Nobody was quite sure what to make of The Matrix before it first came out. The technology themed action movie was not exactly the first thing you would expect to see from 90s era Keanu Reeves, and although he turned out to be perfect for the role, over the years we've learned that a major reason that Reeves ended up in the unlikely spot is simply because everybody else said no.
Most famously, Will Smith has spoken at length about how he made the wrong call in making Wild Wild West rather than The Matrix. However, Smith wasn't the only A-list star of the day who was offered the lead. Recently, in an interview with film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, Brad Pitt confirmed that he was offered a role in The Matrix, but he said no...
I did pass on The Matrix. I took the red pill. That’s the only one I’m naming … I wasn’t offered two or three. Only the first one. Just to clarify that. I come from a place, maybe it’s my upbringing, if I didn’t get it, then it wasn’t mine. I really believe [the role] was never mine. It’s not mine. It was someone else’s and they go and make it. I really do believe in that. If we were doing a show on the great movies I’ve passed on, we would need two nights.
While Brad Pitt doesn't specifically say that he turned down the lead role of Neo, it's been previously reported that Pitt was considered for that part. However, the interview at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (via USA Today) may be the first time Pitt has confirmed that he was offered the role, and that he was the one that said no in the end.
Brad Pitt both confirms that he passed on The Matrix, but also says that the role "was never mine." He seems to be saying that he believes that in the end, the right person will always get the role, so the part in The Matrix was always going to end up going to somebody else, in this case Keanu Reeves.
At this point it's pretty hard to imagine anybody else but Keanu playing Neo. At the same time, if Brad Pitt had played the role, we might have ended up feeling the same way about him.
There were a lot of potential Neos when The Matrix was trying to put its cast together. At one point, it was even considered to swap Neo's gender, make him female, and cast Sandra Bullock in the role, but she apparently also turned down the film.
Brad Pitt himself says we could spend days talking about all the roles he has turned down over the years, and while I would happily brew all the necessary coffee to keep us all awake during that entire interview, it seems we won't be getting it. Pitt doesn't dwell on the roles he didn't get or turned down, though, when you're Brad Pitt, and you've had your pick of roles, and still picked numerous great ones, that's probably easier to do.
Who knows, with The Matrix 4 on the way, maybe there's a role for Brad Pitt so he can join the franchise after all.