Tom Cruise carves through a canyon at 450 miles an hour. He raises his F-18 fighter jet, all eight Gs visible in the lines of his face, before reversing the plane and diving. This is just one of the most exciting action sequences ever made Top Gun: Maverick one of the most acclaimed films of the year. Fans and critics alike have sung its praises, and since its release a week ago, it has so far grossed about $ 176 million (£ 140 million) in North America alone. It also had Cruise’s biggest open weekend as a movie star – a crazy statistic considering his fabulous career.
Most importantly, though, it shows the enduring strength of Cruise itself. While other stars are turning to superhero franchises for big box office returns, here’s one man capable of carrying the weight of a whole craze just on his shoulders.
Cruise repeatedly touches the sky in the movie, but who actually put him there? That job fell to Kevin LaRosa Jr., Top Gun: Maverick ‘s air coordinator and lead camera pilot. FaceTiming from his home near an airport just north of Los Angeles, he detailed how the film took out its gravity-challenging stunts – few of which used CGI – and what it was like to be responsible for one of the most famous men on the planet. And a man who – just to add a little more pressure to LaRosa’s work – insists on doing his own tricks.
No stunt double required
Cruise is known for being a physical actor, preferring to jump off buildings himself rather than have someone else do it for him. He famously broke his ankle by jumping from one building to another inside Mission: Impossible – Fallout, after which he got up and finished the scene. Hanging on the side of an Airbus A400 aircraft in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Cruise was hit in the chest by a rock. He would notice that it “felt like a bullet”. “If a bigger rock hit him in the chest, or smaller debris hit him in the face, then the show is over,” said director Christopher McQuarrie. New York Daily News in 2015.
It is this kind of devotion to his craft that has helped Cruise become an industrial legend. However, with Cruise busy barrel-rolling through the sky in a fighter jet, LaRosa confesses at times wishing that Hollywood’s biggest star didn’t quite have to do all the work herself. “We all think so, don’t we?” Tom absolutely does things in this movie where I sit there, saying “Oh, boy, that was crazy”.
Pilot with genealogy
LaRosa is a second-generation stunt pilot and third-generation pilot, with a CV that includes similarities from Ferulo, La Avengers and Transformers. His father had even worked with Cruise before Mission: Impossible III.
When he was initially offered the job Nonconformist, LaRosa let out a cry so loud that he frightened his own family. Initially brought in as just the camera pilot, LaRosa impressed producers so much that they promoted him to coordinator, which involved informing the cast and crew before and after each flight. LaRosa led hours of briefings with the Navy before and after each stunt was conducted. “Everything in aviation has its own risk,” he says. “But those risks are denied by excellent briefings, risk mitigation plans and rehearsals. We call it excellence in repetition.”
The pressure of a sequel
From afar, Cruise explained it to the Nonconformist team that they were at a “disadvantage”. The original Top Gun transformed Cruise into the superstar he is today. Despite mixed critical acclaim, the film grossed more than $ 350 million (£ 279 million) on the global box office out of a $ 15 million (£ 11 million) budget, and, in part thanks to inevitable music, became as synonymous with the Eighties as shell costumes. “When you want to make a sequel to a movie like e.g. Top Gunyou will have all the criticism, all the eyes, all the attention on you, ”LaRosa says.
Basically, they had to hit a home run, and Cruise gave a few speeches on set to enliven the crew. According to LaRosa, Cruise told them: “We are continuing a very historic and iconic film and we need to achieve a level of perfection with Top Gun: Maverick that has never been seen in the film world before. “LaRosa pauses -” Those are great words! “he says with a laugh.
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The training program
LaRosa also helped Cruise put together the rigorous, three-month flight training program for the rest of the cast, which included being rotated underwater in an ejection seat to prepare for emergencies. “In addition to training them to be pilots, they had to check the boxes to be able to fly in the naval aircraft and go and do the same training that those naval pilots do,” says LaRosa. Ultimately, they needed to know how to survive in the event of an emergency occurring on a fighter jet.
As for being rolled underwater: “It’s not something you’re looking forward to doing.” However, LaRosa added that actor Monica Barbaro (Phoenix), who previously stated her training as a ballerina gave her “high pain tolerance”, most impressed during training. “Monica just did an incredible job. [she was]really good with G-forces. “
Close enough to feel the afterburners
“It looks like you’re right there because we’re literally right there,” says LaRosa. Filming in the sky, he is the one in the camera, aligning the shot only “10 to 15 feet” behind the F-18s flown by naval pilots. That means being close enough to “feel the heat from the afterburners,” or the burning fuel that comes out of the back of a jet engine.
Anyone who has seen the film will know that the stunts are amazing to watch. In one memorable scene, the Top Gun pilots must perform a death-defying slalom through a canyon at a tree-scraping height to avoid detection by the enemy. The low-flying, LaRosa recalls, was as real as it looks in the movie – in fact, it felt even more hairy from the cockpit. “I think it’s hard to say how low and fast we are going,” La Rosa says, adding that the pilots had a “target number of 100 feet above the trees and rocks”. “When you make three, four or 500 knots through canyons, that’s up there.” He added that some naval pilots could fall below that 100-foot floor.
Unlike Marvel movies, Nonconformist did not rely on the use of CGI for his aerial stunts: “Everything actually shot a real plane.”
Pass the sick bag
Due to the extreme G-forces the cast was subjected to, there was a lot of vomiting involved in filming, but LaRosa noted that actor Glen Powell (Hangman) had the skill to “handle his business” with the sick bag and move on. “Most people, when they get sick from the air, you’re almost done. You’re for the bill, ”LaRosa says.
“Glen would be in the back seat of an F-18 dog fight and feel it. He would take care of his business and then he’d be like, ‘Okay, let’s go!’ and he’ll be right back. That’s all skill, I don’t even know how you get there. “
The Cruise effect
Of course, Cruise has an “iron stomach.” “He’s in better shape than I am, mentally and physically,” LaRosa, who looks like she’s in her thirties, laughs at Cruise, 59. “He’s just sharp and focused and it really makes you want to get into your A-game.”
LaRosa, who receives – like everyone Cruise works with – the star’s Christmas cake every year, used the word “perfection” four times in about 10 minutes to discuss Cruise’s work ethic. It’s all part of the Cruise lexicon, which has been forged by decades of anecdotes about the intensity of the star.
“Working with Tom, the best way I can put it is …” LaRosa pauses, perhaps wondering if what he’s about to say sounds a little too much like Cruise in-joke. “If there’s something impossible, if there’s something that can’t be done, he’s the guy who’s going to figure out how we can do it. And no one is better at it. “
“Top Gun: Maverick” is now in theaters