The pre-production on The Matrix is one of those infamously convoluted Hollywood stories that tend to expand out into legend over the years, with some of the planet’s biggest stars—Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Will Smith, among others—all passing on attaching themselves to an extremely convoluted script, pitched to them by a largely unknown writing-directing sibling team whose only previous credit was a mostly unseen lesbian noir thriller. But the Wachowskis eventually managed to lure in Keanu Reeves, five years out from his last big-budget hit, Speed, and the rest is noodle-baking, bullet-dodging action movie history.
But as it turns out, Reeves wasn’t even the first member of the Speed cast that film exec Lorenzo di Bonaventura offered the part of Neo to. Desperate to find someone with enough star power to convince his colleagues at Warner Bros. to greenlight the film, di Bonaventura also turned to Reeves’ old pal Sandra Bullock, offering to make Neo a woman if it meant a big name like Bullock would sign on for the script. Bullock—who later said she was also offered the part of Trinity—turned the part down, but it’s a fascinating what-if: What would The Matrix even look like with Bullock in that lead role?
A big part of what makes Neo “work” as a protagonist, after all, is the laconic blankness Reeves brings to the role, a passivity that makes him the perfect recipient for the series of expositional speeches that make up the movie’s big, swing-for-the-fences twist. Bullock is an aggressively expressive actor—bordering on feisty—to the point that it’s hard to imagine her just standing there and “taking it” while Morpheus rambles on about batteries and pills. (On the other hand, we’d love to see her and Carrie-Anne Moss decked out in leather, taking apart a building lobby in glorious slow-motion.)
In any case, Bullock turned it down, telling The Wrap—which talked to di Bonaventura about all this—that “ultimately the right person was cast.” Which, fair enough. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t love to see her moves on the Zion party-orgy dance floor.