How was the cast of ‘The Matrix’ assembled?
(Credit: Netflix)


How was the cast of 'The Matrix' assembled?

Now firmly sat on the shelves at Netflix, The Matrix is rightly considered one of the foundational movies of modern science fiction. But there is an argument that the movie’s influence stretches far beyond its genre-boundaries. Cinema had never experienced anything like The Matrix when it arrived like a lightning bolt out of the blue in March 1999. It promptly changed the face of the industry and set a template the rest of Hollywood would channel for years to come.

It was an ambitious, genre-bending melting pot of action, sci-fi, fantasy, philosophy, religion, and existentialism. Before the dust had even settled on the staggering opening chapter, audiences couldn’t turn around in their nearest cinema without bumping into a thinly veiled imitator boasting leather-clad heroes, wuxia-inspired fight sequences, slow motion, and bullet time.

It wasn’t easy to get there, though, with the Wachowskis unproven filmmakers determined to realise a vision that left more than a few studio executives scratching their heads. Warner Bros was unsure the relatively unproven siblings were even able to pull off what they had in mind before a 600-page collection of storyboards that presented the whole film shot-by-shot convinced the studio otherwise.

From there, history was made, and even a string of underwhelming sequels can’t dilute the momentous effect The Matrix had on everyone and everything in its orbit. That even extended to the casting process, and while it’s impossible to tell given how pitch-perfect each of them is in their roles, the search for the ideal central trio was a struggle.

Keanu Reeves becomes an action hero

Keanu Reeves was already a known commodity from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Point Break, Speed, and The Devil’s Advocate long before The Matrix came along. Still, it nonetheless elevated his star to a whole new level, with his distinctive acting style the perfect foil for Neo’s fish-out-of-water-turned-saviour arc.

He was nowhere near the first choice, though, with Will Smith famously turning it down in favour of Wild Wild West. From there, Nicolas Cage also knocked back the chance to anchor The Matrix, while Warner Bros gauged the interest of Brad Pitt. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura told The Wrap he went to Leonardo DiCaprio, too, but he said he “can’t do another visual effects movie having just finished Titanic“.

The Wachowskis had Johnny Depp at the top of their preferred list of contenders, but Warner Bros had turned its attention to Reeves, who won out in the end. A lifelong sci-fi fanatic, reading the script for the first time proved to be a life-altering experience for the star.

(Credits: Far Out / Warner Bros.)

Carrie-Anne Moss’ breaks through

Before The Matrix, Carrie-Anne Moss had been working solidly in film and television for almost a decade without landing a breakthrough role, with her early years on-screen ironically including a leading role in a short-lived fantasy series called Matrix.

Just like Neo, settling on the perfect Trinity was a difficult process. Janet Jackson turned it down due to scheduling conflicts. Madonna may have also passed on the opportunity, while it stands out as a major regret of Sandra Bullock’s career that she didn’t view The Matrix as a project worth signing on for when it came her way.

Rosie Perez, Salma Hayek, and Jada Pinkett Smith all auditioned. Still, it was Moss who won out in the end, based her performance partially on the ice-cool badassery of Clint Eastwood and became a household name in the process.

How Laurence Fishburne joined The Matrix cast

In a recurring theme of The Matrix and its arduous casting process, Laurence Fishburne was one of just many names floated as a potential Morpheus before getting the nod to imbue the charismatic leader of the resistance with his sonorous gravitas.

As di Bonaventura recalled: “We went to Arnold Schwarzenegger hoping he’d say yes for Morpheus. We went to Michael Douglas for Morpheus.” Smith shared how Val Kilmer would have probably played the part had he agreed to star as Neo, while Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson were also named behind the scenes.

Showcasing himself to be a well-read gentleman, Fishburne couldn’t comprehend why so many people had found the script confusing when he read it for the first time. That instant absorption of the material was a key aspect of making his performance as Morpheus feel so knowledgeably enigmatic.