Although now it's hard to imagine the role of Neo going to anyone other than Keanu Reeves, actor Will Smith was originally approached by The Matrix filmmakers to play the character in 1996. He declined the role, the reasons for which became the subject of gossip and rumor for years. In a recent video, he set the record straight. He explained how his career at the time affected his decision, as much as the memorably odd pitch the Wachowski siblings had for him.
Although Smith credited the Wachowski as geniuses, he did his best impression of how The Matrix was pitched to him: "So dude, we're thinking, like, imagine you're in a fight and you, like, jump. Imagine if you could, like, stop, middle of the jump. But then, people could see around you, 360 while you're jumping but while you stop jumping. And then we're gonna invent these cameras so people can see the whole jump while you stop, middle of the jump." The entire description is peppered with drawings of the Wachowski, which -- combined with Smith's impression and the repeated phrases "middle of the jump" -- leave the viewers about as confused as the illustrated Smith was during this meeting.
Smith paused before acknowledging that he instead chose to star in The Wild Wild West, a critical and commercial disappointment that Smith admits he isn't proud of. Looking back on it, Smith feels that Reeves was perfect for the Neo role and that, if he had been cast, it would have changed the entire film, both in dynamic and casting. "[So] I would have messed The Matrix up. I would have ruined it. So I did y'all a favor," he said.
Smith will next appear in the live-action remake of Aladdin. Directed by Guy Ritchie, Disney's Aladdin stars Mena Massoud in the title role, with Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine, Will Smith as the Genie, Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, Navid Negahban as The Sultan, Nasim Pedrad as Dalia, Billy Magnussen as Prince Anders and Numan Acar as Hakim. The film arrives on May 24.