Keanu Reeves is thankful that Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix.
While promoting his fourth outing as Neo in The Matrix Resurrections, Reeves talked to Esquire about his career and the unique circumstances that led him to where he is today. During the course of the conversation, Reeves was asked how he feels about Will Smith turning down the lead in The Matrix before it was offered to him. Naturally, Reeves was thankful that he was able to be in the movie, which he said changed his life. “It was such a wonderful creative experience and so to play Neo in the trilogy and now in the fourth — it impacted my life personally and creatively,” he said. The actor then looked to the camera, seemingly to address Smith himself, saying, “Thank you very much.”
In 1998, the Wachowski siblings famously pitched The Matrix to Smith. At the time, Smith was one of the hottest young actors in Hollywood, with huge hits like Men in Black, Independence Day and Bad Boys under his belt. However, when it came time to listen to the Wachowski’s idea, the actor was left underwhelmed and passed on the project, opting instead to make Wild, Wild West. As fate would have it, The Matrix was one of the biggest movies of 1999, and Wild, Wild West came out to mixed reviews, and Smith considers it to be one of his worst movies ever. With Smith out, the part of Neo instead went to Reeves, elevating his career and setting him up for future successes like the John Wick franchise.
Smith isn’t the only actor to have passed up a chance to be in the Wachowski’s hit film. It was recently revealed that Madonna turned down a part in The Matrix, as well as roles in both Batman Returns and Showgirls. “That’s like one of the best movies ever made,” she said. “A teeny-tiny part of me regrets just that one moment in my life.”
Anticipation is high for the first installment in The Matrix series in over 18 years. Directed by Lana Wachowski, The Matrix Resurrections is set to hit theaters on Dec. 18 and stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henrick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Jada Pinkett Smith.