Back then, there was a very real possibility an actor other than Keanu reeves would play Neo. These actors certainly regret saying no to Neo.
Leonardo DiCaprio was fresh off his success from Titanic. He has been vocal about how taxing and demanding James Cameron was off his actors in the movie. Right after Titanic, DiCaprio was offered the role of Neo by the Wachowski brothers. He turned it down claiming that he was not ready to act in two effects heavy movies back to back.
It was much later that Leonardo DiCaprio starred in a straight up sci fi action blockbuster – Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The actor believed movies like Matrix hindered his creative range as an artist in the film industry. DiCaprio has worked with the biggest of names in Hollywood – martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg being a few of them. But he still regrets turning down the role of Neo. We could even imagine him as The One pretty easily.
Val Kilmer was highly sought after by the producers of The Matrix. They were desperate to have the actor in the movie in literally any role that fit him. The Batman Forever actor turned down the role of Neo in the quickest manner possible. But the Wachowski brothers were not done. They tried to rope him in as Morpheus. He declined that too.
Kilmer failed to land any big roles after he turned down Matrix. His career waned after the film industry realized he was one of the most notoriously difficult stars to work with.
After so many stars declined to play the lead, the Wachowskis got very desperate. They even went as far as to change the gender of neo to a woman so that they could land Sandra Bullock. The actor had been successful after her then movies like Speed and No Time To Kill broke Box Office records.
Bullock agreed that the script had promised and acknowledged the potential of the franchise. But she disagreed on changing Neo’s gender. Bullock claimed she did not fit the part. The actor forayed into science fiction much later with the space thriller hit Gravity 2013).
The Se7en star achieved major success in the science fiction genre with movies like 12 Monkeys. And the Wachowski brothers as well as the producers were sure Pitt would nail the role of Neo. He had initially agreed to the part but later backed out after Seven years In Tibet left him utterly exhausted.
Pitt cited the reason that the movie was pitched to him as a standalone, not a trilogy. He claimed he just did not have the time and energy to act in a three part movie series. How full of regret and remorse would Pitt be now we wonder?!?!
After starring in action films like Bad Boys and sci fi movies like Independence Day and Men In Black, Will Smith was a huge star in the ’90s. The people back then he would have been perfect for Neo. The actor declined to play the part because he thought he was not right for the role. he later went on to star in Wild, Wild West – a colossal Box Office bomb.
Smith’s career is still on the rise though. He is one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history.
Face/Off, Con Air, and The Rock made Cage Hollywood’s greatest underdog story. The actor was blockbuster sensation back then just like Dwayne Johnson is today. The actor was naturally offered the role but he declined claiming he had familial responsibilities to tend to.
Thank goodness Cage declined the role of Neo. It would have looked like a deranged monstrosity of a character had he agreed to play the part.