Aside from the well-documented news that Will Smith was once approached about playing the role of Neo in The Matrix, the film’s producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura revealed that Sandra Bullock was also considered for the part.
“We went out to so many people I don’t remember. We were getting desperate,” di BonaventuraImage via Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty told The Wrap. “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.”
Before reaching out to Bullock about gender-flipping Neo, di Bonaventura remembers the exhaustive search for a big name actor that would satisfy Warner Bros.’ vision for the part. “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,” he recalls.
Their search led them to Leonardo DiCaprio, who dropped out after initially saying “yes” because he didn’t want to take on “another visual effects movie” coming off of Titanic. Smith was next on their radar, but we already know how that story ends. The process took them to Bullock, who told Today in 2009 that she turned down an offer to work on the movie.
“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 said. “It just wasn’t something for her at the time. So really it didn’t go anywhere.” The role of Neo ended up going to Bullock’s Speed co-star Keanu Reeves, however, Warner Bros. wasn’t entirely onboard with their choice at first.
Warner Bros. had a change of heart after the film was able to secure additional financing that helped them land Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. “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.”