“Air” : Press Conference with Director/Star Ben Affleck and Stars Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, and Matthew Maher

“Air” : Press Conference with Director/Star Ben Affleck and Stars Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, and Matthew Maher

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.

  • Rating: R (Language)
  • 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
  • Runtime:
  • Distributor: Amazon Studios

Press Conference with Director/Star Ben Affleck and Stars Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, and Matthew Maher

Q: Chris, everything that you did with this character, from smoky to this man, was such a great performance. But this was a collaboration and when you came to this project, this was definitely something that both Ben, Matt, and everyone wanted to show what Howard [White] was in this incredible story.

Chris Tucker: It was so much fun. Ben told me right up front, it’s like making a movie with friends and having fun. I knew Howard White. I had all access to talking to him for hours and everybody he mentored like Charles Barkley. And people from his childhood, he played hopscotch, and he got me to talk to teachers and coaches.

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I thought it was just going to be a quick conversation when he said, “No, no, no, hold on, I got somebody else that you want to tell, I need to talk to them.” I really got a lot of information together to embody his spirit, his dialect and put it all together into his character. Everybody said he was like Confucius, just this nice guy, who thought about the world as a glass half full instead of half empty. I wanted the character to be positive. And just be a lot of fun.

Q: Jason, when Ben asked you to be a part of this, you were probably wrapping “Ozark” with a few Emmys under your belt for that one. When you were joining it, what was the attraction — the sports aspect of it? Or was it the early days with the script? Your character has one of those great scenes you wouldn’t mind [doing.] What else did you do in the movie to get a moment like that?

Jason Bateman: To be honest, the draw was really bad — it was Matt. The subject matter, while yes, it was a big deal for people my age, you know, when Jordan came into the league with the shoes and everything like that. I’m a big sports fan so that was a big draw. But it’s really the people that you work with that are a big draw for us. It’s 12 hours a day, and you spend more time on set than you do at home. So that was a big, big pull for me. I just love that. As far as that scene goes, there’s a lot of really great writing in this movie. And that scene is definitely one of them. They did all the tough work. I just got the lines right and sat on the right mark.

Q: Ben, this was another time where you and Matt are both directing and working on the screenplay. It’s everything. It’s your love of sports and of filmmaking. Then you’re also bringing your film family with Matt Damon along with it. You didn’t add just one aspect to this that made it complicated, it seemed like everything was right.

Ben Affleck: I can see how it would seem that way. But actually, it made it so much easier, because this is a group of people I either had known for a long, long time, or had an enormous amount of respect and regard for — Matthew Maher, Chris Messina, and obviously Matt Damon, and Jason Bateman. I’ve worked with them multiple times and know them well, adore and admire them. People who have been my life’s goal to work with, like Chris Tucker – and Chris can attest to the number of times I’ve harassed him. He passed me by the hotel lobby and I’m like, “Chris, Chris.

Chris, I want to do a movie with you.” Finally I think Jordan brought him around, or the Jordan subject matter, because he’s really being humble. He really came in and created this role.As I said, I need you as a collaborator, filmmaker, your voice, experience and perspective. This movie [would be] a massive failure if it’s just my voice, experience and perspective. What Chris, Howard, Viola and Marlon and Jason brought to it is all those things that are invaluable to telling a story. It’s actually like we were walking on air.

Q: Chris, your character, was that a daunting aspect to you, just that fact that you’re so separated from the story, but so essential to it as well from how you performed in it?

Chris Tucker: When Ben calls you up, you don’t even need to read the script. I’ve gotten to work with him now, three times, it’s always an amazing experience. I’m always surrounded by great artists in front of the camera, and behind the camera. When I read it, and loved it, I was like, “Oh, shit, these are a lot of phone calls.” But Ben did something that I’ve never done in my career, and I’ve done a lot of phone calls. Usually, you call the other actor, the phone disconnects, or a script supervisor does it with you. But Matt and I were down the hallway from each other. We each had three cameras on us. We’d go back and forth from room to room. We’d all get together and have a blast doing it. The script was amazing, but we could play, overlap and improvise. The hardest part of doing this job is going on to the next one, leaving these guys behind. The way he puts together a team of people is phenomenal and you get very spoiled.

Q: Ben, can you talk about that? Again, this does feel like a coach assembling a team. You did bring a lot of folks on to it. But the other aspect of that was so great — how much you spoke about the task of the Viola Davis of it all, and of getting the assignment from Michael Jordan.

Ben: I really didn’t understand the movie, as it turned out. So I went to speak to Michael, and I idolize the guy. Every now and again, I’ve had a chance to spend time with him and it’s been very memorable for me — though probably he’s forgotten. I had at least enough of it to say, “Hey, you know, can I come see you and just run this past you.” To be honest – from the point of view of having a lot of respect for him, his family, who he is  and what he means — the stupidest thing in the world would be to go make a movie that he’s not in, doesn’t appear in.

Nonetheless, it invokes his name and tells a part of his story that he was opposed to. So if he said, “Don’t do it,” I was not going to do it. Over our last conversation, I was very, very prepared for that to be the result. I had no reason to think that he would be open to it, particularly since it wasn’t “The Michael Jordan story” — which I think might be discomforting. However, I found out that he was very gracious. When I said, “Look, this is not historically accurate, in the sense that I can’t dot every I and cross every T, this is going to have to be something of a fable, a parable and inspiring story.

I’m going to take liberties in order to make it an hour and 30/40 minutes. I don’t want to violate anything that’s fundamentally important or true to you. So, please tell me what those things are. I promise you, there’ll be sacrosanct.” I think it was telling him that he wasn’t somebody who was like, “Well, we’ve got to talk about why I did this and I did that.” There are people who would take that approach. He wanted to make sure that other people who were meaningful were included in the story.

George Raveling was one of them, which was why Marlon is in the movie again. We brought Marlon in, and he helped me figure this out. I found out about the King’s speech story being true. He also said Howard White was integral to this. So, my first thought was, I’m going to maybe get Chris Tucker. Then, I said, “What was your dad like?” To be honest, I was going to have it be a story about Michael himself, saying, “This is what I’m worth, and this is what I deserve.”

He was  a person saying, “This is what I mean, and I’m going to ask for that.” I also thought his parents weren’t so much a part of the story, so I was trying to flesh that out. But he said, “My dad had the best, best personality in the world.” I think with Julius we got exactly that — the perfect person. Then he said, “I didn’t want to go to Portland, I would have signed my shoe rights away for life for a red Mercedes. My mom told me to go, and when I saw how he talked about his mother —  the regard and esteem which he had for her — he was a very intimidating and powerful man.

It’s sort of like being on Olympus, you’re around somebody who is as close to a deity as you’re going to find. Yet, there was this moment, where I saw awe, reverence, respect, adoration and love when he talked about his mother. It just shocked me. Shame on me for not assuming this was the case. When I heard it, I really realized right away, this is the story. It’s a beautiful story. It’s a story about Dolores Jordan, and what she means to Michael, and that she’s emblematic of what so many mothers must have meant to so many athletes, entertainers and people in this business, who are oftentimes very young, and thrust into a world of fame and money. That can be confusing, and we see people take different roads all the time.

It must require an enormous amount of guidance. So I thought, “Actually, this is brilliant. This is what the story is. This is beautiful.” And I said, “Who do you think should play your mom?” He said, “It has to be Viola Davis” That’s kind of like saying, “Can I get a basketball team together? Sure, it has to be Michael Jordan.” With that, I thought, this is very typical of who this guy is like — it has to be the very best.

So I knew that it was incumbent on us to create a role worthy of Viola. We tried to do that. I still think of her saying yes, which has been a lifelong career ambition of mine. I really thought I’d made it if I had Viola Davis in one of my movies. And she said “Yes.” I tried to believe it was me, but a lot of that had to do with maybe, “Michael Jordan wants her to play his mom!”

Q: How do you say no to when the GOAT is calling you? Another GOAT that gets to shine within this film is your character, Matthew. A lot of folks who are going into this are going to find such comfort in your character as he waxes philosophically about these things that we walk around in and talk about. How deeply do you have to dive into that world of sneaker knowledge? 

Matthew Maher: There wasn’t so much time to dive in. And weirdly, Peter Moore just passed away like a week before I was offered the movie. I definitely did dive in. I read a lot about him and watched a documentary where he was featured. What struck me was, looking at his designs and ideas, they were so amazing and ahead of their time. He’s just like a regular guy, and talking about, “yeah, it was too much red, and then we decided to just leave it that way.”

I mean, he was very direct, and I’ve got the biggest parallel with listening to pro athletes talk about what they do, which is like, “Well, we just kept at it” — even though they’re doing these amazing things. A genius doesn’t always express himself very well, especially when he’s talking about what his genius is. It was hard in a way. I just decided not to try and get into his genius mind, but play the character who’s written the script, a genius, but also at a crossroads in his life.

He’s going through a midlife crisis. He’s waiting to have something come along. I can get into where he really applied himself. What is really clear from the documentary, it captures really well, is that he’s a brilliant collaborator, and not precious about his ideas. The idea itself is bigger than he is. That’s what really drew me into the script. The scenes where they’re working together, really felt like authentic problem-solving.

I really appreciated the energy of those scenes. There’s a meta aspect too from working on this movie, where it’s the best minds just problem solving. The creativity and genius is just happening because everybody working on the movie is so good at what they do. It’s very engaging. For me, I just leaned into that in terms of thinking about my character and not trying to even touch imagining what it’d be like to create the things that he created.

Q: Those scenes when you guys are working on the problem are so incredible. It honestly recalled some of the stuff that Matt was doing with Ridley [Scott, the director] in “The Martian.” It’s just like this problem to the next problem to the next problem, and then hope. And it’s the team. It’s everybody coming together. It’s a story about the creation of the artist equity, and that’s a part of your production company. It’s always great when you see radical things that make this passion that we all have — it’s equitable for everyone. How did you and Matt set that up, the motivation behind it, and how it’s been working through this film?

Ben Affleck: The movie thematically paralleled the things we had missions for philosophically — which was me wanting to raise money to create a kind of a mini studio. In some ways, that’s what Nike wants to do, which was to change the rules a bit, change how the process was undergone, and ultimately, it fundamentally ended up changing the way compensation worked to afford more responsibility, and offer more rewards to the people.

I firmly believe the artists behind the camera make a massive difference in the quality, cost, and experience of your movie — and for the performers who are so meaningful and aren’t compensated appropriately. And also to try and eliminate waste and streamline the process so that the important things are kept. It was a function, both from my experience over the years, and from talking to other directors, going, “Why are we doing it this way? Why do we need that?”

It’s a very humble aspiration. We’re trying to change things a little bit, which is a very difficult thing, because we have a model that we’ve inherited in terms of how films are made from the ‘30s and ‘40s — all kinds of ways in which ownership and compensation are set up. I’ve heard the sort of speech that Sonny gives Dolores about, “That’s just not how it works.” I certainly don’t like it myself, the profound and significant way in which that deal not only changed Michael’s life, but had a ripple effect for hundreds of billions of dollars for athletes down the line. I don’t believe it is even an equitable relationship.

But it was a step in that direction. We’re trying to take a similar step. I think that’s how you get the best work, and I believe you spend more on gifted people and value them, as well as alternating multiple voices and collaboration. Hopefully, we can have a company that’s known for making original, interesting stories about people that generate empathy, and that we can supply films that people love.

Q: Chris, Ben has alluded to the fact that all of you had relationships or built relationships through the course of this. How did that play out on screen as you guys were doing this because it is different to work with somebody that you’ve been friends with for so long. But it’s also really rewarding. 

Ben Affleck: I’m not a friend, I’m more of a stalker.

Chris Tucker: Ben and Matt, they’re legends in their own right, man. When I heard they wanted to work with  me, that’s a good thing. He didn’t have to beg [me] too much. I wanted to work with these guys. I mean, I’ve never been on a set like, “mMn, these are big dogs, you know?

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” I’m ready to rock and roll. It was just a lot of fun. Ben and Matt made it so comfortable. One time he came to my trailer and we’re just like friends having fun. That’s all I have to say.

Ben Affleck: I feel like humor is the highest form of intelligence. Chris is one of the smartest, most interesting people you can meet, and to be able to find humor and joy in life is just a magic that I want to be around. A few times, I’ve made him laugh too.

Q: What was the best aspect of going down there to Austin and just receiving that reception from both the critics and fans? 

Chris Tucker: It was like a rock concert., I’d never experienced anything like it and don’t know if I ever will again. It was really, really fun. It seemed very genuine. I had seen the movie twice before with just a few people. This is a film that I’m so happy that it’s going to be in the movie theatre. It’s a film that’s inspiring, really funny and moving.

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And to feel that with an audience was tremendous.

Jason Bateman: I had a blast. You’re getting the results of me growing up in a household where I was taught to deflect everything. And so I’ll always err on the side of whatever that is. I saw the movie just me and my wife before and it was incredible to see it with an audience and what really sort of stands out when you see it with an audience is that underdog sense. It’s a combination of the underdog, and the shared experience we all had with Michael Jordan at that time. Then to come together in the same room and figure out and learn what was behind all that story. And to learn what became of this legend and the whole Air Jordan shoe stuff. That was a real eye opener for me and, I’m really glad it’s in the theaters.

Here’s the trailer of the film.
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