By 1999, Sandra Bullock had already proved beyond a doubt that she could carry not only romantic comedies with wacky amnesia-based premises and drama-thrillers about speeding buses, but also mystery-thrillers about cybersecurity and the then-unknown depths of the internet. It only makes sense, then, that when it came time to cast yet another cyber-thriller, The Matrix, Bullock was on the short list — albeit for a rather unexpected role.
In a recent interview with The Wrap, tied to this weekend’s 20th anniversary of the release of The Matrix, one of the film’s producers, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, revealed that he and his team had offered to rewrite the role of Neo as a woman if Bullock wanted the part. “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.” Ultimately, though, “It just wasn’t something for her at the time,” he said. “So really, it didn’t go anywhere.”
Also considered for the role were big names like Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Will Smith. “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. 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,” he continued. “Then Will Smith joins it and he drops out.”
In the end, of course, the role went to Keanu Reeves — incidentally, Bullock’s costar in Speed and The Lake House. And though di Bonaventura said the casting was “awesome,” he admitted that, at first, Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, was unsure that Reeves was a big enough name to sell such a high-concept film from two relatively unknown filmmakers (at the time, Lana and Lilly Wachowski had only released one low-budget film, 1996’s Bound). In response, the producers secured more financing and signed on Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, and Carrie-Anne Moss to the cast. “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.”
A year later, Bullock starred in another Warner Bros. picture, Miss Congeniality, which, of course, is just as iconic as The Matrix, if not more so in certain circles, so all’s well that ends well — even if we may have missed our one opportunity to see just how spectacularly she could’ve pulled off a pair of tiny sunglasses and a long black trench (in this particular simulation, at least).