The Matrix: Sandra Bullock Almost Cast as Neo

The producers of The Matrix offered to gender-flip the role of Neo to get the actress locked down.

Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in Speed

Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock had a hit on their hands in 1994 with Jan de Bont’s “bomb on a bus” outing, Speed. The movie grossed over $350 million off a $30 million budget, and generated a sequel, which Reeves wisely chose to eschew involvement in. Five years later, he had another low-ish budget hit with The Matrix, which made a terrific profit and spawned two sequels through Warner Bros.

But there was a deeper link between Speed and The Matrix than just Reeves at his action best – The Wrap has a new interview with Matrix producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who’s revealed that way before Reeves was involved, they were desperately trying to cast Bullock as Neo in the Wachowskis groundbreaking sci-fi hit.

“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.”

Bullock would turn down the opportunity to be the star of The Matrix, but then she was also asked if she’d consider playing Trinity, before they settled on Carrie-Ann Moss.

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There were a lot of casting issues leading up to Reeves taking the lead role in the eventual $463+ smash hit, with Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith all subsequently falling through Warner Bros’ fingers at different stages.

“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. Then Will Smith joins it and he drops out.”

Smith has previously noted that he thought it all worked out for the best, even though he chose to do Wild Wild West instead. He speculated that if he had taken the part of Neo, red pill mentor Morpheus would have been white, namechecking Val Kilmer as the actor that was being considered for the role at the time.

Di Bonaventura claims that Kilmer was just one of many stars they were courting. “We went to Arnold Scwarzeneger hoping he’d say yes for Morpheus. We to Michael Douglas for Morpheus.”

Ultimately, everything fell into place for the film, which went onto have many imitators, but was never bested by any of them.

“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. The truth is, that movie rises or falls on those four.”

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Can you imagine Sandra Bullock as Neo? We’re currently visualising those alternate universe movie posters from Fringe, with Sandy brooding in a long trenchcoat and sunglasses.