By 1999, there was a lot going on in Will Smith‘s career. He’d starred in the blockbusters Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black and Enemy of the State on the big screen, and had come off of his TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air only three years earlier. Things were happening, and one of them that wasn’t, as far as Will, 50, was concerned, was The Matrix, which went on to become a $1.6 billion trilogy with Keanu Reeves in the role of Neo. Instead, he chose to do Wild Wild West.
In a new video posted to his YouTube channel on Wednesday, February 13, Will revealed, “Alright, this is one of [those] stories I’m not proud of, but it’s the truth. I did turn down Neo in The Matrix.” He continued, “Hold up y’all jumping to conclusions … Crazy time in my life. It was like however I threw the ball, it was going in. I had done Independence Day the year before and didn’t want to do another alien movie. I didn’t want to be the alien movie guy, so I turned down Men in Black. Steven Spielberg called me and said, ‘Why are you turning down the movie?’ I was, like, ‘I just don’t want to be the alien guy.’ He said, ‘Do me a favor. Don’t use your brain for this one. Use my brain.’ He was so serious that I was, like, ‘Alright, he did do Jaws.'”
So he did Men in Black, which became another hit for him. “In that universal energy where nothing can go wrong, the other side comes and then you can’t do nothing right,” Will observed in his video confession.
After Men in Black, he actually met with the The Wachowski Brothers about their sci-fi project The Matrix, and thought the meeting was so bizarre that he turned the idea down. “They did a movie, I think it was called Bound,” he said, “and they came in and made a pitch for The Matrix. As it turns out, they’re geniuses, but there’s a fine line between genius and what I experienced in the meeting.”
Will claimed that their pitch consisted of them telling him to imagine himself in an onscreen fight and when he jumped in the air, he froze in the middle of the jump and people could see around him 360 degrees, something they’d achieve by inventing special cameras for that scene. Instead, the actor ultimately opted to do Wild Wild West, based on the ’60s TV spy western of the same name.
“I’m not proud of it,” Will proclaimed. “And, you know, you see people that Monday [after the movie comes out] and I was walking around saying, ‘Hey, guys, sorry. Listen, I’m working on Bad Boys 2. Don’t worry about it.'”
He did note that had he taken The Matrix gig, the film would have been a very different story because the Laurence Fishburne character of Morpheus wouldn’t have been black; the Wachowskis were going to cast Val Kilmer in the role if Will joined the film. “So I was going to be Neo and Val Kilmer was going to be Morpheus,” he closed the video. “I probably would’ve messed The Matrix Up. I would have ruined it, so I did y’all a favor.”