Warning: This article contains spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick.
In Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise’s character must deal with relationships with Miles Teller’s Rooster and old flame Penny. But for many viewers, the most emotional moment in the movie is when Maverick reunites with his old competitor and friend Tom “Iceman” Kazansky.
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.
In the movie Top Gun: Maverick, we learn that Iceman has become an Admiral and is in charge of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He asks Maverick to come back to the Top Gun program and help train a group of pilots for a dangerous mission. But after a while, Iceman gets sick and dies.
Iceman communicates mostly through written words in the film. This is because Kilmer himself had trouble speaking after a bout of throat cancer.
Before Top Gun, Kilmer was already a well-known actor. He starred in Top Secret! and Real Genius in 1984. But he almost didn’t take the supporting role of Iceman in Top Gun because the director was 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 led to Kilmer starring in other movies, such as Willow, The Doors, Tombstone, Batman Forever, and Heat.
Although Kilmer’s box office star began to fall in the late ’90s, he would still occasionally remind people of his skills by appearing in movies like 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.”
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.
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