When Tom Cruise was first approached about a Top Gun sequel, he had his reservations. The actor wanted to wait until the technology caught up with what he wanted to accomplish; he wanted the cast to fly the jets and, importantly, for the footage to be useable.
“In the first movie we put the actors up in F-14s and they all had their heads between their legs, they were just throwing up, it was a disaster, we couldn’t use anything,” executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer tells Total Film. “The only thing we could use was some footage of Tom because he’s somebody who can deal with it. It was a real challenge to do what we did.”
For the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, the first hurdle was finding the right actors for the job. The movie introduces a new crop of Top Gun graduates, who are brought together for a top-secret, highly dangerous mission. Miles Teller leads the cast as Goose’s son Rooster and is joined by Glen Powell as Hangman, Lewis Pullman as Bob, Monica Barbaro as Phoenix, Jay Ellis as Payback, Danny Ramirez as Fanboy, and Greg Tarzan Davis as Coyote.
Director Joseph Kosinski along with Bruckheimer and Cruise led a huge casting search. Being able to go up in the planes was a key stipulation for the actors – and quite understandably, not everyone was up for it. “A lot of actors said, ‘No, thank you. I’ll do it on a gimbal airplane,'” Bruckheimer explains. “Because it’s dangerous, obviously. So we got the best of the bunch.”
Cruise then compiled a months-long process to prepare the new young stars to handle the g-force pressure. This began with a prop plane, so the actors could get used to the movements, before getting in a jet to build up their resistance to the pressure on their bodies. This all meant that by the time they were in the speedy F/A-18 jets, they had built up some g-tolerance, which allowed them to deal with the pressure of “an elephant sitting on their chest” when filming those sequences.
“When you see the expressions on their faces – they’re not acting,” Bruckheimer says. “When you see the plane going straight up, they’re going straight up. When you see the plane upside down, they’re upside down. You can just imagine the physical exertion that every actor went through.”
As the reviews have pointed out, the results are breathtaking. Although, even Cruise-camp couldn’t stop them from vomiting. “A lot of them still threw up in the planes,” Bruckheimer explains. “Except for Monica – she’s the only one that could handle the g-forces better than the other actors. Of course, Tom too.”
The producer also wanted to make sure the action sequences could be enjoyed in the best possible way. And with production delays and a pandemic, this meant a waiting game until theaters were ready to welcome packed-out audiences once again. Now, three years on from its original release date, we’re finally there. “It’s really exciting that we’ve got to a place where theaters are now going to handle people and be in and enjoy this movie the way we want them to enjoy it,” Bruckheimer says. “It was made to be in the theaters.”
Bruckheimer’s involvement also marks a reunion with Cruise. Top Gun: Maverick arrives 36 years after the original and the pair are still happily working together. Bruckheimer puts it down to Cruise’s chameleon-like nature, being involved in every aspect of making the movie, from casting to writing to marketing. “He’s learned over the last 35 years from the best directors, writers, and actors – and he’s a sponge and he takes it all in,” he says. “We were the benefit on Top Gun of all that knowledge.”
And yet, the first Top Gun almost never happened – Bruckheimer had to convince Cruise to take on the role. “It took a while,” he says. “Although he says no, he wanted to do it from the very beginning, he wouldn’t tell us that.” The producer arranged a flight for him with the Blue Angels, the aerobatic section of the Navy. It gave Cruise the need for speed.
“He just finished a movie with Ridley Scott [Legend] in London, and he had long hair, a ponytail,” Bruckheimer recalls. “So he goes to El Centro, California, which is in the desert, and he pulls up in a motorcycle and he takes off his helmet, he’s got this long hair and this pony. And these pilots look at him and go, ‘Oh we’re going to give this hippie a real ride.’
“They took him and spun him and he gets out of the plane and he’s got a big smile on his face. He goes to a phone booth – because there were no cell phones in those days – and calls me up and says, ‘I’ll do it.'” Now 36 years on, it seems he’s yet to lose that need…
Top Gun: Maverick is exclusively in UK cinemas on May 25 and US theaters on May 27, in 4DX and IMAX. Check out our guide to 2022 movie release dates to see what else is coming out this year.