Behind the scenes of that Val Kilmer-Tom Cruise reunion in Top Gun: Maverick
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick.
In Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise's titular airman must negotiate his relationships with both Miles Teller's Rooster — the son of Maverick's late friend Goose — and old flame Penny, played by Jennifer Connelly. But for many viewers, the film's most emotional moment arrives when Maverick reunites with his old competitor and frenemy, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer) for what would be their final meeting. The scene was also a real-life reunion between its two actors, who had not appeared onscreen together since 1986's Top Gun. "It was like no time had passed at all," says Kilmer, via email.
We learn in Top Gun: Maverick that Iceman has since risen through the ranks to become Admiral Kazansky, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. It is Iceman who requests that Maverick return to the Top Gun program and prepare a group of pilots for a highly dangerous mission and who backs his friend's training techniques, at least until the illness which has robbed Kazansky of his voice ultimately steals his life away as well. The fact that Iceman mostly communicates in the film via the written word is an acknowledgment that Kilmer himself has trouble speaking after a bout of throat cancer.
Prior to the original Top Gun, Kilmer was already on the cusp of the big time thanks to starring roles in 1984's Top Secret! and Real Genius. The actor almost didn't take the supporting role of Iceman in Top Gun, which was being directed by British filmmaker Tony Scott.
"I didn't want the part," Kilmer recalled in his 2020 memoir I'm Your Huckleberry. "I didn't care about the film. The story didn't interest me. My agent, who also represented Tom Cruise, basically tortured me into at least meeting Tony Scott, saying he was one of the hottest directors in town and I could never afford to not meet with as many of them as possible, and also he was completely obsessed with me. Well, an agent doesn't have to offer any other reasons when 'the director is completely obsessed with you' comes out of their mouth."
Kilmer was convinced to take the part by Scott's enthusiasm for the project and eventually warmed to both the role and the experience of making the film. "We were all so young during the making of the first movie, but even then there was a special bond between us all," says Kilmer today. "Even after shooting we would laugh and dance the night away!"
The success of Top Gun propelled Kilmer onto the A-list and led to him starring in 1988's Willow, 1991's The Doors, 1993's Tombstone, 1995's Batman Forever, and 1995's Heat, among others. While Kilmer's box office star began to fall in the late '90s, he would still periodically remind cinemagoers of his undoubted talents in the likes of 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and 2009's Werner Herzog-directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. However, by the time Cruise signed on to make a Top Gun sequel in 2017, cancer had reduced Kilmer to appearing in less notable films like that year's barely-released horror flick The Super.
In I'm Your Huckleberry, Kilmer recalls how he approached the Top Gun: Maverick production in the hope of appearing in the sequel. "Actors thrive on work — virtually any work," he wrote in the book. "But when there is work that might actually revive their troubled careers, actors become beasts who will beat back the world rather than miss the chance to do such work. That was my gut reaction when I learned Tom Cruise wanted a follow-up to Top Gun. He was calling it Top Gun: Maverick. Well, Tom was Maverick but Maverick's nemesis was Iceman. The two went together like salt and pepper. It didn't matter that the producers didn't contact me. As the Temptations sang in the heyday of Motown soul, 'ain't too proud to beg.' I'd not only contact the producers but create heartrending scenes with Iceman.'"
According to Kosinski, it was always the plan for Kilmer to play Iceman in Top Gun: Maverick. "That was a requirement from Tom, from Jerry (Bruckheimer, who produced both the original Top Gun and the sequel), from myself," says the director. "You had to figure out a way to bring Iceman in. We met with Val. He had the idea of how to integrate Iceman in a really authentic way."
Regardless, when Kilmer was offered the role in the film, he was happy to accept. "Tom called me," he says now. "I said yes immediately."
Kosinski explains that shooting the reunion between Maverick and Iceman was an emotional affair. "Obviously [we] spent a lot of time on that scene, writing it, getting ready," says the filmmaker. "I wasn't sure how it was going to work. Chris McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible franchise director and Top Gun: Maverick cowriter) put the final touches on the scene and really convinced me that that scene was going to work. And he was right. It's a really beautiful scene. We shot it in Los Angeles in a really beautiful house up on a park. Very special to see not only Val and Tom, but Maverick and Iceman back on the screen together."
For his part, Kilmer remembers the shoot as a happy one. "We blew a lot of takes laughing so much," he says. "It was really fun... special."
As for the future, Kilmer teases the possibility of another reunion, this time with one of his previous directors. "I'm dreaming of making Frankenstein with Werner Herzog!!" he says.
Kilmer also encourages fans to check out his Kamp Kilmer website through which the actor sells his artwork, both solo pieces and others he produces with collaborators. "It is so satisfying playing in Web3 with so many talented new artists and creatives," he says.
Watch the trailer for Top Gun: Maverick below.