Maverick’ filmmakers on the return of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, paying homage to iconic volleyball scene

Top Gun: Maverick is as drenched in nostalgia and callbacks to its 1986 predecessor as the original film’s high-fiving fighter pilots were in sun-kissed sweat.

Which means there is, of course, that Maverick features a nod to Top Gun’s famed beach volleyball scene — long celebrated for its campiness and/or homoeroticism. This time, though, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) — called back to base to train a new class of aviators for a dangerous mission to destroy an enemy’s uranium stockpile — pits his students against one another in a game of beach football. But make no mistake, it’s just as steamy and shirtless.

“It was one of those things that I got asked about the most when I was starting this. I was like, ‘There’s no way we’re not going to do it,’” director Joseph Kosinski told Yahoo Entertainment during a virtual interview in which he was joined by producer Jerry Bruckheimer (watch above).

“The question [was], ‘How do we fold this sequence into the story? How do we make it necessary to our storytelling so that we’re not just doing it for the sake of doing it?’”

Kosinksi says the young cast members were more than game.

“It’s like one of those days on set, I’ll never forget. … The actors put so much work in to get prepared for it, obviously, as you see on screen. And we just had a great time doing it.”

TOP GUN: MAVERICK, (aka TOP GUN 2), Tom Cruise, 2022. © Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Cruise, who is a licensed pilot, was back in the cockpit for “Top Gun: Maverick.” (Photo: Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Cruise sits out the football game, but still gets plenty of action in Maverick. And, as has become his calling card on projects like the Mission: Impossible series, Cruise did as many of his own stunts as practical — including piloting planes — in the long-in-the-works movie.

“I had seen these videos that Navy pilots were putting up on YouTube, from inside their cockpits with a GoPro camera. And they were just better than anything I’d seen in a film,” Kosinski said. “And I was like, ‘Tom, this is on the internet for free. We have to exceed this if we’re gonna make this movie.’ And he agreed. So then it began this 15-month process working very closely with the Navy to figure out how to get six Imax cameras into the cockpit of a [F/A-18F] Super Hornet, and how to capture all the aerial sequences in this film for real.”

Adds Bruckheimer: “Tom wanted it to be a love letter to aviation. That’s what his design was on the movie. He wanted to be authentic and real and do as much flying as possible.”

Also returning for the sequel is Val Kilmer, who memorably played Maverick’s rival Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the original. Iceman has been promoted to an admiral, and Kilmer’s appearance in the film is especially poignant. The actor has publicly battled throat cancer in recent years, leaving him barely able to speak, but he persuaded Cruise and the filmmakers that he was up for the sequel.

“It was very, very difficult for me,” says Bruckheimer. “To know Val when he was in his early twenties. Now coming back, he’s a consummate professional. He works so hard. He’s a brilliant actor, and you can see it in his performance in this movie. It’s really heartfelt for me. And I think for audiences too.”

Top Gun: Maverick opens Friday.

Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo

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