These days, most film fans (save for an unfortunate select few) don’t bat an eye when it comes to multi-ethnic casts and women in kick-ass action roles. In no small part, we have The Matrix to thank for that. When it debuted in 1999, it was fairly progressive not just in terms of special effects, but also in casting the likes of Carrie-Ann Moss as an action hero and Laurence Fishburne in a major leadership role, among many others.
In retrospect, the very open-minded casting makes some sense, knowing that the directors, then known as The Wachowski Brothers, are now both openly transgender women. So we’ll certainly respect that approach as we take a stab at recasting the film (and some key characters from the sequels) as though it had never been made 17 years ago, starting anew in 2016.
As great as it was, just for this exercise, let’s take the blue pill and momentarily forget The Matrix existed as we consider What If The Matrix Was Cast Today?
13 JEFF GOLDBLUM AS THE ARCHITECT
Helmut Bakaitis, a German actor, was cast as the ominously named Architect in the somewhat unfortunate sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Not surprisingly, given the name, The Architect was the creator of the Matrix and is actually a computer program himself. As such, he doesn’t show much emotion at all and speaks mostly in a dry monotone, in language that isn’t exactly conversational.
But why can’t a computer program, even one meant to value logic over all else, have some modicum of emotion written into him? Even if it’s not real emotion, at least a little personality? And that’s where our choice, the always eclectic Jeff Goldblum, comes in. Imagine his more musical readings of lines like, “You are the eventuality of an anomaly,” and “Your five predecessors were, by design, based on a similar predication, a contingent affirmation that was meant to create a profound attachment to the rest of your species, facilitating the function of The One.”
12 ZÖE KRAVITZ AS NIOBE
In the sequels, Niobe was an expert pilot and ship captain for the Resistance, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. Before the events of the films, she and Morpheus were an item, but they broke up when he became all obsessed with finding The One. Even though she hooks up with Lock (Harry Lenix), she’s still got it bad for Morpheus.
We thought for a second about Zoe Saldana for this part, but that would be too obvious. Does she really need another huge franchise? Lets spread the love a bit and hand Niobe to another Zöe, Kravitz. She definitely has experience playing strong young women like Niobe, who have dealt with some form of oppression and fought back, as in the Divergent series and Mad Max: Fury Road. While there is definitely an age gap (17 years) between Kravitz and our Morpheus, there were 10 years between Pinkett Smith and Laurence Fishburne in the originals.
11 CHRISTOPH WALTZ AS THE MEROVINGIAN
French actor Lambert Wilson is best known on this side of the pond for playing The Merovingian in The Matrix. Though the character was technically an old and powerful program within the Matrix, he appeared as a rich, cultured, handsome man in the prime of his life. Ultimately, he’s a power-hungry mob boss.
Even though he’s also known as the Frenchman, he doesn’t really need to be French, does he? After all, it’s all an affectation of the program. So let’s say he’s programmed to be German and he’s played by Christoph Waltz. Waltz was born to play calm and quirky bad guys like this, who can go off at any moment. Need we go through his resume to illustrate this, from Inglourious Basterds to his take on Bond baddie Blofeld in Spectre?
10 EVA GREEN AS PERSEPHONE
Voluptuous Italian actress Monica Bellucci turned heads as Persphone in the sequels, as the wife of the antagonistic Merovingian. Not only does she turn heads, falling for Neo, but she also turns sides on her husband, helping the Resistance fighters.
Physically, stunning French actress Eva Green can easily fill Bellucci’s shoes as the bad guy’s trophy wife. And her nationality fits well with her fictional husband, who is also known as “The Frenchman.” Plus, like Bellucci, she’s a former Bond girl. But it’s Green’s resume that tells us she might even be an upgrade. She excels at playing characters with a bit of a dark past (and even present), from Sin City: A Dame to Kill For to 300: Rise of an Empire to her current run on the series Penny Dreadful.
9 MICHAEL PEÑA AS TANK
Tank was one of the only full-on humans we saw in The Matrix – that is, a person who was born human and never connected to the Matrix. As an operator on board the Nebuchadnezzar, and played by Marcus Chong (adopted son of comedian Tommy Chong), he was psyched to be a part of the team hoping to bring down the Matrix.
Michael Peña could bring a completely different energy to the role, a lighter one, while still effectively emphasizing the enthusiasm inherent in the character, like we saw in his hilarious stories in Ant-Man. Of course, Peña doesn’t exactly have the muscle Chong had, but his nickname could work in a more ironic way -- unless he hit the gym of course.
8 FRANCIS CAPRA AS DOZER
Like Tank, Dozer was fully human, born in Zion. Which makes sense, considering they were brothers. Played by Anthony Ray Parker, he was a big, muscular dude and he could do just about anything: he was a pilot, he served in some sort of medical capacity, and he even made the alcohol guzzled aboard the Nebuchadnezzar.
Like we said, Dozer and Tank are brothers, so if Michael Pena is our Tank, Dozer should be Latino as well. And Francis Capra, best known as Weevil on Veronica Mars, bears enough of a soft-featured resemblance to Pena to be convincing brothers. He is a shorter guy, at 5’6”, but built strong and tough, so he could easily live up to his nickname.
7 DONALD GLOVER AS MOUSE
The Matrix was shot in Australia, so a few Australians found their way into the film, including Matt Doran, who was something of a TV star there, as Mouse. The youngest crew member, he designed the tempting “Woman in Red” in the training program, he added a little humor to the proceedings, and he believed “To deny our impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.”
Why not give Community star Donald Glover a shot at this role? Sure, he’s not a tiny guy, but he’s slim enough to earn the nickname “Mouse,” and if he’s surrounded by taller guys (he’s 5’10”), it would be more believable. No doubt he’s got more than enough comedy chops to pull it off – in fact, to play him a lot like Community’s Troy Barnes wouldn’t be a bad thing at all: funny, a little nerdy, and a little hedonistic.
6 JOHN HAWKES AS CYPHER
In the original movie, Cypher was a mole or “informant” for the agents. He pretended to work for the Resistance on the Nebuchadnezzar, but what he really wanted was to be free of the tedium it brought and live a more glamorous, albeit fake, life within the Matrix. “Ignorance is bliss,” he famously said. Played by Joe Pantoliano, he was slimy but just believable enough to con the crew.
Character actor John Hawkes could easily pull off the same kind of vibe. His face has “con artist” written all over it – in other words, he can charm you into believing his lies, but just as quickly turn on you when he’s ready, in the most despicable of ways. He’s often straddled lines like that in his work, as in Winter’s Bone and his cult leader character in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
5 VIOLA DAVIS AS THE ORACLE
Sadly, Gloria Foster’s portrayal of The Oracle in The Matrix Reloaded was her last role before she tragically passed away in 2001. The character was played by Mary Alice for The Matrix Revolutions. Although a computer program, she appears as a wise black woman who prophesies the coming of The One who will end the Machine War.
Viola Davis seems like the ideal Oracle, through and through. She’s played similar roles of wisdom in films like Eat, Pray, Love and The Help. That being said, as a two-time Oscar nominee, she’s such a great actress that she could easily play the role without that experience. We recognize that Davis is pretty busy with her series How to Get Away with Murder these days (not to mention her role in a little film called Suicide Squad), so a lesser known character actress like CCH Pounder would work as a backup.
4 MICHAEL SHANNON AS AGENT SMITH
It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Australian actor Hugo Weaving owes the current state of his career to his role as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy. He was far from a household name up until then, but has gone on to a significant role in another major trilogy (The Lord of the Rings) in addition to headlining parts in V for Vendetta, Captain America: The First Avenger and another Wachowskis film, Cloud Atlas.
For such an otherwise vibrant film, in terms of action and story, The Matrix is filled with stoic, somewhat unemotional characters. Agent Smith may fit that bill more than any other. After all, he’s merely a computer program. That being said, he does enjoy being bad. And so, it would seem, does actor Michael Shannon. Just look at his roles on Boardwalk Empire and as Zod in Man of Steel. His eyes just scream “I’m gonna get you and you can’t stop me and I’m going to love every minute of it” without even saying a word. So he’s our Agent Smith.
3 KATEE SACKHOFF AS TRINITY
Interestingly, Canadian actress Carrie-Ann Moss starred in a short-lived series in her home country called Matrix in 1993 before busting out as Trinity in The Matrix six years later. She was really one of the first multi-disciplined female action heroes. Sure, Terminator’s Sarah Connors and Alien’s Ellen Ripley were incredibly courageous and could fire a gun. But Trinity could code, she was a martial arts expert, she could pilot a helicopter…and she could fire a gun.
So our new Trinity needs to be all-around awesome. And we think Katee Sackhoff is just that. She truly seemed poised to break out into this kind of role after her revered stint on Battlestar Galactica, but it never quite happened, aside from a stint on 24, and currently she’s a cop on the A&E series Longmire. Honestly, though, this was a tight contest for us. We’d also love to see Daredevil star Elodie Yung (Elektra) flashing her martial arts skills and unique energy as Trinity.
2 IDRIS ELBA AS MORPHEUS
Morpheus is kind of an Ahab character, akin to the captain in Moby Dick, a guy who spends most of his life unsuccessfully looking for the white whale. Morpheus, captain of the Nebuchadnezzar, spends most of his life in search of “The One” until he finally comes across Neo. In the Matrix trilogy, veteran actor Laurence Fishburne perfectly played him as the all-business leader of a revolution.
The Wire star Idris Elba, at a ripped 6’2” to Fishburne’s 6’0”, could potentially cut an even more imposing presence than Fishburne. Elba could actually borrow a bit from his role as Heimdall in the Thor movies, as a stoic, but battle-ready protector. Of course, he’s certainly busy these days, with his involvement in big-ticket film series from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the upcoming Star Trek Beyond and The Dark Tower. But he’d make room in his schedule in our fantasy world.
1 KIT HARRINGTON AS NEO
After the box office bomb that was Johnny Mnemonic in 1995, Keanu Reeves’ career hit a bit of a speed-bump (no “Speed” pun intended) until he was cast in the lead role in The Matrix four years later. As computer-programmer-turned-chosen one Thomas A. Anderson/Neo, Reeves shone and found his career rejuvenated. But he was far from the Wachowski’s first choice, with Will Smith, Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage and others being considered first.
If this film were made in 2016, we’d go with Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington as our Neo. We’ve seen him pull off the dark-eyed, stone-faced intensity as Jon Snow on GoT. and it doesn’t hurt that we know he looks badass in a long, black cloak. And we’ve also seen him pull off the action thing in Pompeii, in addition to his exploits in Westeros. Backups could include Nicholas Hoult or Michael B. Jordan.
What do you think of our casting call? Would this group be able to hold their own against the original cast? Sound off in the comments.