For every big Hollywood blockbuster that we see in theaters, there exists an alternate reality where a completely different vision of that film was realized or none at all. That’s because there are so many moving parts that need to come together in order for a film to successfully make it to the screen. Consequently, that means any film, especially larger pictures, could potentially turn out any number of ways.
Take for example The Matrix. Today, many consider the Wachowskis’ film to be a classic and its influence on the film industry, particularly in the sci-fi genre, is undoubtedly still felt to this day.
Of course, the film made careers and solidified Keanu Reeves as a bonafide action star (which helps sell him three decades later as John Wick). However, there was a time when producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura was unsure if he would ever get the thing cast.
Speaking to The Wrap, the producer said:
“We went out to so many people I don’t remember. We were getting desperate. We went to Sandy Bullock and said ‘We’ll change Neo to a girl.’ [Producer] Joel Silver and I worked with Sandy on ‘Demolition Man’ and she was and continues to be a very good friend of mine. It was pretty simple. We sent her the script to see if she was interested in it. And if she was interested in it we would try to make the change.”
Di Bonaventura goes on to say that it wasn’t something for Sandra Bullock at the time, so things didn’t work out.
Producers tried to score other A-list stars to front the project:
“The first movie star who says yes is Brad Pitt, he’s doing ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ and then he’s coming out of it and he’s like ‘I’m way too exhausted to take this on,’ so he’s gone. Then we go to Leonardo [DiCaprio]. He says yes, we have meetings with him and then he goes, ‘You know, I can’t go do another visual effects movie having just finished ‘Titanic,” and he drops out. Then Will Smith joins it and he drops out.”
Will Smith recently explained in a YouTube video why he turned down the Wachowski Siblings’ offer:
Ultimately, the role ended up going to Keanu Reeves. Even then, however, the studio was uncomfortable with Reeves taking the lead. As di Bonaventura points out, that all changed once Warner Bros. secured additional financing for the film from third parties. That took some of the pressure off their backs and gave them the confidence to move forward with the film.
Casting wasn’t the only woe in getting The Matrix off the ground. Di Bonaventura reveals that the film seemed to go over the heads of some studio executives:
“The Matrix” took years to get off the ground. Studio executives couldn’t visualize the movie from the script, which di Bonaventura went through at least 11 rewrites. But the deeply complex film became a hit, grossing $463.5 million worldwide; spawning two sequels and influencing countless other science fiction films.”
In the end, everything did work out for the best:
“I don’t think I would change anything. The bigger the star, the more likely the studio was to say yes. So we started with the very biggest and got to Keanu and he gave us the momentum,” di Bonaventura said. “The truth is, that movie rises or falls on those four.”
What do you make of this story? Are you surprised by any of the names that were once attached to The Matrix? Are you happy with how everything turned out? Hit me up in the comments below and let me know your thoughts!