Forget about the Kardasians when it comes to people asking you to name a more iconic duo, because Keanu Reeves and The Matrix easily trumps a family of socialites any day of the week. It’s hard to imagine the Wachowski siblings directing the landmark cyberpunk film without Keanu Reeves as Thomas A. Anderson AKA Neo, as the actor brought a level of coolness and charm to the production that no other actor in Hollywood could match.
Here’s the fun part of this story: Keanu Reeves wasn’t the first choice for the role of Neo, as the search for The One led the Wachowskis down a rabbit hole of casting potential and almost had ‘em contract signings. While many an actor was offered the red pill, the majority of them took the blue pill and went back to sleep.
Johnny Depp may have been the first choice of the Wachowskis, but everyone else from Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and even Nicolas Cage were at one time up for the part. The most famous almost-casting in this list? Easily Will Smith, whose career was on fire at the time. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air made him a household name and he’d exploded into Hollywood stardom with a string of hit movies: Bad Boys, Independence Day and Men In Black.
Smith turned down the role, saying in later years that he just didn’t get the idea behind the film and an apprehension that he feared would result in him being responsible for the film tanking:
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.
The rest is history, but Smith’s decision to not star in The Matrix will always be one of the most fascinating what ifs in Hollywood history. There’s no telling how Smith would have played Neo (Would he have been a more jovial joker in comparison to Reeves who walked a thin line between man and machine?), but thanks to the creepy nature of deepfake technology we can see what he would have looked like in the film. Hold onto your butt Dorothy, because Kansas is about to go bye-bye:
Whoa. Will Smith would instead go on to star in Wild Wild West, a film which I’ll confess is a guilty pleasure of mine so that should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of that movie. Wicky-wicky-wild-wild-west yo.
Last Updated: September 6, 2019