Air, which made its theater debut in early April, will hit Prime Video on May 12.
The film was well-received by both fans and critics alike. Its creators Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and the cast exhausted themselves with an impressive, but grueling press run that paid off, delivering an impressive $20.2 million at the domestic box office on opening weekend, and a worldwide total of $80.8 million a month after its release. It may not have gotten back the $90 million budget Amazon Studios spent on it, but it surpassed expectations. The film was made for Prime Video, so the studio originally did not initially plan to turn a profit with a theatrical release.
In every interview, it was clear that Affleck, who directed the project and stars as Nike CEO Phil Knight, believed in the story they were telling and was intentional about every aspect of the film. With a script from writer Alex Convery that was inspired by the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance, Affleck set out to tell the story of the inception of the now iconic Air Jordan brand and sneaker. Air is by no means a biography about the NBA legend, but more so a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to close the most impactful deal in sneakers history.
Damon excels in the film as Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro, who along with Deloris Jordan, was the mastermind that brought Jordan’s first sneaker deal to life. Affleck has been open about his approach and how he never intended to make this story one that took away Jordan’s ability to tell his own. He tapped the basketball star for his input—which included making Viola Davis play his mother Deloris and adding key players like Howard White (Chris Tucker) who weren’t part of the original script. Affleck obliged to Jordan’s requests, and it all worked in his favor.
Regardless of Air’s critical and box office success, Affleck seems largely unaffected and unmoved by it all, except he refers to it as “the best experience professionally” of his life. Affleck tells Complex that no matter his accomplishments or accolades (which include two Oscars), he still feels like the phone could stop ringing at any moment.
“What I’ve discovered is that the idea that outside approbation or approval is going to fill the place in you that is anxious or wanting or feels like it has something to prove. It doesn’t actually do it, strangely enough,” the director says. “You have these moments that are supposed to create that feeling in you and I think one finds that it generally doesn’t. It’s not lasting, that the things that last in life are not the totems or trophies or ribbons.”
Now that Air is making its streaming debut, Complex caught up with Affleck for an introspective conversation about the film’s reception, his intentions behind making the Jordan-inspired flick, and why he still feels uncertain about his career after all these years.
Do you still feel like that the phone could stop ringing after winning Oscars? That’s still a feeling that you have now?
You know? Yes. What I’ve discovered is that the idea that outside approbation or approval is going to sort of fill the place in you that is anxious or wanting or feels like it has something to prove. It doesn’t actually do it, strangely enough. And so that you have these kind of moments that are supposed to create that feeling in you and you find, I think one finds, that it generally doesn’t. It’s not lasting, that the things that last in life are not the totems or trophies or ribbons.
It’s the feeling that there is some sort of permanence or something lasting in what it is that you’ve done and a confidence that you know how to do it. And really for me it’s like what kind of a life do you have? Can you create? My goal was just to be able to say I was a working actor, director, and writer. I did not have to have another job to support myself financially while I tried my hobby. And so, from that standpoint, it was really, really very satisfying. But yes, those things, that’s the great illusion as you think those other things are going to do it for you and they don’t.
There’s always a bigger dream to dream after you get there, there’s always something else you want to do, for sure.
Yeah, there is. And that’s also not the dream. It turns out your dream is about—whatever those moments are, they kind of represent accomplishment, but they don’t feel like it unless you, yourself, I think, feel esteemable. I think it’s common to have imposter syndrome; it’s a constant sort of pressure. What have you done for me lately? What did you do this year? It feels very fleeting. There’s no tenure, there’s no nothing.
It’s just a difficult thing. But what it asks of you is to come to terms with yourself and your life on your own terms honestly. And to be able to do that then you kind of stop needing the other stuff. I want to have the seeds of work, to have the opportunities to work. But I also feel there’s a nice thing to not feel desperate about it because paradoxically, that urge, that urgency, it can inhibit you from doing your best work.
Now you have the freedom to do the projects that you really believe in. Seeing you progress into being a director and hearing someone like Viola Davis say that she trusts you as a director. How does it feel to be in this space in your career, and to have these people tell you that you make them feel safe and that they trust you as a director of a film?
Well, I think the highest praise that I can feel genuinely proud of is from people who I respect, who I admire, and who I think are real masters. And my ambition as a director, one of the things that I kind of held onto to as I’ll really have made it, I’ll have done something, if I could have Viola Davis in a movie I directed. That represented a lifelong accomplishment for me and one that I wasn’t sure would ever happen, I feel the same about working with Robert Richardson as a cinematographer and some others.
But Viola was a kind of pinnacle represented to me, the best actor around. And I thought, “Well if that person were in my movie, that would mean that I was really a director.” And the fact that she did the movie and whether or not she did it because Michael Jordan wanted it or because I did, is immaterial [Laughs.] because ultimately she had a good time doing it and I think she’s wonderful. And so at the very least, I do take some pleasure in having not gotten in the way of Viola turning in a magnificent performance. And sometimes as a director, that actually is your job to know when to get out of the way.