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Kelly McGillis recalls making the 1986 blockbuster 'Top Gun'

February 07, 2013|By Susan King
  • Kelly McGillis talks about "Top Gun," the 1986 blockbuster that starred her and Tom Cruise, right.
Kelly McGillis talks about "Top Gun," the 1986 blockbuster… (Ralph Nelson )

“I feel the need, the need for speed”

Maverick and Goose are flying high once again.

The 1986 Tom Cruise fly-boy blockbuster “Top Gun” is soaring back into theaters Friday, souped up in 3D and IMAX.  The 3D Blu-ray lands Feb. 19.

With its glitzy visuals, flashy editing, attractive young cast and pop-pulsating score -- ”Take My Breath Away” won the best song Oscar -- “Top Gun” was one of the biggest hits of the year, with a domestic gross of $176.8 million.

Directed by Tony Scott, the film revolved around an elite group of Navy pilots who vie to earn the title of “Top Gun” at their training school. Cruise played the flying ace Maverick, Anthony Edwards was his radar officer, Goose, and Val Kilmer played Cruise’s rival, Iceman. The supporting cast was filled with such stars-in-the-making as Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins.

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The film not only catapulted Cruise into superstar status but also turned Kelly McGillis into the actress du jour as Maverick’s love interest, Charlie, a civilian contractor at the Top Gun school who has a PhD in astrophysics.

Previously, McGillis had appeared in the 1983 drama “Reuben, Reuben” and the 1985 Oscar-nominated film “Witness” as an Amish woman who falls in love with a police detective (Harrison Ford).

“I think I had a two-picture deal with Paramount,” McGillis recalled during a recent phone interview.  “I was scheduled to do another movie and that one fell through. So they called me up with ‘Top Gun’ and I thought it was a fun script. I felt it was a Western in the sky. I had no clue how visually impeccable it would be. I think Tony Scott brought so much to that movie visually."

Making the film, she said, was a “wonderful experience,” describing the late Scott as “very direct and very clear and concise in what he wanted.” As for Cruise, she effused that he was "incredibly respectful, polite and very honest.”

The young cast -- save for Cruise and Kilmer -- all stayed at the same hotel in San Diego during the production.  “We all hung together and played together,” said McGillis, now 55. “We went out to dinner together and to the driving range. There was definitely a big ensemble group camaraderie.”

As much as she enjoyed making “Top Gun,” the film’s blockbuster status shook her to her core.

 “I don’t think anything prepared me for what I guess was becoming a household name kind of thing,” McGillis said. “It was really intimidating to me. I don’t aspire to be famous. I just aspire to be an actress, and that movie kind of startled my reality in a big way. I got very insecure. I didn’t know who I could trust to be my friend anymore.”

After making “Top Gun,” she appeared in such features as 1987’s “Made in Heaven,” 1988’s “House on Carroll Street” and “The Accused,” but none of the films bolstered her career.

She took time out to raise her now-grown daughters. She has done the occasional movie, such as 2011’s “The Innkeepers,” and worked in theater. She married her longtime partner, Melanie Leis, in a civil union in 2010.

“I love to work, but it’s not the No. 1 priority in my life,” said McGillis, who lives in a log cabin in the hills outside of Asheville, N.C.

McGillis realizes that if a “Top Gun” sequel ever takes off, she probably won’t be asked to participate.

“You hear women of my age talk about this all the time,” she said. “I think this industry is not particularly kind to women who are over 50. I am not into the coloring of my hair, doing the Botox and getting a face lift. I want to grow up to be a character actress.”

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