker. These two sitting next to me are A-list producers. And Marlon and Chris, they’re writers as well as actors, and they’re filmmakers. Jason Bateman’s a director and producer. We really leaned on our actors as part of our process and that’s always been the way — from “Good Will Hunting” all the way to today. It’s like, “Lean into what your actors are bringing, and the actor is always in the moment.” We had these conversations with Viola. If it doesn’t feel right, what do you feel here? That’s always the way to the best scene.
Q: One of the subtle moments was when you walk into Jordan’s home, and Julius greets him and lets him walk back to where Miss Viola Davis sits him down and gives us his right. He just keeps working on the car, and at that time, this is the ‘80s. That’s maybe a noteworthy moment in 2022 or 2023. So talk about the subtleness of your character.
Julius Tennon: I wanted to bring both dignity and a levity to Mr. Jordan. Obviously, I’ve seen videos of him, I’ve seen him with his son. He’s a father proud of his son, a man that’s protective of his wife. That’s when I said that whole thing about the Lord — call me if you need me. Let her go do her thing because I know she could do her thing. I wanted her to know that I’m here. I’m just going to do what I normally do in the course of the day. He was a simple man, a blue collar guy and I just wanted to depict that.
Q: Viola, can you talk about the beauty of that masculinity, because that’s real masculinity and about the dynamic of a couple on screen and the ways it was for you guys to do together?
Viola Davis: Well, that’s our dynamic in real life. You know, he’s told me since we got together, “Now when you come home and it’s late at night, make sure you don’t get out of that car until the gates close. If someone’s following you, you lay on that horn, and I’m going to come up with my baseball bat. I laid on the horn once by accident at three o’clock in the morning, and I counted to five. Julius came out with the baseball bat, and I knew. I was like, that’s it. I’m going to marry him. That’s my dude.
Q: Marlon Wayans, It was such a great portrayal. What was crazy about your character, the man you’re portraying in real life, was that all there baked into the script? Did you go on a discovery journey of your own?
Marlon Wayans: I was the first one to shoot. I got the call on like, Friday, and we were filming it on Monday. YouTube was my friend, I got a crash course on YouTube and George Raveling. I learned a lot about him, he was a fantastic man. He was the first black coach to win a national championship and coached the Olympic team. And he’s from Jersey. So, there was a lot that I picked up. When I read the monologue and the fact that that was real, and he still has the “I Have a Dream” speech in his possession, I thought that he was an amazing character to play.
The more you research, the better you can do in terms of your performance. What I love when we went on set, Matt and Ben were like, “You’re not impersonating him. You can bring you to [the character].” For an actor, that’s always the best thing you can do — I can mix that person with my emotions. And the script was already written so beautifully, but we got to play. Then I could get out of my head and really have fun. When I left the set I just felt like I felt on the first day that this was going to be a magical movie.
Q: Alex, it’s such an audacious moment. This is your first feature big film and then to have it be directed and starring these folks, but it starts with you and the pen. Was this a story that you knew so much about already? Or did you have to then go on to discovery? Are you even an ‘80s baby?
Alex Convery: Oh my god, no I’m not. I’m a ‘90s Chicago kid. Which is where that connection between The Bulls and Michael Jordan comes from. I came to the story like everyone else — when I was locked up during those first couple of months of quarantine watching “The Last Dance” [the ESPN/Netflix sports doc mini-series]. And there’s a little five minute clip about Nike and how Air Jordan came together. I was at a point in my career where you’re trying to write a script that gets noticed — and you can explain the movie in one sentence, right? It’s a story of how Nike got Michael Jordan, it just has that ability, it goes to the top of the pile, and people will give it a bit more of a chance. But everything comes down to character.
The question was, who can be the protagonist and the engine of this movie and finding both Sonny and Dolores was really what elevated above just a movie about a shoe and Michael Jordan. It’s finding the human elements in a very big movie. I call them “big little movies” — the little being this is just a movie about a shoe deal, right? And it takes place over a week or so. It’s small in scope but the big part is when you say it’s about Nike and Michael Jordan. You could talk to 100 people on the street, and all of them are going to know who Michael Jordan is and what Nike is. To me, that’s what elevates it above just a movie about a shoe.
Q: Matt, what you did with your character Sonny… I did see you joking about the physical transformation that Ben put you through. So is it just like, “We’re going to make you look the way we’re going to make you look?” But more than that, what was great about what you did with him is that sort of uncompromising pig-headedness that you have to have when you want to achieve an impossible dream. That’s something that’s kind of hard to feel empathetic with sometimes, but you made him such a lovable character. Talk about how you just made like, again, he was that character, but he’s also just so rude to everyone.
Matt Damon: A lot of it was really there on the page with what Alex wrote. We were really trying to capture the spirit of these people at this time, more than anything, not exactly who said what, at exactly what moment. And all of these people on the Nike side, independent of one another, have talked about this time with such nostalgia, and that’s what we were trying to create, and remind people they were the underdog, which is such a weird way to think of Nike now. But before this kind of incredible deal, they really were, you know, these kind of renegades kind of outsiders. And so that was really what we were trying to get. The characters just had this kind of incredible, infectious energy I thought that was really kind of jumping off the page. The script was really quite something.
Q: The Blacklist is where you can send an unproduced script for folks to take a look at. Obviously, it got to you guys and Amazon and here we are. Miss Viola Davis, Ben Affleck said that directing you was one of those sort of impossible, aspirational dreams. Matt can [agree] with that. What was it like for you working with him because obviously actor-directors bring an entirely new dynamic. You had to almost undo your years of Juilliard to be less expressive, to allow yourself to be the character, have a human moment, but she’s just so focused.
Viola Davis: That’s who she is. Once again, Zen neutrality. That’s what I see with this woman. This incredible woman. I wonder if she plays poker. But you know what, here’s the thing with Ben — you trust him. There’s a lot of times you go on set and don’t trust anyone because, truth be known, there’s a lot of people in our profession who don’t know what they’re doing. I’m not saying that from a place of condescension or giving anyone shade. But you know, everyone sees the result of a movie or a career, but they don’t see the journey. And it’s the journey, a process, where you see the artistry.
The people who actually know what they’re doing, know how to piece it together, [to get] what they want and what they’re seeing in the camera. What’s not working is knowing how much and how little. I’ve had a 40-year career where I’ve trusted certain people, and they’ve done me wrong. You don’t always see it. You do need help, sometimes. But I trust him [Ben]. I trust what he saw, I trusted his process, his choices, even in actors, that they’re going to deliver. You know, and then you have to ultimately trust they chose you for a reason. That’s the one thing that training school beats out of you is a sense of confidence and mental health.
Q: Both you and Ben are really big into sports. The way you guys made the film so that it had to be part of the initial thing you wanted to do when you were producing it — to make it feel like a big crowd pleaser, even though it’s a smaller story.
Matt Damon: I’m bringing my kids to the premiere. It’s totally appropriate for them. It really is one of those kind of stories that comes along and you’re like, “Wow, this is really for everybody.” We used to call them feel-good movies, that’s really what it is. You should leave the theatre with a skip in your step.
Q: The reception down in Austin was just off the charts. What was that like?
Matt Damon: It was incredible. I knew we were in good shape. But when Viola walked on screen, and the crowd went crazy, I was like, “Oh, this is good. This is going to be good.” Yeah, it was really cool. I’ve been to so many film festivals, and that one just felt like everyone was so excited we were there and excited for the movie. There was just great energy in the room. I’ll never forget it.
Q: What was that like for you to experience?
Viola Davis: Awesome, you know, Julius is an Austinite, born and bred.
Julius: I didn’t see any of my family members there, but the reception was awesome. It was incredible. Electric.
Q: Marlon, you did this in just a weekend of studying for it. But the thing about it is the Martin Luther King aspect of it — was that part of it too? His activism and the other stuff that he did, was that part of your research? He was more than just a coach. He was an advocate for both athletes and professionals.
Marlon Wayons: He was an amazing dude with an amazing story. Actually, he was, at a young age, down there at that. Not that march, but at that rally. He had a long, long career at that. Just to be able to know you’re doing a movie. It’s such a small part, but like they say, “There’s no such thing as small roles, only small actors.” With this one, it was a small but pivotal role. You feel it when you look at the script and go, “I got to do this.” So many times you think about a scene, but then you look at the meat within the scene and the character that you’re portraying, and you look at the whole picture and just go “It’s something I have to do.” There is no way you don’t do something like that. An opportunity to play with all these legends — you just go and bring your best. I’m very, very proud to be a part of this picture.
Q: Matt, [people should] see this film because it’s very intriguing. It’s going to surprise them how funny it is. It’s going to surprise them for the important themes that it delves into. Maybe they’re not even going in for Michael Jordan or the sports. Or maybe, you know, they aren’t going for Viola Davis, or you and Ben. Would you say something about this film that will surprise them?
Matt Damon: Well, if you don’t like Viola and me, Michael Jordan, and Ben, you probably shouldn’t come. No, I’m joking, I really do think there’s something for everybody in this one. It’s not a strictly sports movie. I think, for sports aficionados, they’ll love the behind-the-scenes, behind the curtain type of stuff that’s in here. But it really surprised a lot of the people who weren’t expecting it… It sneaks up on you. You know that because of the role Viola plays, she kind of takes over the movie. I do think there will be something for everybody in this one. You just feel good.
Marlon Wayons: You just feel good as a human. We all have dreams and have something that we want to do. Everybody tells us we can’t do it. And just the fact that this man made it happen, you know, and look at the iconic thing that was spawned from that Michael Jordan signing with Nike, from this shoe to this brand to this thing that changed pop culture. And you know, in a huge way, I think it’s a very powerful movie. It started with something small, like a person with an idea and a gut feeling to make something happen. Every artist up here had an inspiration or gut feeling about what we wanted to do in this lifetime. And even with everybody telling us no, we make it happen every day.
Here’s the trailer of the film.