Jet Li Passed On The Matrix Because The Studio Wanted To Steal His Martial Arts Moves
For a franchise that was packed to the brim with kicking, punching, and zero nut grabs, The Matrix was curiously absent of any significant number of martial artists. Sure, Keanu Reeves pulled some mean faces in Bill And Ted, but where was Jet Li? Where was Jackie Chan? Where was Bruce L- uhh, Steven Seagal?
As it turns out, Jet Li was in fact offered the role of Seraph, whom you might remember -- OK, you definitely won't remember -- as the authentication-method-made-person who nearly wipes the floor with Neo and definitely wipes the floor with some unlucky nightclub guards in The Matrix: Reloaded, before getting his ass kicked by Hugo Weaving in Revelations.
Seraph was originally written for Michelle Yeoh, who turned it down, after which it went to Li (or as he's known in the industry, "the male Michelle Yeoh"). Although excited about the role, Li eventually backed out after realizing that the process of being motion-captured for CGI would've meant that, much like the fictional Matrix, taking the job (or "plugging in" as they probably called it) would have required surrendering his digital personhood. As Li tells it, Warner Bros. wanted to keep him doing martial arts in front of a green screen for six months in order to "record and copy all [his] moves to a digital library," after which they would own them forever. Fearing that his style would end up being used by Daffy Duck or something, Li said no.