Acting while 1,600 pounds of pressure pushes down on your body is not an easy experience.
Tom Cruise is known for his commitment to practical stunts, so it’s no surprise that he wanted the actors in Top Gun: Maverick to deliver their lines from the cockpits of F/A-18 Super Hornets that were in flight.
In a featurette for the film, Cruise states that he “wasn’t ready to make a sequel until we had a special story worthy of a sequel and until the technology evolved so we could delve deeper into the experience of a fighter pilot.” The issue is that without proper preparation, the g-forces exerted on the body by the acceleration can result in illness or a dangerous loss of consciousness mid-flight.
While director Joseph Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda worked with the Navy to find a way to capture the pilots in flight, Cruise worked with the Navy and Top Gun pilots to prepare the cast for what they were going to experience when it came time to press record.
Check out this featurette that highlights moments of the cast's training program.
Learning to "fly"
Lewis Pullman, who plays Lt. Robert “Bob” Floyd, told the Daily News that Cruise’s training regime condensed two years of flight training into three months, covering everything Cruise wished he’d been taught on the original Top Gun. While the Navy trained the actors on how to survive in the water if they were to eject from the jet, Cruise knew the real challenge was preparing the cast for the g-force.
The rigorous training program introduced the cast to different jets and instructors as they learned to fly and slowly built up their g-force tolerance. Each day, forms were filled out and sent to Cruise to review until the cast was ready for real Navy pilots to take them up in F/A-18s equipped with six IMAX-quality cameras.
Pullman admits to The Ringer that the cast thought no one was reading the forms they filled out every day. “But whenever we saw Tom, he would come up to us and say, ‘Hey man, I saw that on your last flight you had a little trouble pulling zero g’s. Here’s what I do.’ It was like, ‘Holy smokes, Tom Cruise is taking the time out of his jam-packed day to give me personal tips.”
The skill of being able to withstand up to eight g’s, or around 1,600 pounds of pressure, was useful as the 60 to 70 minutes of acting in the sky translated to a mere minute of usable footage.
“Every time we went up there you have to mentally brace for a fight,” Glenn Powell, who plays Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin, said at CinemaCon. “You get on the ground and you’re exhausted. That’s what’s impressive about Tom. He’s flying more than anyone in the movie—he would fly three times a day.”
“Nothing bonds a cast together more than collective suffering,” Miles Teller, who plays Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, said in the Cannes production notes for Top Gun: Maverick. “I think, when you’re going through something and you know how tough it is yourself, and you look to the left of you and the right of you and you see that person going through it, it kind of pushes you a little harder and further than you would normally go. It’s so unique for us that we will only be able to talk about this with each other for the rest of our lives.”
Not only did the actors have to prepare themselves for the unimaginable pressure of the g’s, they learned how to direct themselves, becoming pseudo-cinematographers while in the sky. Each flight was incredibly important, which is why Cruise’s training program also included minute-by-minute rehearsals with a pilot in a fake plane so that actors could pan when to say their lines.
Nobody thought it would be possible to have actors performing in real jets, capturing the real intensity of being a fighter pilot. All of the training prepared the cast to fly and perform at the same time, creating the most memorable aerial sequences in modern cinema.
If there is one thing we can learn from Crusie, it’s that the creative vision can be brought to life with patience and dedication to the cast and crew. While the visuals are stunning, the cast and crew need to be safe and physically and mentally prepared for what they are going to do. Communicating and working with each of his co-stars allowed Crusie to bring his vision for the sequel to life, pushing the boundaries of what everyone thought was possible.
It’s truly a sight worth watching on the largest screen possible.
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