Top Gun: Maverick Writers Christopher McQuarrie And Justin Marks On Flying In The Jets And Bringing Iceman Back [Interview]

"Top Gun: Maverick" is a wild ride, and audiences who see this on the big screen are in for a treat — especially if you're a fan of the first film. Though this movie hits the right notes of nostalgia with a beach scene (thank goodness for that), wild flying, cocky pilots, authority figures who like to play by the rules, and true friendship, it's not solely a rehash of what we've seen before. 

I got a chance to speak to writers Christopher McQuarrie and Justin Marks on the red carpet at the "Top Gun: Maverick" premiere about the balance between old and new, putting Val Kilmer in the film, getting sick in the plane, breaking the story, and how much input star Tom Cruise had on the script.

The premiere was held on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Midway museum, which is an aircraft carrier docked in San Diego, California. Cruise actually flew in for the premiere in a helicopter that landed on the flight deck, as you can see in my video. 

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It was so much fun to cover a premiere where the pride and love that everyone had for the film was so obvious (including Glen Powell's mother, who told me that he tends to put his family in his films, and that she and her husband are in the background of a few scenes — she was very proud).

Mixing old and new

In terms of balancing nostalgia and updating the story, McQuarrie said that he had to ignore the last film. "I do not think about it for one minute," he said. "If you start thinking about it, you over-correct and we just drive right off the road. That really was the discipline of this movie, was try not to look directly at the original 'Top Gun.' We're not trying to top it. We're not trying to match it. We're just trying to make a movie worthy of that." (I did make sure to thank him for putting in a beach scene, and he said, "Yes, indeed. You've got to do that. Got to have a beach.")

Marks, who has a "story by" credit on the film, said that to break the story, they had to "find some way to capture that same lightning in a bottle, and the only way you can do that is you can't go around trying to look for the same lightning. And the only way you can do that is you can't go around trying to look for the same [thing]. We had feelings from the original that we wanted to maintain — wanting to be out there on the beach at magic hour playing volleyball with your friends — but then at the end of the day, you've got to find something new, and I think that's something Tom's really intent on finding."

Marks also joked about the research, saying he did "way too much, when you consider how many drinks I had to consume with so many pilots to win their trust and to know what they were like on a day-to-day basis, because that's what we show up to see." He called the pilots he spoke with "larger than life." 

"You see them as human beings," he said. "That's the thing we want to do. A lot of this was just about staying up all night, waking up hungover and showing up on the runway with them and doing it again ... they live hard. I was amazed, amazed, at the way pilots do what they do and still throw back like that and have as much fun as they have."

Flying with the Blue Angels

Meanwhile, McQuarrie didn't just drink with the pilots — he flew with them. I asked him about whether or not he had to adjust anything after learning that the actors would be filming their own footage in the planes. He said, "I then had to go fly with the Blue Angels. I got a call one afternoon saying, "You're going to Lake Tahoe and you're going to fly with the lead plane of the Blue Angels," and that was quite an experience. That was intense. I couldn't make fun of the pilots for getting sick in the plane." When I asked if he actually got sick when he went up, he didn't hesitate for a second. "Oh god, yeah. Oh, absolutely. Not ashamed to admit it. I have an enormous respect for our military aviators. I don't know how they do this."

(You can see the Blue Angels doing a flyover for the premiere below.)

As far as learning about military culture, McQuarrie said that his brother and his brother's kids are in the Navy, and that he grew up around the Navy for a lot of his life. "That was a very important thing for us," he said. "Early on, Tom and I were talking about the original movie. I said, 'I'm not interested in recapturing this, that, or the other thing from the other movie.' The one thing in 'Top Gun,' the original, that I thought was important was creating a sense of culture. It had to be a family you wanted to be part of and people you wanted to be around, and people you could be. That's what I think is so engaging about the movie."

"And this cast is so extraordinary," he continued. "Tom and I have made a lot of movies together, and we have a very specific style. It takes a lot of patience and faith. Not everybody can do it. What they went through in terms of physicality of flying these jets, but also coming to work every day, not quite knowing where the day was going to take you, and they fully embraced it."

Iceman cometh

Seeing Val Kilmer reprising the role of Iceman for this film was not only lovely, but one of the core elements at the heart of this film. When talking about getting Kilmer back in that role, McQuarrie explained, "It was very important and the most critical thing in that was you had to ... how do you encapsulate a 36 year friendship, that really only lasted 30 seconds at the end of the first movie? And how do you tell that whole story over the course of the film with so little time? So a lot of hard work went into mythologizing that character and establishing long before he appears on the screen. The other secret to writing an iconic character, which I will tell you, is casting. You cast Val Kilmer and you're going to be okay. I'd love to take credit for it. I'd love to say it was all me. They just cast Val Kilmer. That's the answer."

Marks said that Cruise made Kilmer's inclusion a priority. "That was something Tom said very early on. He said, 'There is no 'Top Gun 2' without Iceman. You've got to figure out a way to do it.'" Marks started working on this nine years ago and spent two and a half years working on it, along with writers McQuarrie, Eric Warren Singer, Ehren Kruger, and Peter Craig (who also has a "story by" credit). Marks explained that they all had a little piece in this, "in what it was that Iceman served in this movie." He said he was "floored" watching the scene, and "so amazed that I could be in that with the two of them."

And when it came to Cruise's involvement in the story, it's clear that this movie was a huge deal for the actor. "[As a writer], you're there at the mercy and blessing and belief and willingness of Tom," Marks explained. "When I first met him, before he said hello, he took me in and said, 'I want you to know something. This movie is my legacy. It's the movie that made me who I am, and this movie has to be worthy of that. So hello, and what are you going to do?' It kept me up at night for two and a half years trying to get it right."

It's safe to say Marks and the rest of the team pulled it off.

"Top Gun: Maverick" will hit theaters on May 27, 2022.