TOP GUN: MAVERICK Stars Glen Powell & Danny Ramirez On Acting While Piloting F-18s (Exclusive)

While the Top Gun: Maverick cast didn't actually pilot any F-18s, they still had to make it look as believable as possible, so Tom Cruise designed a rigorous training program to get them into TOPGUN shape.

Interviews Opinion
By KingPatel - May 26, 2022 10:05 AM EST
Filed Under: Action

Like Edge of Tomorrow before it, Tom Cruise's upcoming blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick features a very promising young cast, led by Miles Teller (Rooster), Glen Powell (Hangman), Lewis Pullman (Bob), Monica Barbaro (Phoenix), Jay Ellis (Payback), Danny Ramirez (Fanboy), and Greg Tarzan Davis (Coyote). 

However, while landing a role in the sure-to-be blockbuster was a dream come true, that was only the beginning of their journey as each actor was put through a rigorous training program, designed by Cruise, that would get them in suitable shape to play the best pilots in the world. 

Speaking with Glen Powell and Danny Ramirez earlier this month, we were able to get some details on what the cast went through in order to whip them into TOPGUN shape. 

Powell, whose character Hangman is unquestionably the most confident of the bunch, explained that despite the many challenges being up in the air presented, he had to remain cool, calm, and collected to portray the best version of Hangman that the script demanded. 

"Yeah, yeah, I mean to play Hangman, that's the great gift that Tom gave us is, from the moment I step in any plane, I'm flying that plane, like Hangman. You have to go, “How can I be authentic? How can I maneuver this airplane convincingly doing every maneuver up here that is indicative of what that pilot would be like in the Navy and so, I figured out Hangman is cool as a cucumber, having a blast on the ground, but up in the air, he's gripping and ripping and really going to be the most aggressive of them all and so, that was interesting to do up in the extra 300, especially where we're getting our G tolerance up.

I really had to learn how to throttle up and throw that plane around where I felt comfortable doing that up in the F-18. So yeah, I think the gift that Tom gave us is these rehearsals, through this flight program, those rehearsals I got to run full scenes up in the air as Hangman, so by the time I did in the 18, it definitely wasn't a walk in the park. I mean, there's nothing a walk in the park about the 18. but I definitely wouldn't be been able to do that without the Cruise flight school."

His co-star Danny Ramirez went into more detail about the training regime, which he dubs "The Cruise flight school," and how demanding it turned out to be for those first few months of production. 

"It's really tough. We feel really lucky because I think that's my family now. We've all been really close since during, and so the training, we sometimes laugh about trauma bonding in this specific particular experience, because of how, for our bodies, it was this really intense sensation that it never could have imagined it was going to go through, but Tom set up a really thorough training regimen, which was we started off with a Cessna 1 to an Extra 300, which is a small little stunt, it feels like a go-kart with wings, but it's really agile and able to pull a lot of G's, and from there, we went on to the L-39, which is a different jet, to finally being able to take a seat in the F-18.

After that, we're just in the F-18 with an Extra 300 flight every now and then, but the training process was so specific, to be able to sustain high G’s and to not throw up on a ride and waste your two hours of filming. So, it just was so well thought out that we were able to succeed up there. Tom had gone up there prior and seeing how tough it was and so, whenever we were taking one flight, he’d take two and just make sure that we were at the top of our game and he was at the top of his and seeing your leader kind of go through that, kind of pushes you to do the same and seeing the whole unit do that created a bond that to this day feels unbreakable and I mean, we look across the room sometimes and we're like, “Oh, we're going to be here for the rest of our lives, like I'm going to see you be really old and you can see me be really old and we're going to be here for each other's weddings and birthdays and so it feels really special."

Since there were actual Navy airmen piloting the aircrafts, the main challenge the cast faced was actually finding a way to act while being flown at breakneck speeds and facing punishing G-force. 

"I think it was, the process again was just so well thought out that by the time we got up to the F-18, I mean, my first F-18 ride, I remember the sky, Ox from TOPGUN was flying me, and it was just a ride-along. So, we were going to go through one of their training session and after they finish the training session, Ox started trying to pull pretty intense maneuvers and he's straining, I'm straining and he checks in, and he's like, “Hey Danny, how you doing back there?,” and I was like, “Oh, great, man, how are you?,” and at that point, there was this big sigh and he's like, “ugh,” and we landed and he told everyone he was like, “Oh, I thought I was going to make him pass out and that he was going to be puking and just like having an awful time back there,” and when he heard how upbeat my voice was, he's like, “Damn, these guys are trained really well.”

So, by the time that we started filming our scenes with lines, like basically having to compose the shot with the right light, the sun at the right place, the jet, the follow jet in the right part of the frame. Once we started having to juggle all these balls, I think the acting was just one of the things that came naturally. We had prepared for the moment and at that point, it was shooting like the world's most expensive self-tape in the sky with just the pilot."

Ramirez does note that after his first flight, he thought he'd made a huge mistake coming aboard the massive project, but it was Cruise who helped him and the rest of the cast get comfortable with what they were doing during training as well as what they were planning to do during filming. 

"No, I thought I made a huge mistake early on because I was afraid of flying, but by the time we were up there, there are some scenes that I'm like, “Oh, how do we make this the most dynamic?,” and with Fanboy being a weapon system operator, I have a lot of freedom with where I put my body and where I was putting my eyeline or where I would be looking and in particular scenes, to make it most dynamic, I was like, “Alright, so we're just chilling, my mask will be off and it would be a mad scramble because Matt is coming for us, for me to try to put my mask back on and try to orient myself.

So, stuff like that was really fun to play with once we got really comfortable, and that again, that all goes back to the training. Tom really wanted us to be up there with not just doing enough, but being able to have the freedom to then make choices like that and make choices in regards to performance, instead of just trying to squeeze out the line. It was to be able to craft and endow your character with life."

Check out our exclusive interview with Glen Powell below:

In our review, we said, "Top Gun: Maverick is the must-see cinematic experience of the year! Packed with jaw-dropping aerial sequences, thrilling edge-of-your-seat moments, genuine heart, epic romance, huge stakes, and one of the absolute best performances of Tom Cruise's legendary career, this is the theatrical experience you've been waiting for."

Tom Cruise headlines the feature as Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, with original co-star Val Kilmer returning as Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky. The iconic pair are joined by an all-star supporting cast consisting of Jennifer Connelly as Penny Benjamin, Miles Teller as Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, Jon Hamm as Vice Admiral Cyclone, Glen Powell as Hangman, Lewis Pullman as Bob, Ed Harris as Rear Admiral, Monica Barbaro as Phoenix, Charles Parnell as Rear Admiral Warlock, Danny Ramirez as Fanboy, Manny Jacinto as Fritz, Bashir Salahuddin as Coleman, Jay Ellis as Payback, Jake Picking in an undisclosed role, Raymond Lee in an undisclosed role, Lyliana Wray as Amelia Benjamin, Jean Louisa Kelly as Carole Bradshaw, Greg Davis as Coyote, and Bob Stephenson in an undisclosed role.

Top Gun: Maverick jets into theaters on May 27!

After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. When he finds himself training a detachment of TOPGUN graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose.”

Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.

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