“Air”: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s filmmaking jump shot
From the sound of it, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are in a good place these days. They’ve known each other for forty-something years, and now they’re working together again. To hear them describe it, they’ve never had a better time. “That was one of the things that we kind of wanted to do,” said Affleck, “the idea of, like, why aren’t we hanging out and spending more time together, since we managed to stay friends this whole time?”
“Plus, we hit our 50s,” said Damon. “I mean, you can see the end of the tunnel!”
Affleck said, “I find the most wonderful thing about it was I loved coming to work every day. I love seeing Matt. First of all, he’s a genius. Having him as the anchor of your movie just makes it so …”
“See?” laughed Damon. “Forty-something years it took you to …?”
“No, I didn’t used to think this!” Affleck laughed. “But it just makes it so easy. And it was just so much fun – I don’t know. It kinda felt like just us and getting to do the thing that we wanted to do. I did. I loved it. I loved it. I miss it every day since. It was the best, like, work experience of my life, without question.”
That experience is the movie “Air,” debuting in theatres only on April 5. It tells the story of Nike and how, back in 1984, they built an entire shoe brand around one NBA rookie player they thought would become a household name: Michael Jordan.
In the film, Affleck (who is also the film’s director) plays Nike founder Phil Knight; Damon is Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike exec who tries to sell him on the idea.
Vaccaro: “I mean, if you look at him, if you really look at Jordan like I did, you’re going to see exactly what I see.”
Knight: “Which is what?”
Vaccaro: “The most competitive guy I have ever seen. He is a f***ing killer.”
To watch a trailer for “Air” click on the video player below:
We now know it turned out to be a killer deal for everyone involved: the Jordan brand is still flying off the shelves, with sales of more than $5 billion last year alone.
The movie is not a biopic, but Affleck made sure everyone looked as close to real as possible, especially Damon, who mused, “My favorite thing about Ben is, he put me in a fat suit when I finally get to work with him.”
And according to Affleck, Michael Jordan himself had a few suggestions: “A number of things – I’m not sure that I’m at liberty to, like, share every single one. But what I will tell you is he said, ‘Viola Davis is gonna be my mother.'”
“Which is kinda like choosing Michael Jordan for your basketball team,” added Damon.
Davis was in fact cast as Michael’s mom, Deloris Jordan. Chris Tucker plays, and helped write, the part of someone he knows personally: Nike VP Howard White. Affleck said, “I called Chris Tucker, who I’ve always thought was a genius and wanted to work with. And he was like, ‘I know Howard White.’ I said, ‘You know Howard White?’ Turns out later Chris Tucker knows everybody!“
One person we see very little of is an actor who plays Jordan. When asked why, Affleck said, to him, the reason was obvious: “This is a movie about an icon, about somebody who’s so meaningful, that the minute, you know, I show you somebody and tell you, like, ‘Hey, that’s Michael Jordan,’ you just go, ‘No, it isn’t. I know what Michael Jordan is. I know what he is.’
“And not only that, the only actor who could play Michael Jordan was a little old to play this part, and we probably couldn’t afford him! But the idea was, like, if I show you someone, you know that’s not Michael Jordan, and now everything else is fake,” Affleck said.
So, the final result feels real. And as always, it was a team effort.
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon met as kids in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and clicked from the start, chasing the same Hollywood dream.
You might not have caught them in 1989’s “Field of Dreams,” as extras somewhere in the crowd at Boston’s Fenway Park. But you might’ve caught them in “Good Will Hunting,” for which they both won the Oscar for original screenplay. It launched them, ready or not, into the Hollywood stratosphere.
Smith asked, “What did it do to you guys, to win it that young?”
“I remember it didn’t settle in for, it was, like, a couple years, I think,” Damon replied. “It was completely surreal.”
“March of ’98, I was 25 years old,” Affleck said. “I look at myself now and think, ‘I still have quite a bit to learn.’ You know, that’s the curse of being 25, is you think you have it all figured out.”
It seems they have figured it out. Individually, they’ve earned everything from box office respect, to more Oscar gold.
Affleck said, “Frankly, one of the lessons of growing older is, it’s not all about money. It’s not the most important thing. You spend your life chasing money, you end up, might end up with a lot of money, but you’ll probably miss out on a lot of things. I haven’t found that money changed any, like, more happiness that I had. In fact, that’s the beautiful thing about this, is the happiness was being able to be here every day in Los Angeles with my children around, see them every day. Have them come visit the set. Work with my best friend my whole life. There’s nothing more that I want in my life. I thought, ‘Well, this is it. This is what I’ve always wanted,’ you know?
“And then I thought, ‘That might mean I’m about to die!'”
“I literally had the same thought,” Damon laughed.
And now, together Affleck and Damon have formed a new production company called Artists Equity, that’ll give people on the film crew a bigger slice of the financial pie.
Damon said, “That’s why it’s called Artists Equity. The idea is that we’re pulling a bunch of people above the line who traditionally aren’t. And they stand to do a lot better financially than they’ve ever done on movies before.”
“Air” is their company’s first offering, with more to come soon. “We’re just getting rolling on working again with Amazon, to do the story of a wrestler named Anthony Robles, who was born with one leg and won a National Championship for Arizona State,” Affleck said.
“And who’s starring in that movie?” asked Smith.
“I know where you’re going with this. But I’m gonna tell you who the lead actor is…”
“Is there another actor in that movie?”
“We always hire the very best performers,” Affleck said. “And in this case, I can say every single person that’s been cast so far I think is the very absolute best choice.”
“You’re dancing around that Jennifer Lopez is also in this movie?”
“Yes, I believe Jennifer Lopez may be doing that movie. Can’t make it look like she’s doing it as a favor to me, but actually she is.”
It seems fitting that Affleck and Damon’s new movie is a story about collaboration: that’s what got them here, and what keeps them going.
Affleck said, “What fun, what a joy to do something with her, see her be great, go to work with your wife, go to work with your best friend. Because ultimately, like, your work becomes the lion’s share of what defines your life, in terms of the time you spend. And if you don’t like who you’re working with, and if you have difficulty or trouble at work, I think it’s one of the things that can really cause depression, anxiety and pain for people. And conversely, [if] you love the people at work, you probably have a pretty good life, you know?”
For more info:
- “Air” opens in theaters April 5
Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Ed Givnish.