A-list actor Will Smith has opened up about a career decision he's "not proud of", some 20 years after the fact.

The star reveals that he turned down the lead role of Neo in 1999 sci-fi smash The Matrix — a role that later went to Keanu Reeves.

"This is one of them stories I'm not proud of, but it's the truth," Smith says in a candid video posted to his official YouTube channel this week.

He explains that the offer came during a "crazy time" in his career: 1996 box office behemoth Independence Day had catapulted him to movie star status. The following year, he took some convincing to star in Men In Black.


"I was like, 'I'm not doing another alien movie, I don't want to be the alien movie guy'," he recalls.

He filmed Men in Black — another huge success. A year later, he was offered The Matrix, the brainchild of up-and-coming sibling filmmakers The Wachowskis.

"They came in and made a pitch for The Matrix. As it turns out, they're geniuses. But there's a fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced in the meeting," Smith says.

Keanu Reeves snagged the iconic role. Photo / Getty Images
Keanu Reeves snagged the iconic role. Photo / Getty Images

The actor then impersonates the siblings in their pitch meeting, struggling to coherently explain their vision for the striking visual effect known as "bullet time" scene in The Matrix's most iconic scenes.

"So dude, we're thinking, like, imagine you're in a fight, and you jump. Imagine if you could stop in the middle of the jump. But then people could see around you 360 (degrees) while you jumping. And then we're gonna invent these cameras, and people gon' see the whole jump when you're in the middle of the jump," Smith recalls the Wachowskis telling him.

The pitch left him cold — so Smith made Western action comedy Wild, Wild West instead, a decision he said he's "not proud of."

The film was savaged by the critics and a rare box office disappointment for the star, who says he felt like apologising to the public once it hit cinemas.

Still: No regrets.

"Keanu was perfect. Laurence Fishburne (who played Morpheus) was perfect. If I had done it, because I'm black, then Morpheus wouldn't have been black — they were looking at Val Kilmer. I probably would've messed The Matrix up. I did y'all a favour!"