We all know that The Matrix franchise owes a large part of its success to Keanu Reeves. He took on the role of Neo 24 years ago and has made the character, as well as the franchise, one of the most popular we’ve seen over the past two and a half decades. But did you know that Reeves was not the first choice to star in The Matrix? No, instead the part almost went to Captain Jack Sparrow, also known as actor Johnny Depp.
Johnny Depp Was The First Choice Over Keanu Reeves And Many Others
It’s always fascinating to get the low down on movie productions and what went on when actors and actresses were hired for certain films. With The Matrix, it was more interesting as to who didn’t take the role versus the fact that Keanu Reeves eventually got the part of Neo. This is not to say that ultimately it was the best choice; Reeves IS Neo.
To listen to all of those involved, Johnny Depp was the first choice of the Wachowski’s. They were high on Depp, who had yet to star as Captain Jack Sparrow, but who was coming off films such as Donnie Brasco and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Will Smith and even Val Kilmer were offered the role of Neo
It was Warner Bros. who eventually put a halt to the Wachowski’s plans for Depp. They were wanting Val Kilmer or Brad Pitt. In fact, Warner Bros. even told the Wachowski’s that if they went with Pitt, they would immediately green-light the film.
Both Pitt and Kilmer turned down the role. For Pitt, he initially wanted to do the film, but he was just finishing up with Seven Years in Tibet and told the producers he wasn’t going to do it because he was too exhausted to take on another project. When Kilmer turned it down, the Wachowski’s were still pushing for Johnny Depp, but Warner’s kept balking.
They then turned their attention to Leonardo Di Caprio, who as it has been said, initially accepted the role and was prepared to play Neo in The Matrix. Ultimately, DiCaprio chose to pass on the film because he said he didn’t want to do another heavy special effects movie after just coming off of the set of James Cameron’s Titanic.
Neo Was Almost a Female
Even though the Wachowskis continued their drive to get Johnny Depp into The Matrix as Neo, Warner kept pushing away from that. So, producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura says they then decided to take the script to Sandra Bullock.
Both he and megaproducer Joel Silver had worked with her on the Sylvester Stallone-Wesley Snipes action thriller Demolition Man and thought she’d make a great Neo. If she said yes, they would rewrite the script to make Neo female.
So, Bullock was sent the script. Apparently, at the time, Bullock felt that the role wasn’t for her, so she passed on it as well. It worked out well for Bullock who went on to star in Miss Congeniality the year after The Matrix premiered.
Although the Wachowski’s were resigned to the fact that Warner’s was not going to let them hire Johnny Depp for The Matrix, they still help out hope. In the meantime, the script was taken to Will Smith. He claims he was initially confused by the Wachowski’s pitch and felt they were placing too much importance on the bullet effects.
Sandra Bullock was another direction The Matrix also turned for the lead
Smith also claims that when the movie was going to be made (24 years ago) he was not mature enough to handle the story. “I don’t think I was mature enough as an actor at that point to get out of the way and just let it be and allow the directors to make the movie,” Smith said one time in an interview with Empire. “I would have been trying to make jokes.”
The studio loved Reeves and how in tune he was with the story. The Wachowski’s finally relented and their first choice of Johnny Depp was no longer. The Matrix had found its Neo.
It Wasn’t Just Neo Who Was Switched
True. It wasn’t just Neo that had other actors in line to join the cast of The Matrix. Laurence Fishburne was not the first choice to play Morpheus, as it turns out. Val Kilmer, who also was up for Neo, was asked to play Morpheus.
Also considered for the part were Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson. Anyone of those actors would have been a great hire, but ultimately having Fishburne fill the role was an excellent choice.
As for the part of Trinity, the role that Carrie Ann Moss was selected to play, it was never going to go with a well-known actress because the Wachowskis were looking for an up-and-coming actress. Carrie Ann Moss fit that bill.
So, what do you think The Matrix would have looked like if the Wachowskis had gotten their wish and had Johnny Depp play Neo? Would that have changed his career trajectory and not led him to Pirates of the Caribbean? How about Keanu Reeves? Interesting questions to ponder. Let us know your thoughts.