Viola Davis Ben Affleck
Main Image: Viola Davis as Michael Jordan's mother Deloris in Air. Photo credit: Amazon.

“Begging.” That’s how Ben Affleck describes his strategy of convincing Viola Davis to play Michael Jordan’s mother in Air, his new drama about Nike’s quest to sign Jordan and create the now-famous Air Jordan sneaker.

“I’m sure it was because I said, ‘Michael Jordan wants you to play his mom.’ It certainly wasn’t, ‘Ben Affleck wants you to be in his movie,'” Affleck told The Hollywood Reporter of why Davis ultimately said yes to the project.

“She’s not comfortable with sycophancy or obsequiousness. You can tell it chafes her. I just treated her with respect, which is to say, ‘When you’re ready, let me know. We’ll be here,'” he added.

He wouldn’t elaborate too much about her performance, though, in which she acts opposite her real-life husband, Julius Tennon, who plays Jordan’s father. Affleck plays Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his Artists Equity production company co-founder Matt Damon plays a Nike executive alongside Chris Tucker and Jason Bateman. The cast also includes Chris Messina, Matthew Maher, Barbara Sukowa, and Damian Delano Young as Jordan (though we only see him from the back or in profile).

“I want what she does in the movie to be a surprise,” Affleck said of Davis.

Also Read: AIR Trailer: Ben Affleck Nike Drama Promises the Ultimate ’80s Adventure (Video)

When Ben Affleck realized it had to be Viola Davis

Affleck’s journey to casting Davis began when he met Jordan himself at a golf course to ask his permission to make Air. Part of that involved asking Jordan who he would want to play his mom, Deloris Jordan. But as soon as Affleck opened his mouth to ask, he immediately feared that he wouldn’t be able to secure that person for the movie.

“He actually talked about his mom, who wasn’t really in the script. That’s when I understood what the movie was. Talking to him about his mom was incredibly moving, and I realized, ‘Oh, this isn’t about Nike,'” Affleck recalled.

“I said, ‘So, do you have any ideas about who would …?’ And immediately I was like, ‘Oh, fuck.’ Because I’m about to ask him who to cast. And if I don’t get them, it’s going to look to him like I ignored him. It’s actually hard to get actors. And I knew who he was going to say because it was the same person that I’ve wanted to direct for so long, who I think is … I don’t think there’s an objective best actor. But I do think there’s a group of people who you can say, ‘These are the best actors in the world.’ And Viola’s quite obviously among them.

“And [Jordan] looked at me real straight and — by the way, there’s one line for the mother character in the movie at this point — and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, he wants me to offer this to Viola Davis. How am I going to offer Viola Davis a movie with one line? That’s not going to happen.'”

But Jordan was only interested in Davis playing his mother — no one else would do.

“He was like, ‘That’s my mom.’ He was dead serious. ‘Viola Davis, that’s my mom.’ And that was it. Discussion was over. However it happened, it wasn’t his problem, but it was going to fucking happen. And I was like, ‘OK, Mike,'” Affleck remembered.

Lucky for him, Davis said yes. And she had a wonderful experience making the movie.

“Ben’s an auteur and so unbelievably kind and respectful,” Davis told THR. “It was one of our top experiences of being treated the way we felt we deserved to be treated.”

Air arrives in theaters on April 5 from Amazon Prime Video.

Main Image: Viola Davis as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris in Air. Photo credit: Amazon.