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Why Axel From The Matrix: Reloaded Looks So Familiar

With The Matrix 4 coming soon to take us all on another existential adventure, now is a great time to revisit the first three films in the Wachowskis' mind-blowing sci-fi series. After all, it has been quite a while since we were first introduced to the super-hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves), as he takes that red pill and joins the ultimate fight between man and machine. In addition to refreshing your memory about the storyline, during your rewatch you might also notice some familiar faces that you forgot were a part of The Matrix and its two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

One such is Leigh Whannell, who plays Axel in the second film and in the video game, Enter the Matrix. Axel is a crewmate on the Zion hovercraft Vigilant, and his fate is very unfortunate once the ship is attacked by incoming Sentinels. Though Whannell was still an up-and-comer when he entered the Matrix for Reloaded, he has since become a household name for his work in front of and behind the lens.

Chances are you saw him in the instant horror classic Saw

Whannell earned his earliest professional credits with small roles in the Australian television series Neighbours and Blue Heelers and delivering film reviews in the TV series Recovery, but his big breakthrough came in 2004 with the premiere of Saw. Whannell stars in the film as Adam Faulkner-Stanheight, a man who wakes up in a bathtub and finds himself chained to a pipe in a bathroom with two other men, one of whom is face down in a puddle of blood. A tape recording informs Adam's fellow captive, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), that he must kill Adam by a certain time or his family will suffer the consequences, and thus a deadly game of puzzle-solving commences between them.

In addition to starring in the picture, Whannell also co-wrote the script for Saw with his film school friend, James Wan, who directed the feature film version after they created a short version of the picture together. The eerie and gory thriller spawned a fan-frenzied franchise that is still producing new chapters and catapulted Whannell's status as an important voice in the horror genre. Whannell co-wrote the script for Saw II alongside incoming director Darren Lynn Bousman, and he also penned the screenplay for Saw III before largely stepping away from the series. His character reappears in flashbacks in several of the sequels, and Whannell has served as an executive producer on every sequel that followed, including the upcoming reboot, Spiral.

You won't need new glasses to spot him in the Insidious franchise

After Saw, Whannell's next big horror franchise work began with the 2010 film Insidious. The film centers on the Lambert family, as they are forced to journey to an astral realm called "The Further" to protect their child from the evil spirits that want to inhabit his body. Whannell portrays Steven a.k.a. Specs, one of two assistants to the psychic, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who helps the family deal with their demons.

In addition to starring in the film, Whannell also wrote the screenplay for the pic, while longtime collaborator Wan directed. The release of Insidious marked yet another box office win for the power team, and Whannell returned to his role as both star and screenwriter of the three sequels that followed: Insidious: Chapter 2Insidious: Chapter 3, and Insidious: The Last KeyHe also stepped behind the camera for the very first time, making his directorial debut with the third installment. It is unknown at this time whether he will reprise his role as Specs for Insidious 5.

Let him teach you about the Cooties

Whannell dabbled in the horror-comedy scene in 2014's Cooties, which is centered on an elementary school that becomes overrun by murderous children after a bad batch of chicken nuggets leads to a viral outbreak. Whannell stars in the film as Doug Dink, one of several teachers who attempt to survive the pint-sized attackers. Doug's skills with science — and his high tolerance level for weird things — makes him particularly useful to the group, as they form a plan for fighting back against the zombified kiddos they used to call students.

For Whannell, portraying the character was a unique opportunity to get silly on-screen. He told The Hollywood News, "I just love that Doug has no idea how to interact with people, that's really fun to play. As an actor I've never gotten the chance to play an all out comedy character before. I think the most thing about playing him is you don't have to stick to any of the normal rules of human interaction." In addition to starring in Cooties, Whannell also co-wrote the script for the film alongside Ian Brennan, who also stars in the pic as one of the faculty members. 

You'll think you're looking at Aquaman

Whannell made his superhero film debut in 2018's Aquaman. He briefly appears in the movie as the cargo pilot who is stunned when Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard) suddenly jump out of his plane above the desert without parachutes. Though his face is somewhat obscured in the scene, his Australian accent is unmistakable. Whannell landed the role as a result of his close connection to Wan, who directed the pic. After collaborating with Wan on the Saw and Insidious franchises, as well as films like Dead Silence and Death Sentence, their careers took different paths. Whannell stunned critics with work as writer-director on Upgrade and The Invisible Man, while Wan became a blockbuster director of films like Furious 7. However, Whannell's cameo in Aquaman offered the two one more chance to work together. 

It's unknown whether Whannell will reprise his role for Aquaman 2, but he has come up with his own version of what happens to his pilot character after the events of the scene. Whannell told Collider, "I think he lands the plane and assumes a different identity."