Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski recalls showing Val Kilmer his pivotal Iceman scene for the first time and reveals how the beloved actor responded. Having broken out in Hollywood with his role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in the original Top Gun, Kilmer made a name for himself with a string of films such as Tombstone, Batman Forever, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. However, in 2015, Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer, a condition that weakened his speaking ability and limited his acting roles.
This summer’s Top Gun: Maverick features the return of Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as he must train the next generation of pilots and confront his own past. In one critical moment, he visits his former rival, Kilmer’s Iceman, for advice. Ahead of the film’s release, the scene was hyped as one of Maverick‘s most emotional, and much was written about Kilmer’s onscreen reunion with Cruise. Top Gun: Maverick used Kilmer’s real voice for his lines rather than AI technology, with only digital enchantments made for clarity.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Kosinski talks about the nerve-wracking moment of showing the big Iceman scene to Kilmer. While Cruise was always a part of Top Gun: Maverick‘s editorial process, Kilmer’s first moment watching the scene was a bit more significant. Read Kosinski’s quote below:
Well, Tom was involved throughout the editorial process in kind of shaping that scene and building that scene. So there was never really a moment of showing him the final. He was kind of there as it evolved, and he was obviously a key part of it. But I do remember showing it to Val for the first time. That’s a very distinct memory because he came in to watch parts of the film. So that was one scene I wanted him to see, and obviously, we were all a little nervous showing it to him just because we really wanted him to like it. But his response was beautiful. He was so happy and so moved by it that it made us all feel really good and that maybe we had gotten it right.
Top Gun: Maverick pulls off a tricky balancing act of having the film be nostalgic, but also allowing it to stand on its own as a unique vision. Part of that success can be attributed to paying homage to Kilmer and his work in the first film. Kosinski was understandably nervous about getting the Iceman scene right, for to get it wrong would’ve both hurt the connection to the original Top Gun and Maverick’s overall character development in the sequel. It also would’ve sullied the important bond between Maverick and Iceman, which has been cultivated in a very special way between both films.
Having battled cancer and the brutal treatments associated with such, Kilmer is likely considering his own legacy as a performer and clearly wants to make the most of his next few parts. Cruise and Kosinski’s understanding of this can really be felt in the film, which pays due respect to Kilmer’s impact on the films without becoming sappy or patronizing. In the end, Top Gun: Maverick is great for many reasons, one of which is the distinguished coda to Kilmer’s exemplary career, partially achieved through Kosinski’s sensitive and concise vision.