In another reality, Will Smith went from Bad Boys to Independence Day to Men in Black to Enemy of the State to The Matrix, an all-time run of box office success. But rather than get his “whoa” on, he instead fought a robot spider in Wild Wild West, and The Matrix became a phenomenon (and one of the most influential movies of the 1990s) without him, making over $460 million and spawning two sequels. Smith has said that he turned down the role of Neo, which went to Keanu Reeves, because “The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch [and in] the pitch, I just didn’t see it,” but he expanded on his decision in a video posted to YouTube titled, fittingly, “Why I Turned Down The Matrix.”
Following Independence Day, Smith initially turned down Men in Black because he didn’t want to be the “alien movie guy.” He changed his mind, obviously, but fast forward a few months, and he was offered another sci-fi-heavy film: The Matrix. Smith acknowledged that the Wachowskis are “geniuses,” but there’s a “fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced in the meeting.” And what did Smith experience? “So, dude, we’re thinking like, imagine you’re in a fight and then you, like, jump. Imagine if you could stop jumping in the middle of the jump. But then, people could see around you…”
It goes on like that. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight (and impressive special-effects), we know that what the Wachowskis were describing turned out to be an iconic scene, but you can’t fault Smith for passing. Which brings us to:
“I’m not proud of it,” Smith said about Wild Wild West > The Matrix, but there is a happy ending: John Wick might not exist in a world without Reeves as Neo, Wachowskis went on to make the enjoyably batty Jupiter Ascending, and Smith didn’t have to take part in The Matrix Reloaded‘s orgy scene.