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How Tom Cruise Really Feels About His Val Kilmer Reunion In Top Gun: Maverick

After its release was delayed two years due to the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans are finally feeling the need for speed again with the release of "Top Gun: Maverick." The long-awaited sequel, naturally, finds Tom Cruise reprising his role as ace fighter pilot Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, but he's not the only star from the 1986 original "Top Gun" to return for the sequel.

Venerable actor Val Kilmer, despite a harrowing battle with throat cancer in recent years, is back and reassuming his iconic role of Tom "Iceman" Kazansky in "Top Gun: Maverick." Maverick and Iceman, of course, were rivals for much of "Top Gun," but ultimately reconciled their differences in the midst of a deadly dogfight with the enemy in the final act of the film.

New in theaters, "Top Gun: Maverick" reveals that Maverick and Iceman's friendship endured in the decades since the events of "Top Gun," which is why Ice, now an admiral, calls on his old buddy and colleague to return to the Top Gun program to prepare its top 10 fighter pilots for a crucial mission. But while a reunion of Cruise and Kilmer in "Top Gun: Maverick" seemed like a no-brainer and an easy task for Cruise and his collaborators, getting Kilmer to reprise Iceman was tricky due to the actor's real-life health battles in recent years.

Cruise insisted that Kilmer should be involved in Top Gun: Maverick

In 2017, Val Kilmer revealed that he was diagnosed with throat cancer (via CNN), which largely robbed him of his ability to speak. The actor, whose impressive list of credits includes such movie classics as "Tombstone" and "Heat," went very public with the lasting effects of his cancer fight in the 2021 Amazon Prime documentary "Val." During the documentary, Kilmer demonstrates how he can only speak by plugging a hole in a tube in his esophagus, which gives off a low and gravelly tone.

Despite Kilmer's health issues, the U.K.'s Express Online reported that Cruise did not want to make "Top Gun: Maverick" without Kilmer's participation. "I really rallied hard for him to be in the movie because he's such a tremendous actor, and [I wanted] to have him play that character," Cruise said.

According to the publication, Kilmer's son, Jack — who sounds remarkably like his father as he narrates "Val" — lent his voice to "Top Gun: Maverick," and the production used new technology to combine their performances. The startling result is shown in an emotional reunion scene between Maverick and Iceman. "You see that scene and it's very special," Cruise told the Express. "It's just very special. He's beautiful."

Jerry Bruckheimer says filming the Maverick-Iceman reunion scene was 'emotional'

For "Top Gun: Maverick" producer Jerry Bruckheimer — who also was behind the first "Top Gun" film with his late production partner Don Simpson — said seeing Val Kilmer as Iceman again in the reunion scene with Tom Cruise was a moving experience.

"It was the story Tom wanted to tell. Val felt comfortable doing it; it was very emotional filming," Bruckheimer told the Express. "We knew Val from the beginning when he was a very young actor. And to see him even today and to see that he's still working on acting and he's got this great spirit, so helpful and just terrific filming."

Bruckheimer also noted that he was also inspired by Cruise's commitment to Kilmer in the face of the actor's health struggles. "Obviously, he's compromised, but still an amazing actor, an amazing individual and we're so thrilled to bring him back in this way," the producer said. "Tom was so gracious."

Kilmer's children were on set to witness their father's return in Top Gun: Maverick

In addition to his assistance with their father's work on the documentary, "Val," Jack Kilmer, along with his sister, Mercedes Kilmer, were both on set in San Diego when Val Kilmer filmed his reunion scene with Cruise. "They honor the legacy of Iceman, and he was so stoked by it," Jack Kilmer told People magazine in an August 2021 interview.

In the scene between Kilmer and Cruise, Iceman — suffering from an illness implied to be cancer — first communicates with Maverick by typing words that appear on a computer screen. Ice eventually speaks to his dear friend, but his voice is clearly affected by the illness.

Kilmer's appearance in "Top Gun: Maverick" is a validation of sorts of what he described in his documentary. Yes, there was a rivalry between the Maverick in Iceman in the film, but that's where the rivalry stayed. Off-screen, the relationship between Kilmer and Cruise was much friendlier.

"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," Kilmer noted in "Val."

Technology may open the door to future roles for Kilmer

In a video released by the tech company Sonantic in August 2021, the company revealed that they culled together old recordings of Kilmer to create a computer-generated version of his voice to remarkable effect.

"We like to think of it as Photoshop for voice, where you can go in and touch up little areas," Sonantic Chief Technology Officer John Flynn told the Washington Post.

Kilmer was so impressed by what Sonantic produced that he issued a statement (via the Post), saying the tech firm "masterfully restored my voice in a way I've never imagined possible."

Whether Kilmer will appear in future projects with the aid of voice technology is yet to be seen. In the meantime, Yahoo! Entertainment reported that the actor will "very much have a presence" in the upcoming "Willow" series on Disney+, which is based on the original 1988 film starring Kilmer and Warwick Davis.

"Val's a huge part of this, and the first conversation I had, when Warwick and I got the greenlight to do this, was with Val," series executive producer Jonathan Kasdan told Yahoo! "We wanted his character to be a part of the story. We wanted him to be in the show."

Kasdan added that since the series was shooting during COVID-19 lockdowns in Europe, "[Kilmer] wasn't able to come to Wales and shoot with us. But he is in the show in a big way. And we're pretty excited about it ... Madmartigan lives on."