At this point, none of us could imagine anyone portraying Neo in The Matrix besides the expertly-cast Keanu Reeves. However, Will Smith came close to playing the role, as it was offered to him before Reeves joined the cast. In a recently uploaded YouTube video, Smith opens up about his decision to pass on the role, which basically came down to an awkward pitch meeting from its filmmakers. To Smith's credit, he can now recognize that he made a mistake by not properly seeing the vision they had for the movie, though he can also agree that everything still worked out for the best.
Going to the start of the story, Will Smith explains how he had growing concerns about being typecast in science-fiction movies. He had already shot Independence Day when he was offered a lead role in Men in Black, which he initially turned down. It was only after Steven Spielberg convinced him to reconsider when Smith saw the movie's potential and accepted the part. Perhaps the sci-fi nature of The Matrix seemed unappealing for Smith after doing two alien invasion movies, but as the actor explains in his video, a bizarre pitch from the Wachowski Brothers certainly didn't help matters.
To help viewers explain what happened from his side, Will does his best to impersonate the Wachowskis. Flipping his baseball cap backwards and using an accent, Smith mimes the siblings telling him about the movie, making it sound much worse than it was meant to. Describing exactly what they told him about the scenes with time slowing down, Smith's point is to show how the pitch failed to paint an accurate picture of how the movie was going to be.
"They came in and they made a pitch for The Matrix, and as it turns out, they're geniuses. But there's a fine line in a pitch meeting between genius, and what I experienced in the meeting. So, this is the actual pitch that they made for The Matrix... 'Dude, we're thinking, like, imagine you're in a fight, and then you jump! Imagine if you could stop jumping in the middle of the jump. But then, people can see around you, 360, while you're jumping - while you're stop-jumping, right? And then, we're gonna invent these cameras, and then people can see the whole jump while you stop in the middle of the jump.'"
So, instead of doing The Matrix, Smith chose to star in Wild, Wild West instead. It's a move he admits he isn't proud of, recalling how he actually apologized to people who saw the movie and were less than impressed. Still, Smith says the ultimate casting choices for The Matrix were perfect with Keanu Reeves as Neo and Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus. According to the actor, Val Kilmer was also being eyed for the part of Morpheus, should Smith be cast as Neo. "I did y'all a favor," Smith jokes, suggesting how he would have only messed up the movie had he accepted the role. Indeed, it's almost impossible to imagine anyone else in those roles and seeing the movie reach the same levels of success.
Smith may have missed out on appearing in The Matrix, but his career still turned out alright. We will next see the Hollywood star in the upcoming live-action Aladdin remake as the Genie, taking over the role first made famous by Robin Williams. First look photos of Smith in character is leaving fans with mixed opinions, but the movie is still practically guaranteed to be a smash hit at the box office. You can watch Smith's YouTube video about turning down The Matrix below.