When Ben Affleck’s already critically beloved “Air” arrives in theaters next month, audiences will be treated to some serious star power on the big screen, with Affleck himself taking on the role of Nike founder Phil Knight, plus Matt Damon as marketing guru Sonny Vaccaro and Viola Davis and her real-life husband Julius Tennon as Michael Jordan’s parents Deloris and James.
Not present, however, is Jordan himself. While Affleck and Amazon Studios haven’t hidden the fact that “Air,” which chronicles Vaccaro’s attempts to sign a then-rookie Jordan to the floundering Nike label, barely includes the basketball superstar (actor Damian Young appears as Jordan, but is only ever shown from behind), Affleck’s actual reason for the artistic choice has been less discussed.
At a special screening of “Air” held on Monday evening in New York City, Affleck (who was joined for a post-screening Q&A by Damon, Davis, Tennon, and co-star Matthew Maher) opened up about the choice to not include young Jordan as a true character in the film.
“It was not Michael’s decision, I did not ever plan on it, because I never thought for a second— hey, Michael is so magnificent, so famous, the whole reason why he represents and means what he does in terms of greatness and excellence, is because he’s so, so enigmatic and majestic and identifiable immediately, by his carriage and demeanor and what we’ve seen him do physically,” Affleck said. “That the one sure way to ruin the movie and have the audience understand that the whole thing is a fraud is to point the camera at anybody that’s not Michael Jordan and say, ‘Hey, that’s Michael Jordan!'”
He continued with a laugh, “Because all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘This is the knockoff Michael Jordan!’ He’s too famous, and I like him being the guy above it. It’s how our relationship is with these icons and idols, they’re not in our living rooms, in our lives, they’re people who are in our fantasies.”
And, really, the only guy who could play Jordan? It was Jordan himself. “The only person who could play Michael Jordan, as I’ve said to him, is too old now to play Michael Jordan.”
Affleck previously told The Hollywood Reporter, about his meetings with Jordan and how the superstar’s insights into the story of “Air” helped shape it. “I have to be very clear, this is not the authorized Michael Jordan story,” Affleck told the outlet. “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.’
Affleck added, “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.’”
Amazon Studios will release “Air” in theaters on Wednesday, April 5.