Hollywood is full of “the one that got away” stories. Actors turn down roles that end up being massive hits. At the time, the decision clearly seemed right, but in retrospect actors frequently realize they’ve made a mistake. Will Smith has now come clean about how he had the opportunity to take the lead role of Neo in The Matrix, but obviously, that didn’t happen. Although, Smith says the decision really did make sense at the time, as the initial pitch of the Wachowski’s was sort of bonkers. According to Smith…
After we made Men in Black, the Wachowskis, they came in, and they had only done one movie, I think it was called Bound, and they made a pitch for The Matrix. As it turns out, they're geniuses, but there's a fine line in a pitch meeting between a genius and what I experienced in the meeting. This is the actual pitch that they made for The Matrix. 'Dude, we're thinking like, imagine you're in a fight, then you jump, imagine if you could stop jumping in the middle of the jump.'
The pitch, according to Smith on his YouTubechannel, focused on the bullet time effects the pair were planning, and the way Smith portrays the directors’ presentation, it sounds like it came across as less than entirely thought through. It seems that Smith figured that this wasn't something he wanted to get involved in. If this is true then the Wachowskis didn’t make their best case. While the effects were cool and also ground breaking, they're not the reason to make a movie.
Of course, since Will Smith didn’t make The Matrix that meant he was free to make Wild Wild West. Smith admits he is not proud of this decision.
While Will Smith clearly has some regrets about turning down The Matrix, he also admits that it was probably the best decision for everybody. Smith thinks the version of The Matrix we got was perfect, and if he had said yes, getting Will Smith as Neo wouldn’t have been the only major change we would have seen. Smith goes on...
Keanu was perfect. Laurence Fishburne was perfect. f I had done it, because I'm black, then Morpheus wouldn't have been black. They were looking at Val Kilmer. I was gonna be Neo and Val Kilmer was gonna be Morpheus, so I probably would have messed The Matrix up. I would have ruined it. So I did y'all a favor
Whether or not Will Smith would have ruined The Matrix is a question we’ll never have answer to. It certainly would have been a different movie. Though Kilmer and Smith acre great actors in their own right so maybe it still would have become the franchise we know today. Instead, Neo became one of Keanu Reeves most iconic characters and it’s difficult to envision the film with anybody else in that role.
Still, if Will Smith starring in The Matrix had saved the world from Wild Wild West, maybe it all would have been worth it.