Jada Pinkett Smith was a Matrix fan long before 1999

the matrix

Later this month, Jada Pinkett Smith will reprise her role as Niobe in The Matrix Resurrections. The sequel comes nearly two decades after The Matrix Revolutions and promises the same brain-melting hi-octane action that redefined action cinema in the early 2000s.

But while Pinkett Smith didn’t jump aboard The Matrix franchise until the sequels, she was fully aware of it long before the original began shooting. That’s because – in one of the great ‘what ifs’ of modern cinema – the Wachowski’s wanted her husband Will Smith to play Neo.

The casting process involved sending him the script and storyboards, which Pinkett Smith loved. In a recent interview with EW, she said:

I remember getting the storyboards when they wanted Will to play Neo. I was going, “Man, this is really revolutionary. This is like Japanese anime [but in] live-action.” It had never been done before. I’m a huge Japanese animation fan, so from then on, they had me. When they called me to play Niobe, I didn’t have to read anything. I was in.

Pinkett Smith isn’t wrong – The Matrix draws clear inspiration from classic anime, specifically Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell. That anime influence eventually resulted in the awesome anthology series The Animatrix, in which some of Japan’s top anime studios were let loose on the franchise with stunning results.

And as for Will Smith as Neo? Well, after reading the script, Pinkett Smith told him, “Oh my goodness, this is revolutionary. I’m like, ‘Will, you gotta do this movie!’” Sadly, Smith couldn’t wrap his head around the concept and decided to do Wild Wild West instead.

Pinkett Smith also auditioned to play Trinity and though she didn’t get that part, the Wachowskis brought her into the fold for the sequels. It’s as yet unknown what Niobe will be doing in The Matrix Resurrections, but we don’t have to wait too long to find out, as it hits theaters and HBO Max on Dec. 22.