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Top Gun: Maverick Cast And Writers On What They Learned About Pilots And Jets

"Top Gun: Maverick" features some of the most stunning aerial footage ever presented on the screen, as Tom Cruise's Pete "Maverick" Mitchell and a new crop of stellar young pilots take to the sky in F/A-18 Hornets for daring training exercises and one extremely dangerous mission, both of which push both the aircraft and the people in them to their very limits of endurance.

Like the original "Top Gun," directed in 1986 by the late Tony Scott, the long-awaited sequel from director Joseph Kosinski strives for realism in every possible way. Not only did the cast members playing the pilots undergo a five-month training course designed and taught by Cruise himself, but when you see them up in the planes in the movie, they're also really up there experiencing every stomach-wrenching, gravity-defying twist and dive (with real-life, professional Navy pilots doing the actual flying off-camera, of course).

For the cast, climbing into the skies in real aircraft, following the pilots' commands, handling their own cameras, and remembering their lines was an acting exercise like no other.

"Being in the jet was pretty wild," said Jay Ellis — who plays Lieutenant Reuben "Payback" Fitch — on the red carpet at the film's San Diego premiere. "I don't know how many F-18's you've flown, but every single flight is pretty crazy because something different happens every single time and you're flying different conditions every single time." He added, "Some of these guys had different pilots for a lot of their flights, so that means they're also getting a new rapport every single time. No day is the same up there at all."

Learning how pilots live was just as important as learning how they fly

For both the cast and writers of "Top Gun: Maverick," understanding and capturing the culture of the pilots who risk their lives every day in the air was just as important as getting into the cockpit.

"Seeing them in the plane is great and it's amazing in this film, but so much of this is about how they are just hanging out," said Justin Marks, who contributed to the film's story and spent time with real Top Gun pilots. "These guys are so larger than life. To see them as human beings, that's the thing we want to do. A lot of this was about staying up all night, waking up hungover, and showing up on the runway with them and doing it again. They live hard. I was amazed at the way pilots do what they do and still throw back like that and have as much fun as they have."

Actor Bashir Salahuddin, who plays warrant officer Bernie "Hondo" Coleman, agreed that the pilots keep things light to balance out the deadly serious nature of their job. "Some of the nicknames, the call signs, are based on pretty embarrassing moments that they've had," he explained. "I think that's one of those ways that they're having fun and keeping it loose — because what they do is terrifying."

"I have an enormous respect for our military aviators. I don't know how they do it," said screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who admitted he got sick when he flew with the Blue Angels as research for penning the script. He added that his admiration now extends to the cast: "This cast is so extraordinary ... What they went through in terms of physicality of flying these jets, but also coming to work every day, not quite knowing where the day was going to take you — they fully embraced it."

"Top Gun: Maverick" opens in theaters on May 27.