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Will Smith says a weird pitch meeting with the Wachowskis is to blame for him passing on The Matrix

Photo: Jason Merritt (Getty Images)

Everyone knows that Will Smith, at the height of his stardom, turned down the lead role in The Matrix to star in Wild Wild West, a film that, despite being very bad, nevertheless offered the still-rapping actor a place for the “wicky wickys” scrawled in his lyric book. While Matrix fans could never dream of anyone but Keanu Reeves in the role, Will Smith nearly playing Neo is still one of the great “what if” casting stories of all time. Now, in a new video posted to his shockingly active YouTube page, Smith comes clean about why he turned down the film.

Basically, it comes down to a shoddy pitch on the part of the Wachowskis. According to Smith, the still-kinda-green directors spent most of the meeting describing the now-famous bullet-time technology they were going to use to slow down fight sequences and offer a panoramic view. That purely technical description didn’t exactly spark Smith’s imagination, though he admits in hindsight that the Wachowskis are geniuses. Still, Smith says “there’s a fine line between genius and what I experienced in the meeting.”

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Smith contends that, had he not passed on the film, The Matrix wouldn’t have ended up being as great as it is. If the Wachowskis had persuaded Smith to play Neo, they apparently would have pursued Val Kilmer for Morpheus. With Reeves, the filmmakers instead sought out Laurence Fishburne, who delivered a mesmerizing, enduring performance. “I probably would have messed The Matrix up. I would have ruined it. So, I did y’all a favor,” Smith says.

While we appreciate Will Smith’s sacrifice, we can still be mad at him about Wild Wild West. That movie sucks, man. 

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About the author

Dan Neilan

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Have Fun — Will Travel.