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Jet Li Rejected Starring in ‘The Matrix’ Sequels Because He Didn’t Want to Lose Ownership of His Martial Arts Moves

The Chinese acting legend was sought to play the part of Seraph, the Guardian of the Oracle.

Jet Li13th Wushu World Championships opening ceremony, Jakarta, Indonesia - 13 Nov 2015

Jet Li

Dita Alangkara/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Jet Li had the chance to join one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood circa the early 2000s when the Wachowski siblings offered him the part of Seraph in “The Matrix Reloaded.” The role had originally been written as a woman and offered to Michele Yeoh, but she turned it down because of scheduling conflicts. Li was the Wachowski’s first choice for Seraph after they switched the character’s gender, but Li also turned the role down. Over a decade later, Li has finally revealed the reason why he made the choice (via Abacus).

“It was a commercial struggle for me,” Li said, “I realized the Americans wanted me to film for three months but be with the crew for nine. And for six months, they wanted to record and copy all my moves into a digital library. By the end of the recording, the right to these moves would go to them.”

Li did not want to sell his martial arts moves to be used and repurposed by others in the future, so he made the decision not to play Seraph. “I was thinking: I’ve been training my entire life. And we martial artists could only grow older,” he said. “Yet they could own [my moves] as an intellectual property forever. So I said I couldn’t do that.”

The Wachowskis created the character of Seraph as a guardian and protector of the Oracle, played by Gloria Foster in the first two “Matrix” films and by Mary Alice in the final installment, “The Matrix Revolutions.” Seraph was ultimately played in both sequels by Taiwanese actor and martial artist Collin Chou. The actor would go on to appear in Jet Li’s “Fearless,” released in 2006.

Li has remained out of the spotlight in recent years, with his most notable role in the U.S. as of late being his involvement in “The Expendables” franchise. The actor will return to the big screen in Disney’s live-action “Mulan,” set for release March 27, 2020.

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