Matt Damon Talks ‘Air’, Reuniting With Ben Affleck, Working With Viola Davis & More – SXSW 2023 Interview
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have reunited for another film! With the NBA Playoffs just around the corner and Jason Tatum’s new Tatum 1 ‘Zoo’ Nike shoe set to release, the timing couldn’t be better for Air to hit theaters. The film debuted at this year’s SXSW Festival’s closing film, and we were fortunate enough to attend the red carpet event and interview the cast about their contributions to the project.
Air is a riveting film that delves into the remarkable partnership between Michael Jordan and Nike’s basketball division, which transformed the sports industry and left an indelible mark on contemporary culture through the iconic Air Jordan brand. Directed by Affleck, acclaimed for his work on films like Argo and The Town, the movie offers a captivating narrative that is sure to captivate audiences.
Damon has had a remarkable career in the entertainment industry leading up to his involvement in Air. He rose to fame in the late 1990s with his breakthrough role in Good Will Hunting. Since then, he has appeared in numerous successful films, including the Bourne franchise, The Departed, and The Martian.
Although this film was directed by Affleck, Air is a noteworthy project from Artists Equity, the production company established by Affleck and Damon in the previous year, demonstrating their dedication to promoting exceptional storytelling in the entertainment industry. We had a chance to speak to Damon about reuniting with Affleck and bringing this movie to life and more.
Check out the interview with Matt Damon for Air below:
When I asked Damon why he and Affleck wanted to bring Air to life, he said, “The story was so interesting when we read the script. We were like, wow, this is really interesting. We didn’t remember it that way. We forgot that Nike was like the underdog and the third-place shoe company, and now it’s like they’re so dominant. And there’s such a part of the culture that it was interesting to go back and revisit what they were before this partnership with Jordan and before it all happened.”
Damon continued, “So we just thought it was an interesting story, and one that was worth making a movie about, and one that the audience would like. We figure if we really want to hear this, then hopefully an audience does too.”
I asked Damon a lighthearted question, inquiring why he didn’t wear a pair of Jordans on the carpet. He playfully responded, “You see these pants. I didn’t think sneakers were appropriate. I got some, though. They’ll be coming out on the press tour for sure.”
When I asked Damon about the process of assembling the cast, and he explained, “When Ben went and talked to MJ, what was really fascinating and came out of that was Howard White, who’s the character that Chris Tucker plays, George Raveling who Marlon Wayans plays, and his mother Deloris, and the pivotal role that she played. The regard in which he holds her really redefined the whole story for us, and that was the surprise of the whole thing.”
Damon elaborated on the process of securing Viola Davis for the role of Deloris Jordan and said, “Ben asked MJ, ‘Who would you have play your mother?’ Michael was like, ‘Viola Davis.’ And so, he called me and said, ‘Good news is we got great stuff from Michael and really good stuff to kind of rework the script with. But he goes, the bad news is, if we don’t get Viola Davis, we can’t make the movie.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, well, we got to try to get Viola Davis.’ So we sat down, we did a whole rewrite around that character, then just called and were like, ‘Will you come and help build this role? Will you come and help do this?'”
Damon then praised Davis and shared, “Great actors are usually also great writers. And she gave us so much. That’s her brilliance. She’s an American treasure for a reason. She’s incapable of striking a false note.”
Damon disclosed that Howard’s character was not originally part of the script, and he discussed how Chris Tucker contributed to the project. He said, “We didn’t have a Howard character in the script that we read. Chris was also a writer, we were like, ‘Come write with us. We have to build this and create this character.'”
He then highlighted the versatility and talent of the cast and said, “Ben’s obviously the director, but we really worked with a bunch of different filmmakers on this. Viola and Julius are A-List producers, right on top of being great actors. Chris Tucker’s a world-class writer and comedian, and Jason Bateman directed a bunch of those Ozark episodes he starred in. So, it’s like you’re assembling a dream team that can come and really know what they’re doing. They can jump between roles, jump between disciplines, and really help build a movie with you.”
To wrap up the interview, I asked Damon for any advice he had for aspiring actors trying to make it in the industry. He said, “You know, honestly, everybody told me not to do it. Everybody told Ben and I not to do it. Our parents told us not to do it. His parents told me not to do it, my parents told him not to do it. And so I think it’s the kind of thing if you really, really love it. If it’s something you can’t not do, then you should do it. And if it isn’t that for you, then you really should go do something else.”
Damon continued, speaking candidly about the industry and the hard work required to succeed, “It’s a tough road. If you just sit and watch red carpets at home thinking it’s gonna always work out, it doesn’t. It’s a grind for most of the people who get involved with it. We’ve been really lucky, but you have to love it whether you end up here or not. If it’s what you’re meant to do, then it’ll be a fulfilling life.”