One of the most famous incidents of movie “what might have been” is Will Smith deciding to take the blue pill and turn down The Matrix for … Wild Wild West. A decision that Smith claims he does not regret.
It’s certainly hard to imagine anyone but Keanu Reeves playing Neo now, but Reeves wasn’t necessarily a sure thing at the time. Smith had the recent monster hits Independence Day and Men In Black, making him a hugely bankable star.
In an interview with Esquire, Reeves has thanked Smith for his contribution to his career. “Well, it changed my life. And, it was such a wonderful creative experience, and so to play Neo in The Matrix trilogy and now in the fourth… It impacted my life, personally and creatively. Thank you very much.”
Reeves was actually, tonally, a better fit for The Matrix at the time, coming off a run of more serious projects such as Speed, Johnny Mnemonic, Chain Reaction and The Devil’s Advocate. Whereas Smith was coming off the back of the hugely successful sci-fi-action movie Men in Black, which was much more comedic in nature. Reeves casting may have actually helped audiences take The Matrix more seriously at the time.
Reeves has of course gone on to star in The Matrix sequels, the fourth of which – Matrix Resurrections – will be released this December. His next release after that will be John Wick 4, maintaining his status as a martial arts-inspired action star.
After the um, adventure, that was Wild Wild West, Smith pivoted to prestige fare with roles in The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Ali (2001) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) – he was Oscar-nominated for the latter two of these. He also took serious sci-fi roles in I, Robot (2004) and I am Legend (2007). Smith looks set to be Oscar-nominated once again (in 2022), for his role as the father of Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard.
So – both Reeves and Smith have done well out of the pivotal decision that was the casting of Neo. If you’ve been wondering which Marvel characters Keanu could potentially play, wonder no more and check out our guide!