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Ah, Will, that one still hurts, doesn’t it? But in his defense, hindsight is 20/20, and few could have imagined what a cultural touchstone The Matrix was going to end up being. It’s an infamous story, how Will Smith was approached for the role of Neo in the Wachowski siblings’ seminal sci-fi thriller. Smith even told the story on his YouTube page, back in the day.
But it goes beyond that. Because before he took the starring role in Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1999 movie, Wild Wild West, Will Smith considered himself the King of the Summer Blockbuster. He had delivered SMASH hits with Independence Day and Men in Black. And he had a huge hit in Enemy of the State. So Smith likely believed that almost all of his films were destined to fly.
But this one didn’t.
And yet, Will Smith had to believe that collaborating with his Men In Black director, Sonnenfeld, would produce a hit. It didn’t. And the blemish left a stain on Smith and his confidence, for a while. Left to doubt his choices, Smith went after movies like The Legend of Bagger Vance, Ali and the disappointing Men in Black II. He no longer was the bankable hit machine, and from the sound of his answer to Jake, the choice to do Wild Wild West over The Matrix still stings Smith, even though he remains a massive movie star.
Here, listen to him as he explains the career choice.
What do you think? Did Wild Wild West teach Will Smith the right career lessons? Would you rather have seen him as Neo over Keanu Reeves? Hit the comments down below with your thoughts.