After playing an astronaut and a survivor of a very strange sensory-deprived apocalypse, fans have seen that actress Sandra Bullock can effectively lead a sci-fi film. But could she have led one of the biggest sci-fi franchises of all time? That’s a hypothetical with a basis in history, as it’s been recently revealed that the Gravity and Bird Box star was approached for the lead role in The Matrix before Keanu Reeves.
In an interview with The Wrap, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (who helped The Matrix find its home at Warner Bros.) explained that there were many A-listers considered for the role — but Bullock was an outlier because they would’ve altered the gender of the lead. Will Smith famously didn’t understand the film and chose to do Wild Wild West instead while Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage passed too.
“We went out to so many people I don’t remember. We were getting desperate,” di Bonaventura said. “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.”
This was after an exhaustive process that saw the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Douglas, and Val Kilmer considered for Morpheus. These roles flipped the race of the characters of Morpheus and Neo for when Smith was involved with the project, but when Smith dropped out, Laurence Fishburne was cast behind the iconic sunglasses. And this wasn’t the only star-studded search.
“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,” di Bonaventura said. “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.” When they finally got to Bullock, they were ready for a change — but it was the same story.
Bullock, who was also considered for the role of Trinity, commented through her representative that she couldn’t quite remember the exact circumstances of the Neo pitch, but that going with Speed co-star Keanu was the right call. “It just wasn’t something for her at the time,” di Bonaventura said.
Do you think The Matrix would’ve been the same with Bullock as The One? Or would her Kung Fu be a totally new (but equally awesome) take on the sci-fi classic?