Ben Affleck Shows ‘Air’ For The First Time At SXSW – The Hollywood Reporter

Ben Affleck screens the world premiere of his new movie Air at the South by Southwest Film & TV Festival in Austin on Saturday and was quick to make it clear how much he wants his Amazon Studios project to succeed.

“Tonight is the most important night of my professional life,” Affleck declared from the stage, making some self-deprecating references to past projects that weren’t widely popular. “It’s an upbeat, hopeful film for the people. So I can’t hide behind being an author – [as if to say] “you don’t have to understand my movie.” I really hope you like it… So no pressure but it’s all up to you.’

Affleck directed and starred in it Air, a biographical drama chronicling Nike’s groundbreaking creation of the Air Jordan shoe line. Judging by the audience reaction at the premiere, Affleck needn’t have worried about his reception – the film and its scene-stealing cast received a standing ovation. Air stars Matt Damon as a Nike executive who signs Michael Jordan to his first sneaker deal. Affleck plays Nike CEO Phil Knight, and the film also stars Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker and Chris Messina.

Damon called his role — and reuniting with his “best friend” and longtime collaborator Affleck — “the greatest job I’ve ever had.”

“I showed up every day and had five to seven [script] pages to make opposite actors like that, it was ridiculous,” Damon said. “I’ve never had more fun. Ben and I – from the moment we read [Alex Convery’s] script to the last part we did in the edit room – it was just an absolute joy.”

Davis — whom Affleck called “the best actor I’ve ever seen” — talked about what it meant to her to play Jordan Deloris’ protective, business-savvy mother. “Deloris and my mother were born into a generation of people whose dreams were their children. This is the height of Jim Crow. This is the height of black people being told their dreams don’t matter. For her to have this big vision for her son so far, and to believe it with all her heart, is something of a miracle. It was an honor to play Deloris.”

Bateman seemed stunned by the audience’s reaction to the film, “I couldn’t believe the amount of screaming and yelling [during the screening],” he said. “What Ben and Matt have been able to do with this story … it’s an American business story and they’ve made a rock show out of it. They’ve somehow managed to enhance what Michael Jordan means to all of us — which it was already the zenith of greatness and excitement. I’ll never think of Michael Jordan or Air Jordans the same way again because of what Ben was able to do with this movie and create that feeling that we all just had.”

In a rather bold creative choice, Jordan himself is not directly featured in the film, which Affleck explained was an attempt to avoid the actor portraying himself as the larger-than-life living legend that audiences are already so familiar with. “There is no way I would ever ask the public to believe that someone else is Michael Jordan,” he said. “Which was in my own interest, frankly, because I knew it would destroy the film.” He also added, “It’s not a documentary. It’s not meant to be the absolute perfect story of who did what and what they said…all mistakes in the film are mine.”

Affleck said he showed the film to the real Phil Knight, “and halfway through I realized that could be a huge mistake,” given how the film somewhat satirizes the Nike co-founder. “But people like to make fun of the boss, it’s part of the workplace culture,” he said. “I’ve been known to appear in memes on occasion.”

However, he said he avoided contact with Nike and its executives during the film’s development and production. “I didn’t want to have any communication or contact or accept anything from Nike because I didn’t want to be accused of doing propaganda or advertising or changing something to get addicted to them.” Still, it’s hard to imagine that Nike are not thrilled with the extremely positive portrayal of the company in the film.

in The Hollywood ReporterAffleck’s current cover profile, the actor-director talks about the film and how he approached directing a film where corporate America intersects with black culture. “I wouldn’t make a movie whose central premise is the appropriation of black culture for profit by white Americans,” he said. “This is not my film to make. I’m telling a story that’s about a combination of things, and this is one aspect of it. I won’t miss it, because if I did, it would compound the disrespect even more. What I’m going to do is talk to people who understand it better than I do and who can help me contextualize it, and that was [costume designer] Charles [Antoinette Jones], it was Viola. Chris [Tucker], he gave me monologues, he gave me scenes and it was very organic. And so I said to myself, “I want Chris to be paid as a writer as well. I want to be very clear that he is a contributing voice to this film.”

Air will mark the first Amazon film released theatrically without a Prime Video simulcast. The film opens in theaters on April 5.

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