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SYFY WIRE The Matrix

Will Smith explains why he turned down Neo in The Matrix: ‘I did y’all a favor!’

By Benjamin Bullard
Will Smith credit photog Tristan Fewings | Getty Images

There’s already plenty of fan material out there about how very different The Matrix might have been if Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne hadn’t stepped into two of sci-fi’s most iconic roles. But Will Smith just gave everyone the story from behind his own eyes — and it’s both insightful and hilarious.

With nary a speckle of blue paint in sight, the internet’s new favorite Aladdin genie posted a new video to his fun “Storytime” YouTube series this week, dishing on how he missed the mark by frowning on the Wachowskis’ original Matrix pitch, how Steven Spielberg talked him into doing Men in Black, and why everything ended up turning out okay — especially for Matrix fans.

Smith confesses he was underwhelmed when the Wachowskis — known primarily back then as the directors of underground indie hit Bound — tried to sell him on donning the classic black trench coat so he could be the star of all those bullet-time mid-air jump freezes. At the time, he thought he was dodging a career bullet himself to say no to Neo and the Wachowskis, even though, as Smith readily admits, “It turns out they’re geniuses!”

”So,” he quips before a show-stopping awkward pause, “I made Wild Wild West” instead — and, as Smith himself has plenty of fun pointing out, we all know how that turned out.

Keanu Reeves via Waner Bros Matrix Trailer sourced 2019

Even though he says he’s not proud of it in hindsight, Smith maintains that “I did y’all a favor” by letting Reeves become the One, since casting a black actor as the movie’s lead, he says, likely would have resulted in a white actor taking over Fishburne’s part as Morpheus (and Val Kilmer, hilariously illustrated in Smith’s video, could have been the first choice).

Not content to stop with just one old-school sci-fi confession, Smith also shares a fun anecdote about how Steven Spielberg talked him into joining Tommy Lee Jones for 1997’s Men in Black — just one year after saving the world from aliens in Independence Day.

“I don’t wanna be ‘the alien guy,’” he remembers telling Spielberg, whose Amblin Entertainment co-produced MiB. But, he says, Spielberg simply asked Smith to trust him. “‘Do me a favor,’” he recalls Spielberg saying. “‘Don’t use your brain for this one — use my brain.’”

While we might have to wait forever to see Will Smith go toe to toe with Agent Smith, we at least won’t have to wait much longer to see him back on the big screen. He’ll pop out of the bottle on May 24, when Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin hops a flying carpet toward a theater near you.