Earlier this year, Will Smith filmed a fun, lighthearted confessional video in which he explains why — back in the 1990s when he was at the height of his success as a Hollywood mega-star — he turned down a huge role.
This was back when he was still riding high on the strength of roles in TV shows and movies like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Independence Day. The role he got offered and declined, however, was that of Neo, the main character in The Matrix who, of course, was ultimately played superbly by Keanu Reeves.
If you haven’t seen Will Smith’s video explanation for why he turned the role down, do yourself a favor and watch now. It’s refreshing to see this level of candor from a star, and Smith starts off by acknowledging this is something he’s not proud of, “but … uh … it’s the truth.”
“There’s a fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced in the meeting,” Smith says at one point, recalling the offer the Wachowskis made him related to the role.
He then starts imitating the meeting and the Wachowskis’ pitch, specifically, as he remembers it:
We’re thinking like… imagine you’re in a fight. You, like, jump. Imagine if you could stop jumping … in the middle of the jump. But then, people could see around you 360 degrees while you stop jumping. We’re going to invent these cameras and then people can see the whole jump when you stop in the middle of the jump.
Pause. Will waits for a beat. Then he drops the bomb about what happened next.
That’s right. He decided to make Wild Wild West instead.
Fast forward to today. A deepfake video uploaded by the YouTube channel Sham00K replaces Reeves with Smith, letting us have fun imagining what it would have been like for Morpheus to offer Smith, instead, the choice between a red or blue pill. And we get to wonder what Smith’s reaction to seeing the Matrix itself for the first time would have been like.
You can see the full video above, which still includes Keanu’s hair and voice, so don’t let that throw you. Enjoy.