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Top Gun: Maverick has been a long time coming for Jerry Bruckheimer.
The prolific producer behind the original Top Gun attempted to get a sequel off the ground once the Tony Scott-helmed and Tom Cruise-led film became 1986’s biggest worldwide hit with $357 million in box office. But development never seemed to take off, and attention soon turned to other projects. Two-plus decades later, Bruckheimer and Scott recommitted themselves to the idea until Scott’s tragic death in 2012. While development slowed down a bit, Bruckheimer remained intent on bringing the sequel to fruition, and in 2017, the stars aligned as Cruise’s Oblivion director, Joseph Kosinski, wowed everyone with his pitch for Top Gun: Maverick.
“Joe [Kosinski] had a lookbook, a poster and the title, Top Gun: Maverick, and then he told Tom the journey of the character and the story he wanted to tell. Tom then looked at him, pulled out his phone and called the head of Paramount at that time and said, ‘I want to make another Top Gun.’ And that was it,” Bruckheimer tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Cruise’s commitment to the project depended on a few conditions, namely the involvement of Val Kilmer. Those instincts proved to be correct as the film’s reunion between Cruise’s Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Kilmer’s Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky has garnered glowing reactions at early screenings.
“[Tom] said, ‘I’m not making this movie without Val.’ When we filmed it, it was a very emotional day, having Val there and seeing him work with Tom after 35 years,” Bruckheimer shares.
The finishing touch on the film was Lady Gaga’s powerful original song “Hold My Hand,” and when the Maverick brain trust first heard the track, they knew they had to build on it.
“We played it at Hans Zimmer’s studio, and Tom flipped. Hans loved it so much that he said, ‘I’m going to take that melody and use it as a love theme in the movie,’” Bruckheimer says.
In a recent conversation with THR, Bruckheimer also discussed the demanding training regimen the Maverick actors went through, as well as his passion for process-oriented stories.
So knowing that you’ve had a winner on your hands, has the wait been as excruciating as one might expect?
Yeah, the wait is still excruciating. Even though you tell me it’s a winner, the audience decides how good a movie is. They’re collectively much smarter than I am, so let’s hope they all agree with you. (Laughs.)
Of course, there was also a long road just to get cameras rolling in the first place. When Tony Scott passed away in 2012, was there an urgency to keep it going for his sake? Or was there a lot of uncertainty about whether to do it without him?
No, I think we always kept the flame alive to get this movie made, but once Joe Kosinski talked to us about his vision of what the movie is and the story he wanted to tell, we were enthralled with it. So we took him to Paris where Tom was shooting Mission: Impossible – Fallout. That was five years ago. Joe had a lookbook, a poster and the title, Top Gun: Maverick, and then he told Tom the journey of the character and the story he wanted to tell. Tom then looked at him, pulled out his phone and called the head of Paramount [Jim Gianopulos] at that time and said, “I want to make another Top Gun.” And that was it. That’s when the wheels really started moving forward.
The Val Kilmer scene is magical. I think it’s going to be one of those scenes that’s talked about for generations to come. How did it come together from your vantage point?
Well, it was Tom. He said, “I’m not making this movie without Val.” So he had some ideas on how he wanted to play it and what he wanted to do with it, and we loved it. When we filmed it, it was a very emotional day, having Val there and seeing him work with Tom after 35 years. These two brilliant actors were going at it, and it was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have those two gentlemen in front of the cameras again.
So you immediately knew you had something special.
That’s for sure. It was something that took a lot of care. Our writers worked really hard to get that scene right, along with Tom and Joe. It was something we rewrote a lot until we felt it was as good as it could be.
You and Tom are both quite resourceful, but how did you guys manage to get an entire cast approved for hours upon hours of flying aboard multimillion-dollar aircrafts?
I think it’s Tom. Every actor wants to have his career, and Tom is very generous and tells them how he’s built his career. But the actors put so much time and effort into making this movie what it has become. They went through three months of aerial training with g-force tolerance. It was grueling. It took a lot of time away from their personal lives, but they put in that commitment. Tom designed that program. We interviewed a lot of actors, and some actors we lost because they wouldn’t put in that commitment. Some of them were afraid of flying and didn’t want to go through what they had to go through. But these kids were so willing and they worked so hard.
And then they had to go through water survival training in case there was an accident in the air over water. They were put in a fuselage, they were blindfolded, they were dumped in the water, they were rolled over and they had to figure out how to get out of that cockpit, blindfolded. So they went through all of that. And Tom, who went through it 35 years ago, said, “I’m going to do it again.” He didn’t need to, but he said, “If they’re going to do it, I’m going to do it.” So he was the driving force. He constantly shared stories about his career with them, and they were enthralled with being in this movie and working hard. They had so much fun doing this. It was grueling and difficult, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of them.
Are there any details in the film that have added meaning to you on a personal level?
I think it was a group effort. I can’t focus on something I did, but between Tom, Joe and the fabulous writers who worked with us throughout the time we were developing the story, it was really a pleasure to just be in the room. We worked so hard with Tom to develop the story and the character that Joe had thought up, so it was a lot of fun just spending an enormous amount of time on that before we started filming. Tom is such a perfectionist that he wanted to make sure that we had a script that was as good as it could possibly be before we hit the ground running and started filming. So it was months and months of working on the screenplay.
In 1986, sequels weren’t as automatic as they are today, but how far did those discussions get in the wake of Top Gun’s box office run?
Of course, we developed some stuff, but it never went anywhere. So we all went off and did other things. Tom went off and made some terrific movies with fabulous directors, actors and writers. I went off and did what I did during that period. So our focus and our attention wasn’t on Top Gun as it should have been, but it finally came together five years ago, basically.
You’re already receiving rave reviews for this movie. It’s tracking very well right now. Are you open to telling more stories in this world?
I am! I’m always looking for anything that I think is worthy of an audience spending money to sit in the theater and watch it. I’ve made a career out of process films and television. CSI and Top Gun are perfect examples. We take you inside a world that you’ll never be a part of and show you how it actually works. That’s what was so important about Top Gun. We took you inside that world and you saw what these fighter pilots have to deal with. The commitment to excellence that these servicemen and women have is phenomenal.
The Lady Gaga song “Hold My Hand” puts the perfect finishing touch on the film. Was that a relatively late addition?
No, it wasn’t. I don’t know if it was there from the beginning, but I think we were in the editorial process when she wrote the song. And then we got a call and we went over and listened to it. And it just blew me away. I flew over to London with Joe and the song; Tom was prepping for Mission: Impossible. So we played it at Hans Zimmer’s studio, and Tom flipped. Chris McQuarrie was also there because he was directing Tom in Mission, and he also loved it. Hans loved it so much that he said, “I’m going to take that melody and use it as a love theme in the movie.” So the love theme in the movie is the melody from her song.
It’s definitely been a challenging couple years for the theatrical experience, but Top Gun: Maverick will hopefully bring a certain demographic back to the cinema for the first time in years. For example, my folks haven’t been to a movie in three years, but Maverick will mark their return. So are you proud of the fact that you’re going to bring every generation back into cinemas?
I think it’s fantastic. I really do. Going back to my youth, when I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I looked forward to the days when my folks would take me to the cinema. I couldn’t wait to sit there with my hand in my popcorn and get lost in a world that Hollywood made. And new generations have had that same experience. I always tell people, “You have a kitchen in your house, but you still like to go out to eat. You have a TV with all the streamers, but there’s something about a group experience. Being able to laugh, be scared and feel emotion with a crowd of people is so important.” And Top Gun: Maverick is the perfect movie for that. We hit them with the humor, the emotion and phenomenal action that’s actually real. It’s not CGI.
The CinemaCon screening truly felt like a rock show. I haven’t had an experience like that in years.
I was there, but I missed the screening. I had other meetings and a panel afterward. I’ve seen preview screenings but not with a finished movie. So I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s premiere. [Writer’s Note: This interview was conducted on May 3.] That’s going to be very exciting. I’m also looking forward to opening weekend because I’m going to be there somewhere in L.A. or whatever city I’m in to see how audiences respond. That’s my biggest thrill, standing in the back of the theater and watching people enjoy what we created.
Does this job still invigorate you like it did when the original film was released in 1986?
It sure does. Any time I can get an audience to applaud and laugh, I’m there. I drive to do that and move them from one place to another.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Top Gun: Maverick opens in movie theaters on May 27.
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