The Matrix: The Four Major Actors Who Almost Became Neo Before Keanu Reeves

“The Matrix” marked a turning point in action cinema, with its groundbreaking digital effects that astonished audiences in the late 1990s. The film not only featured a plot heavily influenced by classic science fiction but also propelled its lead actor, Keanu Reeves, to Hollywood stardom. However, before Reeves, who later found success as John Wick, several other actors were considered for the role of the Wachowskis’ “Chosen One.” Among them were Will Smith, Johnny Depp, and Nicolas Cage. So why didn’t any of them take the role?

A Different ‘Matrix’ Without Keanu Reeves?

Let’s start with the actor who dominated the latter half of the 90s and has remained a top star: Will Smith. After achieving fame with his popular sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and blockbuster hits like “Bad Boys,” “Independence Day,” and “Men in Black,” Smith was offered the role of Neo in “The Matrix.” However, the script did not particularly appeal to him, and he chose instead to star in his own steampunk western “Wild Wild West,” a film that was poorly received by critics and audiences alike. Smith has admitted he is “not proud” of this decision.

Nicolas Cage, on the other hand, had starred in several successful action films such as “The Rock,” “Con Air,” and “Face/Off,” among many others since the early 80s. However, Cage turned down the role of Neo to spend more time with his family. In 1999, the same year “The Matrix” was released, he starred in two well-received films: “8MM” and “Bringing Out the Dead.” Meanwhile, another Hollywood star, Val Kilmer, was considered for both the roles of Neo and Morpheus! However, Kilmer declined both roles to focus on other projects such as “At First Sight” and “Joe the King,” both released in 1999, but neither achieved significant success.

Johnny Depp’s case was slightly different. Despite being the favourite choice of Warner Bros. and the Wachowskis for the role of Neo, the star of “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood,” and “Donnie Brasco” was never officially offered the part. Interestingly, Depp almost took on two roles that Keanu Reeves eventually played: Johnny Utah in “Point Break” and Jack Traven in “Speed.”

In the end, the role of Neo went to Keanu Reeves, who not only embraced the character but also became an iconic figure in cinema history. While it’s intriguing to imagine how “The Matrix” might have turned out with a different lead, Reeves’ portrayal remains unparalleled.