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Behind the scenes of Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun Maverick Tom Cruise

After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. When he finds himself training a
detachment of TOPGUN graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose.”

Top Gun Maverick Tom Cruise

Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.

Paramount Pictures and Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films present A Don Simpson / Jerry Bruckheimer Production, A Joseph Kosinski Film, Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. Based on Characters Created by Jim Cash & Jack Epps, Jr. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison. Executive Produced by Tommy Harper, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Chad Oman, Mike Stenson.

Top Gun: Maverick stars Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Charles Parnell, Bashir Salahuddin, Monica Barbaro, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis with Ed Harris and Val Kilmer.

About Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun Maverick Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

There’s a line in Top Gun: Maverick that sums up its production maybe more than any other. Appropriately, it’s said in a scene between two of its returning heroes: Tom Cruise’s title character, Maverick, and his old nemesis-turned-wingman Iceman, played once again by Val
Kilmer. The pair are discussing their passion for being pilots, looking back on what their careers mean to them. “It’s not what I am,” Maverick tells Iceman. “It’s who I am.”

On Friday September 7, 2018, Tom Cruise returned to Miramar, the military base where much of Top Gun was filmed 33 years previously, in the Spring of 1985. He was there to undergo a full ASTC (Aviation Survival Training Curriculum), to qualify for the extensive flying sequences in U.S. Navy F/A-18s that he had personally insisted were essential to the making of its long-awaited sequel, Top Gun: Maverick.

As he embarked on a training program unlike any other in film history, it was impossible to not note the parallels between Maverick and the person who plays him; two men constantly testing the limits of themselves and their profession. Two men also not averse to breaking the
odd rule along the way, if that means pushing their craft further than anyone ever has before, exploring its possibilities, stretching its edges.

“I’d thought about a sequel to Top Gun for all these years,” says Cruise of only now returning, as actor and producer, to perhaps his most iconic ever role. “People had asked for a sequel for decades. Decades. And the thing I said to the studio from the beginning was: ‘If I’m
ever going to entertain this, we’re shooting everything practically. I’m in that F/A-18, period. So, we’re going to have to develop camera rigs. There’s going to be wind tunnels and engineering.

It’s going to take a long, long time for me to figure it out.’ And I wanted to work with Jerry [Bruckheimer]. I wouldn’t do this movie without him in a million years. For years, people had said, ‘Can’t you shoot [the movie] with CGI?’ And I always said, ‘No. That’s not the
experience.’ I said, ‘I need to find the right story. And we’re going to need the right team. This movie is like trying to hit a bullet with a bullet. I’m not playing.’”

That Bruckheimer factor is essential in understanding what this movie means to the people who have made it – and what it will mean for the audiences soon to experience it, too. Cruise describes Bruckheimer simply: “He’s a legendary producer. One of the great Hollywood producers.” And he should know. It was on the original Top Gun that Bruckheimer and his late producing partner, the equally legendary Don Simpson, took a then 21-year-old actor who wanted to learn it all under, well, their wing.

“When we started working on this [new] movie, we were working on the script and I looked across at Jerry and I just felt like a kid again, like I was back in 1985, working with him. [Back then] I wanted to learn everything about being a producer,” Cruise remembers. “And Don
and Jerry, at a time when I asked to be involved with something, to be in those meetings, were very generous with me. And as we all know, not everyone is like that. Top Gun was the next phase for me [in my career]. For me, like Jerry, I always just wanted to make great stories and entertain the world. That was my purpose.”

On the original movie, although Cruise was filmed in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat, his castmates weren’t so successful in their endeavours. “We had other actors up there, flying,” says Bruckheimer. “But their footage, unfortunately, wasn’t usable because they didn’t have enough experience in training. When we put them in the air, none of them could hack it. Tom was the only one we had usable flight footage for. We had tons of footage of the other actors in the air with their eyes rolling back in their heads. This time, thanks to Tom, all the actors on Top Gun: Maverick became accustomed to the fundamentals and mechanics of flight and G-forces, because of all the training they did months in advance. Unlike the first film, our actors are actually in the cockpits of the F/A-18s in flight, acting and speaking their lines of dialogue.”

That seismic shift is not just about an increase in aviation authenticity, either. Rather, it is part of an amplification of a number of factors that made the original Top Gun resonate so strongly. “In this movie we very much wanted to have a more developed group and a greater sense of the pilots around Maverick,” says writer and producer, Christopher McQuarrie, the Usual Suspects Oscar®-winner who has collaborated with Cruise since writing Valkyrie in 2008, and has since written and directed him in one Jack Reacher and two Mission: Impossible films, with another two on the way.

“One of the things I said to Tom early on was that the original Top Gun was not just about Maverick. It wasn’t just about Maverick and Goose. It was about a culture,” McQuarrie observes. “It was about the culture of these pilots and the competition that they all had with one another, and we wanted to bring some of that in. As a result, all the pilots in this film are more richly drawn. It’s a deeper bench but also a richer canvas. That tapestry of pilots all help to serve an understanding of who Maverick is now. Obviously, this movie takes place over 30 years later.

And we didn’t want to stop the movie and reflect upon what those 30 years were. We wanted you to feel that history unfolding while you were watching the movie.”

The director of Top Gun: Maverick, Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion, Only The Brave), still vividly remembers the first time he saw the original Top Gun, at the Orpheum Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa. He’d just turned 12 years old, and thought Maverick was one of
the greatest characters he’d ever seen on the big screen. He was so inspired by all the state-ofthe-art machinery on display that he would later study aerospace and mechanical engineering at Stanford before switching gears and moving into the world of filmmaking.

The very first sequence Kosinski shot on Top Gun: Maverick proved to be the ultimate combination of his twin passions. It was a high-speed tracking shot of Tom Cruise on a Kawasaki motorcycle, dressed in Maverick’s leather jacket and Aviator sunglasses, racing an F/A-18 down a runway, framed against a classic Tony Scott sunset. “Top Gun, in some ways, is a fantasy,” says Kosinski of Scott’s beloved original. “The sun’s always setting, there’s volleyball at the beach, and the jukebox is full of classic tunes. That first movie is gorgeous. Tony was making a blockbuster, but he shot it like an art film. The lighting, the gradient filters, the framing. There are moments in this film that are a homage, stylistically, to Tony’s movie. There were days, like on that runway with Tom, the bike, and the jet, that you just had to pinch
yourself.”

Like many good things, Kosinski’s part in the production began in Paris. “I flew out there, where Tom was shooting Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” Kosinski remembers of the moment he became involved in the sequel, three decades after falling in love with this world. “I
had 20 minutes with Tom to pitch my take on it, and I knew there would be two requirements: One, the story had to be deeply emotional. Two, the film had to be shot practically. The theme that everyone remembers from the first movie, and really holds true in this one, is to never leave your wingman. That notion of a wingman – brotherhood, friendship, loyalty – had to be at the core of our story. At the same time, we’re telling a new tale. It’s a continuation of Maverick’s story, but we’ve brought it into the present day. He is called back to TOPGUN because there is a specific mission that requires the skills of a very special pilot. A type of mission that’s rarely flown and involves extremely low-altitude flying. It’s very risky and requires a high level of skill. Maverick is the only active duty pilot who has flown a mission like it before. So the Navy pulls him back to TOPGUN not to fly it, but to teach a group of young Naval aviators how to
pull it off.”

At the heart of this new story is the conflict between Maverick and one of those young TOPGUN pilots, Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller). Maverick and Rooster’s history runs deep: Rooster is the son of Maverick’s late best friend and RIO (Radar
Intercept Officer), Lt. Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, who was killed in a training accident that forced the two pilots to eject from their F-14 Tomcat, in a scene from the original movie that traumatized a generation to the point that Cruise still has people mention it to him now.
When we meet Maverick again, he is working as a test pilot, pushing incredibly powerful, and occasionally temperamental, new cutting-edge flying machines to their limits for the Navy. “It was very important to us that Maverick still be in the Navy. The Navy is really the
only thing he’s ever known. The Navy is his family,” says McQuarrie. “At the same time, Maverick has been in the Navy for over 30 years. Being a test pilot answered the question of how someone would stay in the Navy this long and remain where he is. Because what matters
most to Maverick is that he always finds a way to fly. He’s not just there because he is a great pilot, but through a certain amount of guile and ingenuity. Because the system is constantly looking for ways to push Maverick out to pasture. And Maverick constantly finds ways to avoid
that.”

On the ground, meanwhile, Maverick once again comes into the life of Penny Benjamin, a character whose name fans will remember being mentioned in the original movie, now brought to life by the Oscar-winning Jennifer Connelly. A single mother and owner of The Hard Deck
aviators’ club, Penny is “bright, independent and happy,” says Connelly, reteaming with Kosinski after working with him – as did Teller – on Only The Brave. “An elite sailor, she loves to race and she loves the sea, but she’s found anchor in her community and her family. Penny
and Maverick had a brief romance when they were young and have rekindled the relationship a few times over the years. While things always end pretty amicably, they’ve had enough breakups that she’s determined not to get involved again. But, we get the sense that for the first time, they may have finally reappeared in each other’s lives at the right time,” Connelly says. As Bruckheimer notes of the relationship: “Jennifer’s scenes with Tom just crackle with wit and tension as these two very independent people reunite and get to know each other again.”

For Kosinski, “the original Top Gun is a drama wrapped in an action movie, and I wanted to continue that idea. The most important thing to me was the emotional spine of this film; the story of Maverick reconnecting with the son of his wingman, Goose, and watching that
relationship, which has been fractured over time, come together. But it was also about where we find Maverick 35 years later. I was intrigued with the concept of him being on the outer fringes of the Navy, in the experimental world, testing aircraft that people don’t realize exist. I liked the notion of finding Maverick on the outside, and then having him called back to TOPGUN and having to confront and reconnect with characters from the original movie. It felt like the right way to get back into this world.”

Maverick has, of course, ruffled more than a few feathers during his time in the Navy. “The future is coming. And you’re not in it,” Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (Ed Harris) tells him in no uncertain terms. But Maverick has got friends in high places, too. Not least
Iceman, who is now a 4-star Admiral himself, and knows Maverick is the only pilot with the expertise and daring needed to train this special detachment to complete this crucial mission. “On the first Top Gun, I was desperate that Val played Iceman,” remembers Cruise. “But
at first he didn’t want to do it because he was starring in his own movies. But he was so perfect for that role. So, Tony had to go and pursue him. In fact, I remember calling my agent at the time – I think she represented Val. I said, ‘Look, what do I need to do to get Val on this movie?’”

Kilmer’s reticence was straightforward: “I had only played leads, even in the theater and
in the two films I had done,” he says. “But Tony was so enthusiastic and so were Simpson and
Bruckheimer, who couldn’t have been nicer. Tony, Don and Jerry really were exactly like
advertised, so fun and full of life – pure joy!” And for Cruise, the moment Kilmer eventually did
say yes was one that will always stay with him. “When Val finally committed, I remember the
four of us in the office – me, Jerry, Don and Tony – all high-fiving!” he says. “On this one, I
wanted Val to be in it and he wanted to be in it. He was on the internet, saying, ‘I am ready for
Top Gun’! I wanted this movie to be a progression of their relationship. And working with him
again was so special. Playing scenes again, me and Val. Just sitting down with him was really
emotional.”

Maverick’s relationship with Iceman is critical to Top Gun: Maverick, but so too are his with the other key characters in his orbit. “The relationships between Maverick and Iceman, Maverick and Hondo, Maverick and Cyclone and Warlock and, of course, Penny, all of those
relationships are built into the story so that you feel this life that this character has been living since you last saw him,” notes McQuarrie.

Ask Bruckheimer if you could make a Top Gun movie without Tom Cruise and his answer is definitive. “No, you couldn’t. Tom is Maverick and Maverick is Top Gun. Maverick carries on a legacy, and Tom Cruise carries on a legacy.” But, according to the man who plays him, there’s another essential ingredient. “A Top Gun movie isn’t a Top Gun movie without Jerry Bruckheimer,” says Cruise. “And getting to produce a movie with Jerry, at this stage… A Top Gun movie. It’s special. You can feel Tony Scott’s inspiration in this film. We’re not imitating a Tony Scott movie – this isn’t a cover album of Top Gun, but it’s very much playing
in the same world.”

Speaking of albums, Top Gun: Maverick has something very special up its sleeve musically, too. “The first movie’s soundtrack was iconic,” says Cruise. “When we were looking for the sound of this movie, we were working with Hans [Zimmer]. And Harold Faltermeyer was
involved. We knew the pieces. We had the pieces. But finding the music… There was a magical moment where Joe, Jerry, McQ [Cruise’s nickname for McQuarrie], our editor Eddie [Hamilton], we were all working in England. And Hans said, ‘Come over to my music room.’ We went in
there and he said, ‘There’s music, from Lady Gaga.’ And he played her song. It was such a moment.”

Wanting to capture not just the romance between Maverick and Penny but also the romance of flying, all the filmmakers had wanted Lady Gaga to add her soul to the soundtrack and were delighted with the results. Written specifically for the film by her and BloodPop, “Hold
My Hand” plays in full in the final scenes of the movie but its beats are woven throughout. “Gaga is just a genius. The power,” says Cruise. “I’ve had the good fortune to have seen her perform live. We knew at that point that this was the end of our movie. It inspired the cut. It inspired the tone of what we were able to play with at that point. It was just right in line with what we needed. There are moments when you hear a song in a movie for the first time and you immediately know, ‘That’s it!’ This was one of those moments.”

Like all movies, Top Gun: Maverick is a product of its parts and its people. “And we really do have the best that’s out there in terms of both,” says Bruckheimer. “This has a story, tone, feeling and look that is totally compelling and very much continues what we started in the first movie. But the audience is also going to get a point of view of what it’s really like to be in the cockpit of one of these planes in a way that no film has been able to do, including the original Top Gun. We’re putting you right in there with Maverick.”

Producer David Ellison describes, “Top Gun is the film that ignited my lifelong passion for aviation and like so many others had a visceral and profound impact on my life. The picture is a true love letter to aviation. Being part of Top Gun: Maverick allows me to celebrate two
things I truly enjoy, my life-long passion for aviation and working to bring large-scale movies that hopefully resonate with audiences in enduring and impactful ways.”

Cruise says there is a “majesty and beauty” in flying an airplane. “It’s both using and defying nature,” he says. “And playing Maverick again, at a different stage of his life, has been an incredible experience for me. Maverick is still Maverick. He still wants to fly Mach 2 with his hair on fire. But you see the transition that Maverick undergoes. The pressure of him losing his best friend, the responsibility he feels about that and how he has carried that with him – and how that incident has changed both his and Rooster’s life forever. Maverick loves Rooster as a son. This film is about family and it’s about friendship and it’s about sacrifice. It’s about redemption and the cost of mistakes.”

And that emotion hasn’t just been up on screen, but behind the scenes, on a journey that has taken the makers of Top Gun: Maverick both back in time and forward, into new frontiers in filmmaking. “What we have achieved with the aerial sequences is genuinely something that
people will never have seen before,” says Cruise. “We’ve trained actors to be able to fly and perform in real F/A-18s. And, to do that, we took the greatest fighter pilots in the world [from the U.S. Navy] and we taught them about movies – the pilot and the actor had to work as a team. This is the sophistication of the aerial sequences. No one’s ever done this, ever.”

It’s not just pride that Cruise feels, though. Top Gun: Maverick isn’t just a movie – it’s a destination. A culmination of everything he has learned in his 40 years in this business (Cruise’s debut, Endless Love, was released on July 17, 1981), this is a story he’s been building towards. A love letter to aviation, for sure. But a love letter to movies too.

“Tom is a very experienced pilot. That’s something I learned the hard way on [another] film we did together,” says McQuarrie, who for Mission: Impossible – Fallout had to watch on a monitor as his leading man put a helicopter into a controlled spin in a ravine in New Zealand and then jumped out of a plane moving at 160mph, 25,000 feet over Abu Dhabi. “Aviation has been a part of every film that I’ve ever worked on with Tom, whether it’s on screen or behind the camera. He’s always had an incredible love of and passion for aviation. In fact, one of my earliest meetings with Tom was at his hangar where his beautiful P-51 Mustang [that we see in Top Gun: Maverick] is. How to capture the love of aviation was an enormous challenge for us, finding a way to express Maverick’s passion for aviation in a way that was done visually, as opposed to him just saying it.”

McQuarrie pauses. “I don’t think I’m more proud of a movie that I’ve worked on to date than this film,” he says. “It’s a movie I really can’t wait for audiences to see. This is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. It’s epic in scale, it’s epic in scope, it’s epic in emotional depth, whether you have seen the original movie or not. It’s very much a modern film, but it’s steeped in classic storytelling.”

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