Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock And Leo Were All Offered The Matrix Before Keanu And We Are Shook
Few news stories and events today are cause for us to stop and process a range of internal emotions before we inevitably carry on with our lives. Donald Trump used to have this effect on people, but his outbursts and abhorrent attempts to govern are so frequent, they barely cause a stir.
But the news following this sentence however, is so shocking and so outrageous that yes, consider today cancelled. Stop what you are doing, rustle up some supplies from your local confectionary store, and then go home and really consider what could have been a reality: the host of hollywood stars that were offered the role of Neo in The Matrix before Keanu Reeves.
It’s been well documented that Will Smith was once approached about playing the role of Neo, but when faced with the concept of Leo, Brad Pitt and even Sandra Bullock donning the sunnies and the leather jacket...we don’t know what to believe anymore.
The Matrix producer, Lorenzo di Bonaventura revealed to The Wrap last year that he underwent an exhaustive search to find his Neo, hampered by the fact that no-one really wanted to play him. “We went out to so many people I don’t remember. We were getting desperate. We went to Sandy Bullock and said, ‘We’ll change Neo to a girl.’”
Bonaventura adds, “[Producer] Joel Silver and I worked with Sandy on Demolition Man and she was and continues to be a very good friend to mine.”
The search for a leading actor was certainly one the studio struggled with. The film and its premise was so obscure and unique that actors struggled to get a hold on it, and consequently producers were left scrambling to cast actors. Di Bonaventura remembers the exhaustive search well, recalling that a major part of it was casting a big name actor that would satisfy Warner Bros.’ vision for the part.
“The first movie star who says yes is Brad Pitt, he’s doing Seven Years in Tibet and then he’s coming out of it and he’s like, ‘I’m way too exhausted to take this on, so he’s gone.”
Pitt has since confirmed this. Although the actor is notorious for never revealing the movie parts he turned down in his decades-long career, he did reveal in an interview that he was, in fact, offered the part of Neo. "I did pass on The Matrix. I took the red pill," he said in an interview accepting the Leonard Maltin Modern Master Award. "That’s the only one I’m naming ... I wasn’t offered two or three. Only the first one. Just to clarify that.
"I come from a place, maybe it’s my upbringing, if I didn’t get it, then it wasn’t mine. I really believe [the role] was never mine. It’s not mine. It was someone else’s and they go and make it. I really do believe in that. If we were doing a show on the great movies I’ve passed on, we would need two nights.”
The search then took them to Leonardo DiCaprio, who dropped out after initially saying “yes” because he didn’t want to take on “another visual effects movie” coming off of Titanic. After Smith, they landed on Sandra Bullock, who told Today in 2009 that she turned down an offer to work on the movie.
“It was pretty simple. We sent her the script to see if she was interested in it. And if she was interested in it we would try to make the change,” di Bonaventura said. “It just wasn’t something for her at the time. So really it didn’t go anywhere.”
The role of Neo then went to the one and only Keanu Reeves, legendary action star and all-round top bloke.
“I don’t think I would change anything. The bigger the star, the more likely the studio was to say yes. So we started with the very biggest [Fishburne; Weaving; Moss] and got to Keanu and he gave us the momentum,” recalls di Bonaventura.
Any why would you? It’s hard to see Neo acted by anyone other than Reeves now, given that he performed some of the most iconic action sequences in history, having spent a number of months training in the art of wire-fu.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since The Matrix was released in 1999, but in that time the film has endured, largely thanks to effects that see audiences continue to marvel as well as a plot line in which conspiracy theories flourish and individuals are defining for themselves what is and isn’t real which, to be frank, isn’t all that different from the despairs of today’s online culture. In fact, a new Matrix film is on the way, with both Reeves and Lana Wachowski returning to the franchise.
And while Bullock, Leo and Pitt are all phenomenal actors, proving her acting chops in their own Oscar-winning roles, we just happen to be loyal to Reeves – always.