Ben Affleck recalls how Michael Jordan told him Viola Davis had to play his mom in 'Air'

·3 min read

For Ben Affleck, Viola Davis is the GOAT.

Affleck explained how Michael Jordan insisted Davis play his mother, Deloris, in “Air,” the upcoming movie about Nike’s attempt to land an endorsement deal with Jordan when he was a rookie.

“I got the script and had the chance again to talk to Michael,” Affleck said during the movie’s premiere March 18 at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.

“Michael Jordan is, for those of you who don’t know, the most intimidating, impressive man you’ll ever see in real life.”

Affleck, who directed "Air" and also stars as Nike co-founder Phil Knight, said Jordan spoke about his mother with “a look of reverence and awe and love and gratitude and innocence and he just said, ‘None of this would have ever happened without my mother doing everything.’”

Viola Davis in
Viola Davis in

As the two continued their conversation, Affleck broached the idea of casting the basketball legend’s mother.

“I said, ‘Who would you like to play your mom?’ And he said, ‘Well, it has to be Viola Davis,’” Affleck said.

“I said, ‘Do you know that’s like saying, 'Can I play basketball when you’re out on your court?’ And you say, ‘Yeah, if you get Michael Jordan.’”

Affleck had high praise for Davis, a four-time Academy Award nominee who won a best supporting actress Oscar for “Fences.”

“Viola Davis is the best actor I’ve ever seen,” he said, prompting a round of thunderous applause.

He then said it has always been a goal to work with Davis on a movie he directed.

“This is a hard business,” he said. “It’s hard to know if you’re successful. It’s hard to know if you’ve accomplished something. But honest to God, I always felt that if I was a director one day and I had Viola Davis in a movie, that would really be something. That would mean the world to me. And I got to say, it really does.

Matt Damon and Viola Davis in
Matt Damon and Viola Davis in

"This is the best night of my professional life, and I want to welcome the best actor in the world,” he continued, as he introduced Davis to the stage.

Davis has said she was intrigued by the idea of playing the woman who raised one of the world’s most recognizable athletes.

“Mothers are the most important figures in anybody’s life, so I was very flattered and deeply moved to be asked to play Michael’s mother,” Davis told The Hollywood Reporter.

“I know Michael Jordan but didn’t know that Deloris brokered this deal to get him a huge stake in the shoe and in turn, protected her son’s legacy. I wanted to know more about this woman who had the strength and courage to fight for her son’s worth.

“For Deloris to have this insight and progressive vision, to stand her ground in the negotiation room — which I know can be the hardest part of the job — makes her an incredible woman. That made me lean into this project.”

"Air," which also stars Matt Damon, Jason Bateman and Chris Tucker, opens April 5.

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