Ben Affleck, Michael B. Jordan Talk Directing, Failures, Prepping For Roles



For much of their conversation, Ben Affleck and Michael B. Jordan seem mutually star-struck, even though they’ve known each other for 10 years. They first connected after “Argo,” Affleck’s third directorial effort, won best picture and Jordan’s career skyrocketed following his searing leading performance in Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station.”

Today, Affleck inundates Jordan with praise for his directorial debut, “Creed III,” the latest entry in the “Rocky” franchise, starring Jordan as the indomitable heavyweight champ Adonis Creed. Jordan, meanwhile, is eager to learn how Affleck directed his lifelong friend Matt Damon for the first time in “Air,” a film about how Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) convinces founder and CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) to build a shoe line around NBA rookie Michael Jordan — or, as Affleck puts it, “the other Michael Jordan.”

MICHAEL B. JORDAN: “Fruitvale Station” had premiered at Sundance, and I remember you and Matt [Damon] were basically like, “Mike, your life is getting ready to change.” From there, it was just like a big brother/little brother kind of relationship. That meant a lot, man.

BEN AFFLECK: It was so clear to me: This guy’s just going up, up, up, up, up, up, up, up. And be ready, because there’s a lot of things that come along that are difficult that nobody tells you. It’s a very lonely experience sometimes, and I was like, “Hey, man, if you want to talk to somebody who would give you honest feedback … I may not be right, [but] I always tell you the truth.” People don’t realize to go from a life where you feel like you’re just part of the crowd to being in front of the crowd …

JORDAN: It’s a transition, bro.

Dan Doperalski for Variety

AFFLECK: And you did it really well. You did the same thing with directing. What made you go, “I want to do this”?

JORDAN: Being on set with Ryan so much, somebody that looked like me, around the same age as me, seeing him handle a set, just the confidence that he had. I remember one day he was like, “Mike, you should start directing. Don’t wait for the right time. Trust me, you got it.” That planted the seed.

After “Creed II,” I was trying to figure out who was going to direct me in this movie. I know the character better than most. I know the franchise. I just kind of looked around and I was like, “I guess it’s me.”

AFFLECK: When you started, what part about it did you feel most comfortable with — like, “Hey, I’m actually all right at this”?

JORDAN: I was very confident with the fights. That part of the process I daydreamed about the most. I was a little more hesitant around the intimate, one-on-one scenes, and also my performance. Directing myself was something that I called you about, and I asked you, “What was that like? Who do I lean on to give me honest feedback?”

AFFLECK: I asked a bunch of actors who were directors, and the thing they all said in common was “Don’t shortchange your own coverage.”

JORDAN: I was just going to say that.

AFFLECK: “You’re going to want to be a hero and shoot everybody’s takes and then get one take yourself and move on. You’re going to regret it.” Warren Beatty, he’s like, “You didn’t start directing to fuck up your own performance.”

Dan Doperalski for Variety

JORDAN: When I’m looking at dailies, I’m like, “Man, I wish I would’ve spent a little bit more time on myself, just to get a couple more options.” But I did enjoy shooting the scenes that I wasn’t in.

AFFLECK: I know!

JORDAN: Oh, my God.

AFFLECK: It’s so much.

JORDAN: It was such a break from just the tornado.

AFFLECK: Because you get to watch it. I’m the same way.

What I found was it’s not about who do you lean on to tell you, “We got it.” It’s about taking that responsibility yourself and realizing, “I’m going to make those decisions about all these performances, including mine.” You did such a great job by the way. I felt so happy.

JORDAN: That makes me feel good, man. I got to ask you, man.

AFFLECK: Go ahead. I’m trying to avoid answering.

JORDAN: The relationship that you have with Matt, what was that like, directing him?

AFFLECK: It’s interesting. During the course of our friendship, we had written together, we had acted together — that’s very, very comfortable and easy. I realized that I’ve [directed] these movies, and he hasn’t seen that part of me. Before we were shooting, I was like, “Matt has worked with Spielberg, Scorsese, the Coen brothers.” So now in his mind, he’s going to kind of be holding me up against these other experiences.

JORDAN: I think as an actor we can sniff out the insecurity if [the directors] don’t have [confidence].

AFFLECK: I remember the cinematographer, Bob Richardson, came over to me after the third or fourth day. He was like, “I think Matt trusts you now.” I was like, “I think so too.” I felt a professional kind of respect there that actually meant a lot to me.

JORDAN: Love that, man. What made you want to make the transition [to directing]?

AFFLECK: It didn’t come out of success the way it did for you; it came out of failure, really. Things weren’t working. It’s like, “Well, if I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own merits.” I really had something to prove, the more I look back. I was at a point where I was like, “I don’t know if I’m better than anybody; I know I can work harder than anybody. I’ll just be here all day. I’ll just keep on going.” Some of that I had to let go of because, I’m like, “This is not healthy.”

JORDAN: To grind it out all the time? Yeah.

AFFLECK: Watching you [in “Creed III”], I was thinking, “People don’t understand the level of difficulty that you add to a job with that physique.” To sustain that, it’s so draining. You’re cranky, you’re depressed, you’re deprived.


AFFLECK: You held on to that through that movie. It must’ve made it twice as hard where you’re like, “Goddamn, I want a fucking burger.”

JORDAN: Doughnuts and burgers. The great thing Sylvester Stallone and Irwin Winkler created with the “Rocky” franchise was how you shoot the fights. We front-load it. When you’re going through preproduction, that’s really hell week, because you’re doing all the meetings, but you’re working out twice a day. The first two, three weeks is all the fights, so you get that out the way.

AFFLECK: So you’re not holding it through shooting.

JORDAN: Yeah. You end up doing the [training] montage last. Because you started to eat a little more regularly. So you look like you’re actually [just] starting to get in shape for what you shot in the beginning of the film.

AFFLECK: People don’t realize that more ripped is actually smaller. That’s why that leanness just sucks, because it’s the hardest thing to do.

JORDAN: It’s what you’re eating, and that directly affects your mood most of the time. The crew, they get to know along the process.

AFFLECK: They figure it out, yeah. They see you at lunch and they’re like, “OK, I see. He’s torturing himself making the movie.”

I was thinking about [“Air”] on the way over here, what I took away from it. I remember when we were going to do it, I met the other Michael Jordan.

JORDAN: The other guy?

AFFLECK: That’s kind of dope that there’s now two Michael Jordans.

JORDAN: I appreciate that. I’m on the Michael Mount Rushmore a little bit.

AFFLECK: I was like, “If you’re not down with it, this isn’t happening. Fuck it. I don’t need to do the movie.”

My friends, many of whom are African American, kind of let me know, “Hey, this is not just a basketball player. You’re not just making a movie about an athlete. You’re making a movie about an icon, a somebody who means something.”

I took that responsibility very seriously. But I think that’s an extra weight to carry. What you talked about: “I saw Ryan do it. Somebody who looks like me” — there are not nearly enough Black directors. You’re going to do something very few people have done and become that symbol for someone else who’s going to say, “I saw Michael Jordan direct a movie.” What does that add to you, to carry that weight?

JORDAN: It’s a reality. People aren’t really approaching me like, “Oh, you’re famous.” It’s like, “Oh, this role meant something to me. This project meant something to me.” Once you know that that’s a responsibility you have, you do approach your work with that extra added layer to it: “All right, how can I help influence the next generation? How can I be an example for them? How can I walk it and live it every day?”

AFFLECK: I think that’s beautiful. I find this job incredibly difficult, and I never once have to think about, “Who else am I bringing with me?” I see it with my wife. People see me, they go, “I like that movie. You’re an actor.” But when they approach her, it’s like, “You mean something. I haven’t seen somebody like me, or from where I’m from, doing what you do.” That’s not a part of my experience. It’s beautiful the way you convey it.

JORDAN: Thank you. I’m following very big footsteps, and I’m just trying to do my part. This is my part of the race that I got to run. But now it’s like, I want to have some fun too. I’m happy where I’m at, and I’m happy that I get a chance to even have these conversations with you because it’s always very insightful and reminds me of the things that are important.

AFFLECK: Trust me, this is all the refracted glory off you. I love your success and listening to you. I hope you live to be 1,000 years old.

JORDAN: I appreciate it. Maybe not 1,000. I’ll be cool with 200.

AFFLECK: The world needs you, man. You’re doing beautiful stuff.

JORDAN: Wait, I do have one more question. If me and you work together, who’s directing who?

AFFLECK: Oh, you would direct me. That’s easy. There’s a lot more good actors than there are great directors.

JORDAN: That means a lot. See, I was going to go the other way. I definitely want to be directed by you.

AFFLECK: We’ll make a swap deal.

JORDAN: Let’s figure it out, man!

AFFLECK: If I can afford you though. You’re getting more expensive all the time.

JORDAN: I’ll just take it out the back end. Don’t worry about it.


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