Upon its release in 1986, Top Gun became not just a box office smash, but a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. Star Tom Cruise became a star virtually overnight, while director Tony Scott changed the visual landscape of moviemaking by incorporating the then-burgeoning aesthetic of music videos into the look of the film.
But at the time it was made, Kelly McGillis, Cruise’s co-star and on screen love interest, says she had no idea it would go on to become a movie classic, much less a creative breakthrough for Hollywood. “Never could I have imagined that,” she telles Celebuzz.
To commemorate the release of Top Gun (IMAX) 3D, McGillis spoke to Celebuzz about her experiences working on the film – in particular, her work with Cruise, and her regrets that the film became a powerful tool for recruitment, increasing Navy enlistment a reported 500 percent.
Celebuzz: Was there any sense when you were making Top Gun that it was going to be the phenomenon that it became?
Kelly McGillis: You know what? I don’t think so. I thought when we were making it, it would be a good, fun film. But I had no idea, not even in my wildest dreams that it would be around 27 years later, and then be rereleased in 3D. Never could I have imagined that, and that’s surprising, and a lot of that is due to Tony Scott’s vision, and how stylized the piece is because of him and I think that’s what makes it so timely and fun and just built a great Western in the sky, so to speak.
CB: How readily did you and Tom develop chemistry with one another on set? At that time was he iconically charismatic like we think of him now?
KM: I don’t know. I just thought he was a really nice guy, very respectable, very kind; I had a great time working with him. I thought he was really lovely. I don’t think he was “iconic” as you say now.
CB: Many people criticized it for being a “recruitment tool” for the Navy. Did you have any concerns going into it at all that it could become a propagandistic kind of movie?
KM: I think in the middle of it I realized “Oh my goodness, I am making the biggest recruitment film possible!” but I did realize it in the middle of it. I thought “Oh oh dear, I hope people don’t go off and make their life decisions based on a movie” but sadly enough there has been a lot of people who have said “Oh, I went in the Navy just because of you.” I am like “Oh my god… I am so sorry.”
CB: I don’t know how much of a fan or critic you are of 3D in general, but how do you feel about Paramount converting the film into 3D?
KM: Well, I love 3D movies, I love going, I love wearing those clear little glasses, you know (laughs). I love those movies, maybe I’ll go. I haven’t seen that movie since it’s been made, but maybe I’ll see it in 3D.
CB: Well in general, how often do you go back and look at the movies that you make?
CB: Is that because you feel like you’re done with that experience, or do you find yourself second-guessing your performance?
KM: Well, both of those reasons, actually. I have no control of the product once I have done it, so I really don’t see why I should go back and try to hyper-analyze everything because that is my tendency to do that anyway, in something that I can not possibly change. So I really try not to put my self in that situation.
I did see a movie of mine a few years ago at a fundraiser event that I did, and I remember looking at the movie thinking, “jeez, why did I think I was so fat, and why did I think I was so ugly all the time?” And that was a really interesting moment, because I have not seen any movie that I have done, I only look at it right after I do it so I can talk about it, so that was an interesting experience for me.
CB: When you make a movie that is this successful, do you feel a sense of pressure to follow that up with other things that are equally as distinctive or memorable? Do you worry about that at all?
KM: I don’t worry about it at all, and I am sure some people do but I don’t. What I think Top Gun gave me the ability to go do was a lot of theatre, which perhaps I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do. So I looked at it as it gave me a lot more opportunities to do different things. I think today the pressure may be on for people to do, you know, the next best thing much more so than when I was acting. At least I didn’t feel that way.
CB: What creative opportunities are you finding now? Are you finding a wide variety of things, or when you do something like Ti West’s The Innkeepers, do you find that you get offered a lot more horror movies as a result?
KM: Well I feel in some ways, like I am starting over. You know, I was really lucky — right after Julliard I worked a lot, and I never really had to pay a lot of dues. And I think now that I have taken time off, and I really want to be older, I want to have gray hair. I want to be an older character actress, and I think one way to do that is to take time off and age, which is a good thing, [but] it is like starting over. Because I’ve been away from the whole scene for quite some time, being with my kids.