It was a career defining role for Keanu Reeves. But for Will Smith, it’s the one that got away.
The Men in Black star explained in a new video uploaded to YouTube that he turned down the lead role in The Matrix for Wild Wild West, which he admits sucked.
“This is one of them stories I’m not proud of, but it’s the truth,” Smith said in his slickly-produced video. “I did turn down Neo in ‘The Matrix.'”
The actor said the filmmakers pitched the futuristic role to him, but he really didn’t understand the concept. So he passed.
“The Wachowskis, they came in and it was like they had only done one movie, I think it was called Bound. And they came in and they made a pitch for ‘The Matrix,'” Smith said. “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.”
He reenacted the pitch meeting in his best suburban voice.
“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, 360, while you’re jumping,” he said. “Then we’re gonna invent these cameras and people can see the whole jump, while you stop in the middle of the jump.”
Smith turned to the camera with a look on his face that said WTF?
So, he took Wild Wild West instead of The Matrix.
“I’m not proud of it,” he said.
After seeing The Matrix, he thought it was great.
“Keanu [Reeves] was perfect. Laurence Fishburne was perfect,” he said.
He added that the film probably wouldn’t have been the same with him in the lead role, and Laurence Fishburne may have missed out on joining the franchise.
“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 hit theaters in 1999 and was a massive hit. The sci-fi action thriller raked in $463 million at the worldwide box office. Wild Wild West made about half that.