The Big Reveal: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Director Joseph Kosinski Shares Stories Behind The Film — It Was Val Kilmer’s Idea To Make Iceman Character Sick

Tom really didn’t want to make another Top Gun and [director Tony Scott’s suicide] made it even less likely. I’m sure for him, that’s probably another reason why he wouldn’t ever consider going back. But I pitched the idea of this story being a reconciliation between him and Rooster set against this mission that would take Rooster into this very dangerous situation, that they’d end up together across enemy lines, having to resolve their differences and work together to get back home. As soon as I pitched that idea, I could just see the wheels in Tom’s head start to turn and all of a sudden, he had a very emotional reason, a hook back into this character, and a reason to come back, because I think in his mind it was like a one in a million shot that we would be able to get it right. He kept saying, “Joe, we got to hit a bullet with a bullet.” And that was his line on this movie. And so, I certainly heard that in my head every day as we were making the film. I think everyone who worked on this film felt like the bar was very high because we all were fans of the original.

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Val Kilmer was the one who came up with the idea to make Iceman ill.  I’ll never forget the shoot day with him and Tom. That scene with those two guys, two actors at their absolute best pulling off a scene like that, their first time together on camera since 1986. The friendship between the two, the mutual respect between the two of them as real people very much mirrors the characters. So, I think that’s why that scene lands so well. When we were putting the film together, we all wanted Val to be a part of it, but we just didn’t know what was possible. So, we had Val come in and said to him, “We’d love to have you in this film.” It was his idea to make it feel as authentic as possible. Once he had that idea, it opened up that whole storyline and just allowed us to tell this story in a better way. I was blown away when he offered that up. The scene was intense and very emotional, but when the camera wasn’t running, hearing him and Tom talk about the hijinks of making the first film and how much fun they had and the tricks they were pulling on each other, and just the craziness of that time and that era, was really fun to listen in on. You really felt that connective tissue to the past.

It was a very, very difficult world to live in and shoot a movie in.  I spent two weeks on an aircraft carrier, and that was tough. And the fact that these people do that for six months or nine months without seeing their families, I was just really blown away by their sacrifice and what they give up to do that job for us. So, I think all of us on the crew walked away with even more respect for all the men and women out there. And that’s another reason we wanted this film to represent them in the best way possible. Because they worked so hard to help us capture all that. Every flight was flown by real Navy personnel. Every time you see Phoenix flying in the film, she’s being flown by a female aviator. The Navy has very different personnel than it did in 1986. The movie Top Gun: Maverick represents the Navy of today as opposed to the Navy of 1986. And that’s how far it’s come and how different it is now than then. So, it was good that our film was able to represent that in a really authentic way.

Tom was jumping off the roof of his house as a kid. He’s just always been that way. So, for him, he loves [stunts]. He’s always very well-trained and is working with the best people. To an outsider, it does look insane. But I think for him; he’d want to be doing nothing else. It’s his dream. He’s living his dream every day on a movie set doing these things. So, for him to do it is one thing. But on this film, I had all the other actors [flying for real] too. They all wanted to do it to prove they could do it, and to deliver something really special. Because once we saw the footage they were getting, it was undeniable. As soon as they landed, we’d put the chips from the cameras into the monitor and we’d sit and watch it, and everyone would cheer when you saw those great moments. The other thing is, I knew they were in the hands of truly the best aviators in the world. I mean, when you saw how professional these Navy pilots were, it does look incredibly dangerous and thrilling and exciting. But that’s what these people do every day.

You’re pulling 6, 7, 7.5 Gs in the jet, and that’s incredibly draining. The actors were wiped out. Some days, we would have the actors fly in the morning and the afternoon and that’s when people would get sick. People would be just exhausted. It was really, really difficult. Even for the real pilots themselves, that’s a lot of work. One day the weather was so beautiful, Tom came up to me and said, “I think I should go three times today.” He’s like, “Joe, when you see this footage, you’re going to be blown away.” So, Tom went up and shot his third act sequence, which is the big bombing run. He came back, and it was the last debrief of the day. I think all the other pilots had gone back to their trailers, and Tom came in and he collapsed in a chair, and he had his black Ray-Bans on. I said, “Tom, how’d you do?” And he said, “We crushed it.” It was very Maverick/Tom Cruise. Is there a difference?

I had a huge love of aviation growing up. I was building model airplanes, really complex radio-controlled airplanes and flying them around. The first thing I did after getting this job was, I flew out to the Teddy Roosevelt aircraft carrier. I jumped on a Greyhound, which is not the fast jet, but I did get to fly out there and catch the cable, and then I got the catapult launch off the jet. When you’re directing the film, you kind of get to become a ‘subject matter expert’, which is the Navy term—the SME—on any subject you want. So, I got to live that dream of being in the Navy for a couple years. I got to go to places that civilians don’t get to go to. I got to see things that no civilian would get to see. I had my camera confiscated at one point. Wiped clean. I took some pictures and maybe captured something I wasn’t supposed to capture, and my camera was quickly returned to me without any photos on it. I got to go to China Lake and shoot in a hangar that is top secret. And it was all in this quest for authenticity. And I think you feel it when you see it, because you don’t feel like you’re in a Hollywood-designed setting. There’s a reality to it. We collaborated with the actual engineers who make the real secret aircraft. It was just a dream come true.

Films from the ’80s are ones that people keep going back to because of that strong story foundation. Top Gun is one of those movies I remember seeing in the theater, along with Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future. I think that era was story-driven—certainly, there were visual effects, but not at the level you have now—because the story had to carry the film and visual effects could add a little special sauce on top. I think even Star Wars, which you think of as a giant effects film, had something like 400 shots in it, compared to movies now which have 2,500 or 3,000 effects shots. So, they had to have a fundamentally strong story to draw you in. I remembered that experience of seeing Top Gun as an 11-year-old kid. So, when Jerry Bruckheimer sent me an early draft of Maverick, I had all those recollections, memories and feelings of what that movie felt like.

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