'It's not the plane, it's the pilot' is a recurring line in Top Gun: Maverick, and we see the students of the flight school play a much bigger role in the long-awaited sequel than in the original, which revolved mostly around Maverick, Goose, and Iceman. For example, the pilot in the second seat of Maverick's jet in the ending of the 1986 movie is double Oscar winner Tim Robbins, but nobody seems to remember that because the rest of the pilots get little-to-no screentime. Top Gun: Maverick strives to fix that, with six or seven of the 12-strong class being actively involved in the movie's story and making it feel so much richer. Ahead of the movie's premiere, I caught up with three such recruits: Greg Tarzan Davis (callsign: Coyote), Jay Ellis (Payback), and Danny Ramirez (Fanboy), to see if it really is the pilot. Sections of this interview have been trimmed and edited for clarity.
TheGamer: One of the things that people really loved about the first Top Gun movie was the beach scene, and you guys recreated that in this movie with the air for dogfight football. That must have been a really fun day compared to some of the more intense flying sequences?
Danny Ramirez: It was a combination of both, though, because of the pressure. For instance, Glen [Powell, callsign: Hangman] started training with a personal trainer before we started filming, and his first thing on his Instagram post was 'montages last forever'. So I think that's at the stakes of what that moment was like. He looked shredded you could see, every vein that it was like, 'okay, the bar is set up high'. So that day the relief came once we finished that day.
Jay Ellis: But there were a lot of push ups. Between takes, there was a lot of oil being applied. And there was confusion at first because we had no idea how to play two football games – to play offence and defence at the same time, right? Once we figured it out, I keep saying I felt like Joe [Kosinski, director] completely lost control. We just kept playing and kept playing. It was just this flow.
TG: In the original movie, they couldn't use a lot of the flight sequences, because the actors just couldn't take it up there, except for Tom Cruise, but that's not the case for you guys. That must have been really difficult to prepare for, and to actually do.
Greg Tarzan Davis: It was easy, I felt like Tom was holding our hands through the whole process, honestly. [Davis takes a brief break from answering to sing a few bars of Lady Gaga's Top Gun theme song, Hold My Hand]. He was holding our hand developing the programme to get us comfortable with getting out of the F-18 labour finding assessment to get comfortable with being in the air, getting us comfortable pulling Gs. I mean, it was just a wonderful experience to progress in and get comfortable. And then we have these beautiful shots on the screen.
DR: It's an incremental progress like Duolingo. You get to see where you were the last time and there's nothing more inspiring than seeing yourself progressing. Because you're like 'that's where we started, and this is where we're at'. I think it was masterfully crafted by Tom in regards to what he knew he needed and what everyone should have done in the first one versus now.
JE: The last thing we were worried about when we got an F-18 was flying. Tom wanted to make sure that when we got up there as pilots we looked comfortable, like competent pilots and you can be up there and not be worried about [or] afraid of flying. Not worried about the manoeuvre and worried about Gs that may be coming. Just be in you and be a part of it. So you could do all of the other stuff. So you can act so you could start and stop cameras. So you could tell the pilot what manoeuvres you needed. So you could run your line, so you could eat. There were so many of the things that we had to do up there that flying had to become second nature to us.
TG: I read that Tom really helped you with this, and obviously he did it originally. What's it like working with him? Because he's one of the last big movie stars that whatever movie you put Tom Cruise in, people go and see it.
DR: He's one of the Mount Rushmore movie stars of all time. He's always referencing movie stars that affected him and helped him in his career and in regards to who he aspired to, like to take some stuff from and carry through. So I think for us he was a mentor from day one.
JE: In every single way. So many stories. Even just down to like workouts and diet and reading and movies he watches, every little thing is about this love of film and about love for stories.
TG: I think I have time for one more question, so of all the characters Tom Cruise has played, which do you think you three are most like in real life?
GTD: I would say Ethan Hunt.
JE: You think you're like Ethan Hunt?
GTD: Yeah, I think I'm Ethan Hunt. Yes. Yes.
DR: You think you're like Ethan?
GTD: (laughing) Do you not listen?
JE: What does that even mean?
DR: (pointing at Davis) Are you like Magnolia?
GTD: I'm like Ethan Hunt.
DR: I think Jay is Tropic Thunder.
JE: I actually think I'm more like his Rain Man character. I just love people, man. I'm gonna protect him at all costs. Like he protects his brother.
DR: I think it's easier to pinpoint who somebody else is than for yourself. Who am I?
DR: That's what I said for Tarzan.
GTD: You're Fourth of July.
DR: That's a good one. Or Days of Thunder. Actually Maverick's a good one, no one's said Maverick. I'll be Maverick.
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