Before Keanu Reeves starred as Neo, one of his good friends and former costars was considered for the role

By Alexia Fernández
March 27, 2019 03:46 PM

Before Keanu Reeves starred as the iconic Neo in the 1999 film The Matrix, producers for the film considered an actress for the role.

Ahead of the film’s 20th anniversary on Sunday, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura told The Wrap Warner Bros. studio wanted a big name for the lead role of computer hacker Neo — and considered Sandra Bullock (Reeves’ 1994 Speed costar) for the part in what would have been a gender-flipped film.

“We went out to so many people I don’t remember. We were getting desperate,” di Bonaventura recalled. “We went to Sandy Bullock and said, ‘We’ll change Neo to a girl.’ [Producer] Joel Silver and I worked with Sandy on Demolition Man and she was and continues to be a very good friend of mine.”

He continued, “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.”

Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix
| Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage; Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Despite their willingness to change the role of a man to a woman, he said, “It just wasn’t something for her at the time. So really it didn’t go anywhere.”

Bullock wasn’t the only big name considered for the role. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio were both offered the part as well.

“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,” di Bonaventura told the outlet.

They then approached DiCaprio who also said yes, according to the producer.

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“We have meetings with him and then he goes, ‘You know, I can’t do another visual effects movie having just finished Titanic,’ and he drops out,” di Bonaventura said. “Then Will Smith joins in and he drops out.”

Smith, 50, opened up about turning down the role in a YouTube video called “Why I Turned Down The Matrix,” in which he told fans, “All right this is one of them stories I’m not proud of but it’s the truth. I did turn down Neo in The Matrix.”

In 1998, Smith was coming fresh off the success of Men in Black when he was pitched The Matrix by the writers and directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski.

The pitch left him unimpressed and he did Wild Wild West, instead.

“I’m not proud of it,” Smith said. “But… Keanu [Reeves] was perfect. Laurence Fishbourne was perfect.”

He added the film likely wouldn’t have been such a commercial success if he had taken the job.

“If I had done it — because I’m black — then Morpheus wouldn’t have been black because they were looking at Val Kilmer. I was going to be Neo and Val Kilmer was going to be Morpheus,” he said. “I probably would’ve messed The Matrix up, I would’ve ruined it. So I did y’all a favor.”

The Matrix was praised upon its release, called by critics “the most influential action movie of the generation” and launching Reeves into mainstream pop culture.