By Danielle DeSimone
In 1986, Top Gun took to the sky – and the silver screen – to cement Naval aviation in American culture with high-speed dogfights, flight suits and iconic beach scenes. Now, 36 years later, “Top Gun: Maverick” is graduating from F-14s to F-18s and introducing a new generation to the need for speed.
As excitement grew over the film’s release date after multiple delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no doubt that many of the aviators and pilots of the U.S. military are enthusiastic about seeing their work featured in theaters around the world. It only seemed fitting, then, that some of the upcoming film’s cast and crew sat down with active-duty service members to chat about “Top Gun: Maverick” alongside the USO.
“Top Gun: Maverick” cast and crew participated in multiple USO Military Virtual Programming (MVP) Tours with military guests, in anticipation of the long-awaited movie release. The first USO MVP event featured director Joseph Kosinski and actor Miles Teller – who plays the son of Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, the late best friend of Tom Cruise’s character, “Maverick,” – while the second USO MVP event featured actors Miles Teller, Jon Hamm and Glen Powell, as well as producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
At both of these USO MVP events, the stars, director and producer of “Top Gun: Maverick” spoke directly to our men and women in uniform via live video chat to provide an inside scoop on the upcoming film.
“Top Gun: Maverick” Pays Tribute to Today’s Pilots
The live video Q&As between Kosinski, Teller, Hamm, Powell, Bruckheimer and the crowd of service members tuning in from bases and installations all around the world were particularly special, as many of the members of the online “crowds” were aviators and pilots themselves. These service members have an in-depth, real-life knowledge of the kind of maneuvers and missions that “Top Gun” attempts to portray, making the questions and conversation between the two groups especially touching.
“I wanted to thank you for bringing this to us,” said Capt. Scott A. Avery, who appeared on screen from an airbase in Bahrain to video-chat live with Teller and Kosinski.
“We’re in a kind of austere location, so having the opportunity with the USO to bring Miles and Joe ‘out here’ to talk to us and do a Q&A is really special and we all appreciate it.”
Avery, who was in a room with other aviators, also explained that, inspired by Maverick and Goose, he actually joined the Navy one year after the original “Top Gun” film was released.
“So, it’s just really special for us to have this movie coming out and we’re looking forward to it” he said.
Teller was equally enthusiastic about the significance of the film. He, along with Jerry Bruckheimer, recalled how the pilots that they and other actors worked with had also been inspired to become pilots after seeing the original “Top Gun” film.
“If I can be a part of something like that for the next generation that makes a real impact, not only on the awareness and the respect [for Naval aviators], but also can change somebody’s life and get them into a career in aviation, or being a part of the military, or just lights a fire in them in any way, then that’s cool,” Teller said.
“Personally, for me, it’s a huge honor.”
Carrying on the Legacy of the Original “Top Gun”
Introducing “Top Gun” to modern audiences is no easy feat. The original movie is a classic American film and, for decades, it has set the standard for how civilian audiences think of our nation’s Naval aviation forces. Some service members in the Q&A questioned how the new film would do justice to the original film’s legacy.
Kosinski assured viewers that they filmed “Top Gun: Maverick” with an “old school movie” approach and explained that the majority of the film’s tightly-choreographed aerial scenes were crafted without computer generated images (CGI). The crew used state-of-the art cameras to capture as much as possible on film and even mounted six IMAX cameras in each cockpit and four on the exterior of each F-18 Super Hornet.
“That meant putting actors like Miles [Teller] and Tom [Cruise] in real F-18 Super Hornets to shoot the aerial sequences of this movie,” Kosinski said.
To do so, the actors all had to undergo months of flight training before shooting. In addition to getting–required flight hours in, the actors also had to undergo traditional flight training known as “the Dunker.”
Essentially, Navy TOPGUN trainees are strapped to a seat in a shell that resembles the inside of an aircraft and blindfolded; then, the dunker is submerged underwater and flipped upside down, to mimic the conditions of a downed aircraft. Trainees must then remove their blindfolds, get out of their strapped seats and swim out of a small window to make it to the surface of the water. “Top Gun: Maverick” stars were required to pass this emergency evacuation test in order to film alongside Navy pilots in F-18 jets.
“Failure wasn’t an option,” Teller said.
The actors also had to build up a tolerance to G-forces. In fact, when filming in the F-18 jets, the actors were sometimes “pulling” seven Gs; or, going under the equivalent of the force of gravity, multiplied by seven. The experience can be challenging even for the most experienced pilots, who must be able to withstand this incredible amount of gravitational pressure while also engaging in aerial combat.
“It is the most intense ride I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Powell said.
Teller explained that despite the challenges of pulling off complicated maneuvers and withstanding G-force, it was the knowledge that he was carrying the weight of a legacy – both of the original film and Naval aviation – that kept him going.
“You go up in that plane with pilots and you know that you’re there to cement that ‘Top Gun’ legacy and you’re showing [the skills of] some of the best fighter pilots in the world,” Teller said.
“And hopefully we accomplished our goal of making a movie where people are really going to feel like they’re in one of these jets,” Kosinski said.
However, when it comes to choosing between the original, beloved F-14 Tomcat of “Top Gun” and the modern F-18 Super Hornet flown in “Top Gun: Maverick,” Teller explains that he has to be “Team F-18.”
“With all due respect to the F-14,” Teller said. “I’m next gen, baby.”
Connecting with Modern Military Audiences
Working on a movie that centers on the U.S. military is personal for the stars, director and producer of this film. Naturally, the cast and crew worked closely with both the Navy and individual, active-duty service members over the course of the three years that it took to produce the “Top Gun” sequel.
Having those relationships with service members made Bruckheimer, Kosinski, Teller, Hamm and Powell even more enthusiastic about participating in these live Q&As, in which they got to connect one-on-one with pilots and aviators stationed and deployed all around the world. Kosinski and Teller explained how this video call, as well as those relationships they developed with service members during filming, were especially important to them as many of them have personal connections to the military.
“My grandfather served in both theaters in World War II in the Navy and my grandparents met at a USO dance, so I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the USO and the Navy,” Kosinski said.
“Working on this project for the last three years, I’ve gotten to meet everyone – from admirals at the very top to people working on the ship at the very bottom – and I’ve just been impressed at every level with everyone I’ve met. Thank you for your service, stay safe out there, and we look forward to having this movie out for you.”
Hamm explained that making this film allowed him to spend a great deal of time on Navy bases and among Navy personnel, and how it gave him an even greater appreciation for what the military does.
“It never fails to impress me to understand just how far-reaching our men and women in the Armed Forces are covering us not only abroad, but at home,” Hamm said. “We can’t thank you enough for all the incredible sacrifices you make and the service that you provide. It’s not lost on us, and we hope you enjoy the film.”
“We’re excited for the USO, the military and their families to see this film. It’s a salute to what their sacrifice is and what they do,” Bruckheimer said. “We were so lucky to be around these [pilots] who sacrificed so much and have to work so hard at what they do. Our actors really got to enjoy working with them, meeting with them, flying with them.”
Teller also expressed gratitude and how happy he was to dedicate his time to chatting directly with service members alongside the USO, explaining that he has several close friends and family members who are currently serving.
“I just wanted to say a big thank you to all the service men and women,” Teller said. “It’s because of your sacrifice that we’re able to sleep safe and soundly in our beds.”
“Being able to provide any type of entertainment for you guys is really an honor, we are all forever in your debt, and I just want to say that if you’re deployed right now, or if you’re deploying soon, we hope that you guys get home safe to your families and your loved ones. I really can’t tell you how much that I appreciate what you do.”
Pilots, aviators and Top Gun fans alike can fly into the danger zone and witness Maverick’s return to the cockpit when “Top Gun: Maverick” premiers in theaters on May 27, 2022.
The USO is proud to support naval aviators stationed and deployed all across the globe, including locations such as USO San Diego, USO NAS Pensacola, USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia, USO Naples, Italy and many others. As with all branches of our Armed Forces, the USO is committed to strengthening our Navy pilots and keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to this nation.
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