Will Smith reveals why he turned down the role of Neo in 'The Matrix'
One of the biggest what-ifs in modern cinema is: what if Will Smith had been in The Matrix?
Nowadays, Keanu Reeves is so closely associated with the part of Neo that it's hard to think of anyone else filling that long black duster. Despite other movies like Point Break, Speed, John Wick, and even Bill and Ted, The Matrix remains Reeves' most iconic gig.
Yet, did you know that before he landed it, Will Smith (still riding high on the success of Independence Day) was offered the part of Neo?
It's true, and not only that, but Will Smith turned it down. For years, Matrix fans have wondered why Smith declined the role, allowing Keanu to step into his shoes. Now, he's given us a little bit of context as to why he thought that the science-fiction action franchise wasn't for him.
In a recent video on his YouTube channel, Smith opened up about the decision and explained that it was at least somewhat racially-motivated, stating: "If I had done it because I'm black, then Morpheus wouldn't have been black cause they were looking at Val Kilmer. So, I probably would have messed The Matrix up. I would've ruined it. I did y'all a favour."
This isn't the first time Smith has opened up about that particular casting decision. Back in 2005, he told British tabloid newspaper The Sun: "I didn't get it when I read it. It's a hard movie to pitch. You know: 'Everybody lives inside a computer.' It was only when I saw it that I really got it."
He has also talked about the fact that he almost turned down the role of Agent J in Men in Black out of fears of extraterrestrial-themed typecasting. He only accepted the decision to star opposite Tommy Lee Jones after being convinced by Steven Spielberg.
In a recent Ask Me Anything thread on the social media forum Reddit, Reeves himself opened up about how he got the part of Neo, stating: "Um, I got a call from my agent, saying that these directors, the Wachowskis, wanted to meet, and they sent me the script, and the script was absolutely amazing."
He continued: "I went in to meet with them, and they showed me some artwork, of their vision, and an early version of 'bullet time,' and it was very exciting and inspiring, and we looked at each other, we ended up hanging out in a parking lot outside the offices just talking and riffing, and we basically just kinda shook hands - they told me they wanted me to train for four months prior to filming, and I got a big grin on my face and said: 'Yes.' That's how it happened."
You know Keanu, every time I watch The Matrix, I get the same grin on my face.