Humans perceive time in the structure of stories, and as a result, the memories of moments passed take on their own life form. Unlike the transient, ever-changing experience of the present or make-believe projection of the future, history, in its certainty, becomes palpable.
With that in mind, the fleeting concept of alternative historic events — the could-have-beens that never-were — take on feather-like, alien property when compared to the granite of history. Take Hollywood, for example. The industry is a fickle, cutthroat beast, with most major projects involving an element of musical-chairs, both in front of and behind the camera, that were almost hugely different.
There are many famous examples: John Travolta could've been Forest Gump; Al Pacino could've been Han Solo; Tom Hanks could've been Jerry Maguire. And one of the buzz films of the moment, #Passengers, could've been led by none other than The Matrix star Keanu Reeves.
How Keanu Reeves Missed Out On His Passion Project 'Passengers'
Unlike some of the above examples, the story of how #KeanuReeves came to miss out on Passengers fits in with his own personal meme-induced narrative, Sad Keanu. For those without internet access over the past five years, the meme was spawned from a photo of Reeves looking slightly glum, and gained such a devout following it launched an annual "Cheer-up Keanu Day" on June 15.
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Reeves first mentioned his involvement with Passengers three years ago, during a Reddit AMA, where he spoke of the passion project that had been years in the making:
I've got a project that I've been developing for over six or seven years. It's a role I am looking forward to playing, it's called 'Passengers.' And in that film I play a character named Jim, who wakes up on a spaceship with five other people planning to homestead. He wakes up too soon, ninety years before arriving. What does he do?
In 2007, Passengers made the Black List — a survey of studio and production executives "most liked" screenplays that are not yet produced. A nomination is usually an indication that success will follow; since the survey was introduced in 2005, the coveted scripts that have made the list — including the likes of The Revenant, Spotlight, and Argo — have gone on to make $25 billion at the box office, and received 241 Oscar nominations between them.
Passengers also looked to be following that same arc, with Reeves in the driving seat. Things were looking up after the potential was spotted by independent film studio, The Weinstein Company, who purchased the rights in 2013. However, financial difficulties and big name departures from the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Rachel McAdams and Emily Blunt derailed the production, leading to The Weinstein Company dropping the project.
In a 2014 interview with Yahoo! Movies, the actor lamented the lack of faith he was receiving in the industry, having not worked with a major studio for a number of years, something that Reeves felt powerless to control. Despite the many setbacks, Reeves remained positive Passengers would make take off, saying that he was "hoping somehow, some way, I get to make that movie."
It wasn't until December of that same year that Reeves was hit with a sucker punch of epic proportions. Major studio Sony Pictures Entertainment won the rights to the movie at auction, and although Reeve's production company, Company Films, still produced, Reeves was, after almost a decade of lobbying for the project, overlooked for the main role.
'Passengers' Could've Been Completely Different
Fortunately, the Nice Guy of Hollywood isn't bitter about missing out. He responded to Sony's change of direction in a characteristically humble manner, praising the film during the promotion of his action sequel, John Wick 2. In an interview with Yahoo! Movies, he said:
"Everyone worked so hard for so long. I’m just happy that beautiful story got told by such wonderful people."
While Reeves is pleased Passengers made it to the big screen (his fingerprints are still all over the storyline), the film would've no doubt looked completely different had a different studio backed Reeves all those years ago. The final budget of $110 million is over three times the $35 million budget that was estimated when Reeves and Witherspoon were linked.
Sony took the route of selling the film based on the reputation of the two leading stars, something they probably felt was necessary for a movie that is set on one location, the Avalon, the spaceship where characters Jim Preston and Aurora Lane spend the majority of the film alone. Unfortunately (and unjustly), Reeves now finds himself outside of the exclusive "leading star" club.
Reeves Was Overlooked As A Leading Star
#ChrisPratt is one of the most bankable actors of the moment, thanks to his role as Star-Lord in Marvel's cosmic hit franchise Guardians of the Galaxy, and leading 2015's Jurassic World, which grossed $1.6 billion and is now the fourth-highest grossing film of all time. #JenniferLawrence, too, still holds sway as one of the most bankable actresses, with a huge reputation in the industry thanks to the Hunger Games and X-Men franchises, as well as an Oscar win for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and three other nominations.
However, those reputations came at a cost. Pratt was paid $12 million for his role as Jim Preston, while Lawrence was paid an astronomical $20 million for playing Aurora — together, the $32 million paid in salaries for the leads alone almost equals the original $35 million budget of Reeves's earlier concept.
The final, big-budget version of Passengers was released in December last year, and is now carved into the granite of history. However, Reeves's version — a lower-budget, independent sci-fi — will now join the ranks of the most alluring Hollywood "could've-beens," the alternative history of a film set in space that doesn't feel alien at all.
Would you have preferred Keanu Reeves's version of Passengers?
(Source: Yahoo! Movies)