Matt Damon on Finally Being Directed by Ben Affleck: ‘He’s Been Directing Me for Like 40-Something Years’

Nearly three decades after Ben Affleck and Matt Damon burst into Hollywood history with their Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting,” the long-time pals and collaborators are still finding new ways to work together. Next up: “Air,” in which the pair not only share the screen as Nike founder Phil Knight (Affleck) and his “basketball guru” marketing brain Sonny Vaccaro (Damon), but which marks the first time Damon has actually been directed by Affleck.

On Monday evening in New York City, the pair — hot off the film’s very well-received weekend premiere at SXSW — joined co-stars Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, and Matthew Maher for a special screening and post-showing chat, during which the duo were inevitably asked about this new wrinkle in their partnership.

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“Well, it might seem like the first time he’s directed me,” Damon said with a laugh. (Affleck lovingly broke in, “It’s not the first time I’ve carried him!”) “I mean, we did high school plays where he was like, ‘Dude, I think you should do it like this.’ He’s been directing me for like forty-something years.”

The film, out next month from Amazon Studios, follows Vaccaro’s attempts to sign rookie superstar Michael Jordan for a massive marketing and sponsorship deal that eventually saved Nike and reshaped sports endorsements forever. While Affleck plays a purposefully colorful spin on Knight, Damon is tasked with the heavy lifting, and he appears in nearly every scene as the visionary marketing exec, who became obsessed with the idea of signing Jordan when the possibility seemed quite remote for the ailing Nike brand.

“Honestly, it was kind of a natural progression,” Damon said. “We’ve written a bunch of movies and produced and acted together for so many years and decades, so it didn’t feel any different, working this way.”

Affleck added, “We’ve gotten that question a lot, I keep thinking, ‘Should it have felt different?’ Because it felt exactly the same. And what was really wonderful about it was, I love and trust Matt so much, and it was so lovely to be working together, it was kind of like a feeling of, I want the other actors to feel [this too]. Like, ‘Come on, it’s all good, I love actors, I love you, you’re going to be OK, everyone, take as much time as you want, do what you need to do and be respected, and to kind of project that energy.”

With a sprawling cast, including Davis, Tennon, Maher, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Chris Messina, and many more, Affleck’s intention to bring love and respect to the production seems to have paid off. The film has already earned some of the best reviews of his career, and when it arrives in theaters next month, seems poised to be a major spring hit.

Amazon Studios will release “Air” in theaters on Wednesday, April 5.

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