Film scholars have well documented the fact that Will Smith was offered the role of Neo in the original Matrix film. Of course, Keanu Reeves ultimately got the iconic role and played it beautifully. But journey back with me to 1999 and wonder about what could have been if Will Smith had starred in “The Matrix.”
Smith had just entered his golden era that had begun with great films like “Independence Day” and “Men in Black.” He could have been a great choice for the role but decided to star in “Wild Wild West,” a terrible flop. However, he wasn’t directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s only consideration. Their first choice was actually Johnny Depp. Fortunately, the studio preferred that they get Keanu Reeves for the role, claiming he was a bigger star.
According to an article by ScreenRant, many other stars turned down “The Matrix” to be in other films before Reeves got the part. The Wachowski’s offered Neo to Nicholas Cage. Brad Pitt, and Val Kilmer, but all three stars had other plans. Cage didn’t like shooting in Australia away from his family. Meanwhile, Pitt and Kilmer decided to instead take roles in “Fight Club” and “At First Sight” respectively.
Personally, I love Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix,” but Will Smith would have been good. It may be that he was a little too big of a star for the film. Instead of thinking of the movie as an action classic, we might have ended up considering it just one of the best Will Smith movies. This DeepFake video is doing a great job of convincing me though; Smith could have really added some much-needed humanity to the character who was supposed to save humans.