One of the most pivotal scenes in The Matrix finds Neo (Keanu Reeves) forced to make a fateful choice between a red pill and a blue pill. In real life, the producers faced their own pivotal choice when it came to casting the role of Neo, though there were far more than two options to choose from. One of the possibilities, it turns out, was Sandra Bullock.
“We went out to so many people I don’t remember. We were getting desperate,” The Matrix producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura told The Wrap in a new interview to mark the 20th anniversary of the Wachowskis’ breakout film. “We went to Sandy Bullock and said ‘We’ll change Neo to a girl.’ [Producer] Joel Silver and I worked with Sandy on Demolition Man and she was and continues to be a very good friend of mine. It was pretty simple. We sent her the script to see if she was interested in it. And if she was interested in it we would try to make the change.”
di Bonaventura continued, “It just wasn’t something for her at the time. So really it didn’t go anywhere.”
The role, of course, eventually went to Reeves — who Bullock had starred with in Speed just a few years before. )In a recent interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Bullock admitted she even had a crush on Reeves while working on the movie: “I think about how sweet Keanu Reeves was and how handsome he was … It was hard for me to be serious!”)
Representatives for Bullock and Warner Bros. did not immediately reply to EW’s request for comment.
Aside from Bullock, other A-listers were considered for Neo, including Will Smith. Smith explained his side of the story last month on his YouTube channel, where he told viewers that the Wachowskis’ pitch to him did not fully convey what the movie would become: “As it turns out, they’re geniuses. But there’s a fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced in the meeting.” Smith added that “I did y’all a favor,” because if he had been cast as Neo, he says, then a white actor like Val Kilmer would have been cast as Morpheus in lieu of Laurence Fishburne.
di Bonaventura confirmed Smith’s potential involvement and revealed that a couple other actors were also in the mix.
“The first movie star who says yes is Brad Pitt, he’s doing Seven Years in Tibet and then he’s coming out of it and he’s like ‘I’m way too exhausted to take this on,’ so he’s gone,” di Bonaventura told The Wrap. “Then we go to Leonardo [DiCaprio]. He says yes, we have meetings with him and then he goes, ‘You know, I can’t go do another visual effects movie having just finished Titanic,’ and he drops out. Then Will Smith joins it and he drops out … The good news was, Keanu said yes and he was awesome.”
Turns out he truly was the one for the job.