Close Casting Calls: This Is Why Will Smith Turned Down 'The Matrix'

By GQ Staff
17 February 2019
The Matrix, Will Smith
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He was riding a career high in the ‘90s, but Smith traded an iconic role for a box office disappointment.

He may have left fans fuming over his appearance in the latest Aladdin trailer, but to go back to the ‘90s was to witness a time in which Will Smith’s face was pervasive. On television screens, in cinemas, in advertising and across the music industry – Smith was a growing force during the late 1990s and riding a career high.

It all followed a successful collaboration with Michael Bay with Bad Boys and Smith’s show-stealing performance in Independence Day.

As his popularity grew with hits such as Men In Black, so did the abundance of potential roles made available to Hollywood’s biggest star. Considered a commercial drawcard, every director wanted to work with Smith and the Wachowski brothers were no different.

At the height of his popularity, Smith was offered the starring role in the brothers’ sci-fi flick, The Matrix. Given its huge success, it’s easy to think of the franchise as one you’d jump at to star in, but Smith famously turned down the opportunity to play Neo, and instead opted to star in his Men In Black-director’s action-comedy, Wild Wild West.

And, of course, Wild Wild West ended up disappointing at the box office, while The Matrix went on to gross over $463 million.


In a video uploaded to his official YouTube account, Smith explains the hilarious interaction that led to regrettably turning down the role of Neo, claiming he was confused by the pitch. “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 explained.

Smith acknowledged that the Wachowski’s are “geniuses,” but there’s a “fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced in the meeting.”

And what did Smith experience?

“So, dude, we’re thinking like, imagine you’re in a fight and then you, like, jump. Imagine if you could stop jumping in the middle of the jump. But then, people could see around you…”

But despite turning it down, Smith said it was for the greater good of the film as Reeves and Laurence Fishburne nailed their roles. “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,” he concluded.

The Wachowski’s sci-fi flick is now cemented in film history as one of the greatest, with Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of Neo one of the more iconic characters in the canon of cinema. With Reeves becoming synonymous with the performance, it’s hard to imagine anyone pulling off a “whoa” quite like him, and yet we can’t help but wonder what The Matrix would have looked like with Will Smith leading the role.

Via GQ Australia

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