Jerry Bruckheimer talks Tom Cruise's grueling 'Top Gun: Maverick' flight school, confirms Val Kilmer's return

Two Top Gun: Maverick trailers and still no Val Kilmer sightings. How come, Jerry Bruckheimer? “No spoilers, but he’s in the movie,” the super-producer behind the Top Gun franchise promises Yahoo Entertainment just in time for Top Gun Day. That’s a relief for fans of Kilmer’s flyboy alter ego, Iceman, as well as the actor himself, who recently opened up about his battle with throat cancer in a widely-read New York Times profile.

But you’ll have to wait a little longer to see exactly how Iceman factors into the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 favorite, which rocketed Tom Cruise to superstardom. Originally scheduled for release on June 24, the movie has been postponed until December 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic. And while some delayed blockbusters like Trolls World Tour and The King of Staten Island have opted for On Demand releases, Bruckheimer says that he wants Maverick to be a major multiplex event. “It's not up to me, but I want it on the big screen, and I'm sure Tom does, too. We'll hopefully get there. Apparently, theaters are open in Texas and people are going, so that's a good sign.”

Tom Cruise, Don Simpson, Kelly McGillis and Jerry Bruckheimer on the set of the original 'Top Gun' (Photo: ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Tom Cruise, Don Simpson, Kelly McGillis and Jerry Bruckheimer on the set of the original Top Gun. (Photo: ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection)

When moviegoers do get the chance to soar alongside Cruise’s Maverick, Bruckheimer says the wait will have been worth it. “It’s a continuation of the character and where he’s been over the last number of years,” he says of the sequel’s plot, which involves an older Maverick training a new group of top guns — including the son (Miles Teller) of his dearly departed friend and fellow pilot, Goose (Anthony Edwards). “Technology has advanced, so a lot of things we couldn't do before that we can do now, especially with the aerial footage. And Tom is an aviator, so he can fly anything we have in the movie, from helicopters to jets to prop planes.”

Cruise’s career as a pilot can be traced, in part, back to his extensive flight training for the original Top Gun. And for the sequel, he made sure the younger co-stars were in top gun shape. “He put the actors through this grueling process over three months so they could take the G-forces when we put them in the F/A-18s,” Bruckheimer reveals. “It was really a tough slog for these young actors, because they also had to go through water survival training, where they are blindfolded and put in a water tank that’s turned upside down and they have to figure out how to get out. And Tom went through all the same stuff! They told me he went through that training just like a 22-year-old would — that's how good he is.”

Tom Cruise is back in the cockpit for the blockbuster sequel 'Top Gun: Maverick' (Photo: Paramount Pictures)
Tom Cruise is back in the cockpit for the blockbuster sequel Top Gun: Maverick. (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Cruise also worked with Maverick helmer, Joseph Kosinski, to devise a new way of filming the aerial sequences. “In the first movie, we put the actors in the F-14s, and the only footage we could use was of Tom, because everybody else was throwing up,” Bruckheimer says, chuckling. “For Maverick, we put five cameras in the cockpit, so the actors not only had to act, they had to know when to turn the camera on and where the sun was to match the previous scene. They had a lot to do in that cockpit when they were flying these planes on sorties, which were designed by Tom and Joe. Tom gave all the briefings and all the debriefings after the shoot along with the great Top Gun pilots that we work with from the Navy.” After seeing Cruise in action all these years later, Bruckheimer isn’t surprised at all that the actor’s next barrier-breaking challenge will be shooting a film in outer space. “If anybody’s going to do it, he’s going to do it.”

Even as Top Gun: Maverick lingers in the hangar bay, Bruckheimer is preparing to launch his latest TV series, Hightown, a small-town crime drama that’s premiering on Starz on May 17. Created by Rebecca Cutter, the series follows Provincetown resident, Jackie Quinones (Monica Raymund), an agent with the National Marines Fisheries Service who gets caught up in a drug-related murder investigation headed up by local cop, Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale). “I love the characters and how damaged they are, and the arcs that they go on on throughout the series,” Bruckheimer says. “Their trials and tribulations are just fantastic; they pull themselves up and fall right back down again, but it's fun to watch them try to recover and get some redemption.”

Monica Raymund and James Badge Dale in 'Hightown' (Photo: Claire Folger/Starz)
Monica Raymund and James Badge Dale in Hightown. (Photo: Claire Folger/Starz)

Hightown arrives on your television screen two decades after Bruckheimer’s first major TV smash: the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which premiered on CBS on October 6, 2000. At the time, the network assumed that a reboot of The Fugitive, starring Tim Daly, would be a ratings smash. Instead, CSI became the fall’s big success story, and spawned a franchise that included multiple spinoffs. “We got so lucky on that one,” Bruckheimer says now. “Anthony Zuiker came up with a great idea, and then getting William Petersen to come on as the star. But I don’t think anybody knows they have a hit series before it comes on — the only people that know is the audience.”

LAS VEGAS - AUGUST 14:  "Built to Kill, Part 1" -- Grissom (William Petersen) and Catherine (Marg Helgenberger) investigate the murder of an aspiring dancer killed backstage at Cirque du Soleil, on part one of the two part seventh season premiere of CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION, Thursday September 17 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.  (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images)
Grissom (William Petersen) and Catherine (Marg Helgenberger) in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images)

While he may not have known that CSI would become a global phenomenon, Bruckheimer could tell that the pilot was something special. “The director, Danny Cannon, shot a great pilot. He was somebody the network didn't want to hire, because he hadn't done television before. But he’s so good, and so talented. I knew it was very effective. But we were also the last pilot that CBS picked up, and it went on a Friday night, which is the graveyard for TV series. I don't think anybody had a lot of faith except for us who believed we had a terrific series. But then it took off on Fridays and they moved it to Thursday, and it became a huge success for them.”

Among the many things that CSI’s success taught Bruckheimer was that fans of crime shows appreciate verisimilitude — something he’s tried to bring to Hightown, which touches on the opioid epidemic that’s impacting communities like Provincetown. “We had real CSIs work with us on CSI, so we brought in actual police and detectives to help us on Hightown. Rebecca and [executive producer] Gary Lennon worked hard to find people who could tell the real story of what’s going on in the streets. You can just see how damaging [the epidemic] is, how it destroys lives and kills people. It's a real problem, but hopefully people will take away that there is recovery, and there is redemption. That's what we hope for people who watch the show.”

Top Gun: Maverick opens in theaters on Dec. 23; Hightown premieres on May 17 at 8 p.m. on Starz.

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