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Top Gun's Tom Iceman Kazansky: Facts That Fans Of The Franchise May Not Know

While it's been decades since the first "Top Gun" came out in the summer of 1986, there's still plenty of goodwill for the film. "Top Gun: Maverick" was delayed several years by the pandemic, but once it was finally released, the long-awaited sequel hit the ground running and became a box office juggernaut, pulling in a whopping $1.485 billion worldwide so far. 

Yet, it's not just Tom Cruise and Maverick that audiences are welcoming back. Since the initial release of "Top Gun," the character of Tom "Iceman" Kazansky has only grown more and more popular with fans, and even with his speech impaired from a bout with cancer, original star Val Kilmer was still able to come back and film a memorable and touching scene with Tom Cruise.

Even if you're a big fan of the "Top Gun" movies, though, there's a lot you may not know about the character of Iceman, including how he was created and how Cruise fought hard to bring him back to "Maverick." Here are some facts about Iceman that fans of the franchise may not know.

The writers of Top Gun saw it as a sports film

"Top Gun" was written by the screenwriting team of Jack Epps Jr. and Jim Cash, who were two of the hottest scribes in the business. While crafting the "Top Gun" script, they realized on one level that it's a sports film, which opened up many new possibilities story wise.

As Epps explained in a documentary on the film, "The key to this movie is how athletic these guys are. So my partner and I approached it, and we said, 'Well, wait a minute, what this really is is about sports.' If we take the movie aside, from my point of view as a writer, 'Top Gun' is a sport is a sport movie, and the sport is ACM: Aerial Combat Maneuvering. And any athlete knows that you go and you're always trying to see who's the best in any situation. So, to us, we sort of framed the movie more on the athletic side than the military side." Much like we see in sports, the movie had a lot of young talent who were really eager to prove themselves. As Epps continued, "A lot of people came together at the time where this was important in their careers, they were really trying to prove something, everybody had a lot at stake in this movie, and I think it really shows on the screen. There's a lot of energy and enthusiasm, I think it plays all the way through."

The writers also put important scenes in locker rooms because when the pilots aren't wearing their uniforms, they don't have their rank, and they can say in the locker room what they can't say anywhere else. (Recall the sequence where Maverick and Iceman go head to head with Iceman telling him, "You're dangerous.")

The character of Iceman may be based on a real person

It's not clear whether the characters in "Top Gun" are based on real people or not, but some people believe that Iceman was indeed based on a real-life fighter pilot. According to the military publication Stars and Stripes, Iceman was based on a fighter pilot named Deniz Tek, who is now 69 years old. Tek played guitar in a legendary cult band named Radio Birdman, and he was also studying medicine in Australia. Once he got back to the United States in 1981, Tek joined the Navy and became a flight surgeon.

According to Tek, the makers of "Top Gun" spent time with his squadron doing research for the film. In fact, one of Tek's old military buddies said, "The characters seem so similar. He was even more intense than the movie Iceman." Yet Jack Epps Jr., who co-wrote the film with his partner, the late Jim Cash, said the character wasn't based on any real-life military man, explaining, "We did not want to base characters on individuals since there could be legal rights issues."

Some fans alleged that Maverick and Iceman's relationship had gay undertones

In the movie "Sleep With Me," Quentin Tarantino did a comedic riff on "Top Gun," allegedly calling it a gay movie in disguise. Since then, numerous theories then popped up online about the alleged gay subtext of many movies, and on YouTube a number of movies and TV shows have been comedically recut to make them more homoerotic.

Yet as David Paul Kirkpatrick, a former executive at Paramount, wrote in a public Facebook post, "Much has been made of the ... homo-erotic nature of 'Top Gun,' particularly the volleyball sequence, but it wasn't intentional. The guys in the movie were young and in good shape for their respective parts, and Tony Scott shot the scene quickly at magic hour which gave it that golden glow." As Kirkpatrick continued, "The volleyball sequence stayed in the movie only because the women adored the scene in previews. It's because the sequence exhibited non-toxic masculinity at its finest — non-aggressive Greek gods playing ball slathered in suntan lotion and wearing Ray Bans."

In later years, gay people loved the film, and for one writer, it brought him in touch with sexuality at a young age. As Robert W. Fieseler explained in Slate, "Iceman and Maverick jetted lifesaving homoeroticism past a generation of conservative parents... In the mid-1990s Christian suburbs of Chicago, where dial-up internet usage was closely monitored, 'Top Gun' was my gay porn."

Val Kilmer originally turned down the role

While it was great to have Iceman back in "Maverick," it initially took some convincing to get Kilmer to commit to "Top Gun" in the first place. When director Tony Scott first met Kilmer, he came into his office with black eye. As Kilmer recalled, he and Cruise had the same agent, so he knew about the project, but as he said in a documentary on the film, "I just really wasn't interested in it. I liked Tony Scott very much, but I turned it down." 

As Kilmer recalled, director Tony Scott then ran after Kilmer, got in front of the elevator so he couldn't leave and told him, "You've gotta do it man! It's gonna be great! And he described with this enthusiasm and relish how it was going to be seen," and Kilmer was finally won over by his enthusiasm. (Kilmer also said he took the film because he was contractual obligations to Paramount.) Scott knew Kilmer would be a great foil for Cruise, the yin to his yang. "Val's such an off center, dark, strange but great lookin' guy, and I thought it was a great contrast for Tom," the director recalled.

"Top Gun" would also put Tony Scott on the map as a hot director, and there were many big hits to come including "True Romance," "Crimson Tide," and "Unstoppable," to name a few. Scott was up to direct "Maverick," but he died by suicide in 2012, and a special dedication to him appears in the film.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Iceman and Maverick may have had a rivalry offscreen as well

In a movie full of cocky young guys out to prove themselves, it would only be natural there would be some tension offscreen as well. Whether there was indeed any true rivalry between Cruise and Kilmer is unclear. A lot of times when actors play rivals in a film, they'll keep their distance from each other while the movie is shooting. Kilmer stayed close with his onscreen buddies Hollywood and Wolfman, while Maverick and Goose stayed tight. Cruise also stayed out of any of the offscreen partying that Kilmer and his "Top Gun" crew got involved in.

Kilmer said, "I would purposely play up the rivalry between Tom's character and mine off screen as well. It was fun to play up the conflict between our characters, but in reality, I've always thought of Tom as a friend, and we've always supported each other."

However, in a documentary on the making of "Top Gun," Kilmer believed Cruise could have "cooked" his footage from the volleyball game, where everyone's running around at their buffed out best. Tony Scott allegedly told Kilmer his scenes were "cooked," meaning they were "over or under-developed," and unusable for the film. As Kilmer said in the documentary, "I think Tom went in there, (spread around) a little payola, 'cause I looked good!"

Val Kilmer created his own backstory for Iceman

In order to deliver their best performances, many actors create backstories for the characters they play. The audience may never know anything that the actors come up with to help them with their roles, but it's very important for a lot of actors to have something to draw on when they perform.

When Kilmer agreed to play Iceman, he created a backstory for the character that gave him more depth than the audience realized. As the actor said in his documentary "Val" (via Best Life Online), "On the page, there was very little to the character Iceman. So I attempted to make him real. I manifested a backstory for him, where he had a father who ignored him, and as a result, was driven by the need to be perfect in every way. This obsession with perfections is what made him so arrogant." 

This backstory revelation adds more depth to "Top Gun" because Maverick was struggling with daddy issues as well, wanting to live up to his late father's legend as a pilot. Both characters names were reflections of their personalities as well. Maverick was the rule breaker, and Iceman, as screenwriter Jack Epps described him, was "calm, unemotional and deadly under fire."

Val Kilmer has been recognized by pilots as Iceman, and Top Gun increased military enlistment

"Top Gun" is a hero story that inspired audiences, and it was the number one movie of 1986, making $176 million at the domestic box office. Since starring in the film, Kilmer has been recognized for over three decades as Iceman by pilots, and the film also increased military enlistment.

Reportedly, the U.S. Navy had more applications than they'd had in years after the success of "Top Gun," and there have been reports that the film made naval recruiting increase by 500%, but this may have been greatly exaggerated. At the same time, as one Navy vet said (via Military.com), "I saw the movie, thought it looked like the most exciting job in the world. And it is."

And as one report explains, the Navy is also currently having problems getting new recruits, and perhaps the military is hoping "Maverick" could turn this around as well.

Some fans consider Iceman the real hero of Top Gun

While Tom Cruise was clearly the star of "Top Gun," and he made the film right as he was becoming one of the hottest actors in Hollywood, in recent years, some fans realize how important Iceman is to the story and feel he's the real hero of the movie. 

In one critique at Collider, for example, the writer noted, "he can be my wingman anytime." As this review of the film explains, "Iceman is just as essential to the success of the final mission where Maverick gets all [his] acclaim." In the end, Maverick gets all the glory, but according to this take, "Compared to Maverick, Iceman is the more heroic individual, more admirable both as a pilot and as a character." 

As many other fans point out, Maverick is reckless and dangerous, but Iceman is cool under pressure, and more together than his young protagonist, who wants to prove he's a real hotshot. There's no question Iceman is an important component in the "Top Gun" storyline, because without him, Maverick's character arc and growth wouldn't be anywhere near as dramatic or compelling.

Tom Cruise lobbied to get Iceman back in Maverick

Although Tom Cruise is the star of "Maverick," and it's his character's name in the title, the fact that Iceman returned for a brief but memorable segment shows there is still plenty of goodwill for the character.

In fact, as producer Jerry Bruckheimer explained (via People), "Tom said he wasn't going to make the movie without him." And as Cruise confirmed, "I really rallied hard for him to make the movie. The kind of talent that he has, and you see that scene, it's very special." Cruise told Bruckheimer, "We have to have Val, we have to have him back."

Even with Kilmer's health setbacks, he was able to collaborate with Cruise and be a vital part of the "Maverick." It was a wonderful reunion for Cruise and Bruckheimer as well, who produced the original "Top Gun," and many other big blockbusters. Bruckheimer recalled, "It was a really emotional day when we filmed him. Because you want to see those two on the screen again, Iceman and Maverick going at it. And that's what movie making and audiences love."

Kilmer was thrilled to come back as Iceman in Maverick

While Val Kilmer was initially skittish about taking on the role of Iceman in the original "Top Gun," he was reportedly delighted that his character is still remembered and beloved, and that he's now part of one of the biggest box office hits of all time with "Maverick." In fact, as Bruckheimer explained, "We called Val and told him we wanted to meet him to be in the picture. And he was thrilled."

And as Kilmer's son Jack told People, "They honor the legacy of Iceman, and he was so stoked by it." When Jack and his sister Mercedes went down to the San Diego naval base where "Maverick" was shooting scenes, real-life navy pilots came up to them and told them that "Top Gun" inspired them to join the armed forces. "It was one of the proudest moments of being American that you could think of really," Jack continued.

Against all odds, especially with Kilmer's speaking voice being compromised, Kilmer's scene with Cruise in "Maverick" is a powerful and memorable moment. When Iceman and Maverick hug in their last scene together, Kilmer said, "It was "straight from the heart. I love Tom."

Kilmer created a story for Iceman in Maverick as well

Val Kilmer previously talked about how he created a backstory for Iceman, so that his character would have more depth in the original "Top Gun." As it turns out, Kilmer also created Iceman's story for "Maverick" as well.

In "Maverick," Kazansky has moved up to admiral, and his life is coming to an end from an illness. It was also Kilmer's idea to have Iceman be a mentor to Maverick, and he discussed his ideas for the role with Cruise, "Maverick" director Joseph Kosinski, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. At first, Kilmer types out his dialog to Cruise, then he finally speaks, telling him, "The Navy needs you Maverick, they (the pilots) need you." Once Iceman finally speaks, "Those words carry more weight," Kosinski explained to USA Today.

Watching the finished segment of Maverick and Iceman together, Kilmer recalled, "I was very moved the first time I saw it. Almost 40 years is a long time for a reunion."

Kilmer was able to create a new voice through A.I. technology

While Goose died in the original, the door was always open for Iceman to return to the second "Top Gun" film. The problem was that Val Kilmer survived a diagnosis of throat cancer and has trouble speaking as a result of the illness.

But with the help of today's technology, Kilmer — and his voice — were able to return to "Top Gun." As a report in Variety explained, Kilmer worked with a company called Sonantic, which created an A.I. voice that was put together from hours of footage of Kilmer speaking in movies. These recordings were then run into algorithms to create a new voice for the actor. As an executive at Sonantic said (via Variety) "In the end, we generated more than 40 different voice models and selected the best, highest-quality, most expressive one." In the future, other actors can potentially recreate their voices like this as well.

As Kilmer said in a statement, he was grateful that the company could restore his voice, and that "the change to narrate my story, in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, is an incredibly special gift."