Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Originally Will Smith was offered the role of Neo in the The Matrix, but thought the plot was too confusing and turned it down to do Wild Wild West instead. It’s one of the biggest “whoops, you booched it” stories of Hollywood, right up there with John Travolta passing on Forrest Gump.
But would Will Smith have made a better Neo than Keanu Reeves? It’s hard to say — although YouTube user The Unusual Suspect certainly had fun imagining what that movie would have been like in this edited trailer:
Ten years ago, when Will Smith was riding high as the number one box office draw in America and Keanu had just released The Lake House, I probably would have agreed emphatically with this idea. Heck, twenty years ago when the movie was actually in production (feel old yet), most of us probably would have come to the same conclusion. But now, it’s like our opinions of the two has been completely reversed; Keanu is an action movie darling thanks to his work in John Wick, and Will Smith… well, remember Collateral Beauty?
Still, seeing how Will Smith fits into the role, at least in this brief trailer, is interesting. There’s no guarantee that they would have hired Lawrence Fishburne as Morpheus if Will Smith had been cast first (they were originally looking at Sean Connery, among others), but there’s something fascinating about a mentor/protege, prophet/chosen one relationship between two black men in this kind of a movie; if nothing else, it gives an interesting subtext to Morpheus’ devotion to Neo. And of course, putting Will Smith opposite Agent Smith, who’s the literal personification of The Man (and also looks like he got a lot of fashion tips from the Men In Black), also carries with it a certain connotation that would still feel relevant today.
One thing’s for sure: certainly now-Keanu would have been better than then-Keanu. At the very least, he’d have had more fun in the terrible Matrix sequels knowing what he knows now.
What do you think?