Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Jennifer Connelly Reveals Her Character's Connection To The Original Top Gun - Exclusive

Audience members watching "Top Gun: Maverick" — even diehard fans who have seen the original "Top Gun" multiple times — might have a moment early on that's a little bit of a headscratcher. That's when Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise), making his return to Miramar base to train a new team of TOPGUN pilots, makes a stop at the local watering hole, The Hard Deck, and has an exchange with its owner, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly).

The reason why the scene as well as some of their later encounters might be a bit mystifying is that it's pretty strongly hinted that the two have had a relationship in the past. But when was this? Wasn't Maverick, when we last saw him, madly in love with flight instructor Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), who's glimpsed in photos in the sequel but not even mentioned by name?

The truth is that Penny Benjamin's origins can be traced back to 1986 and the original "Top Gun," in which she doesn't appear on screen but is referenced as the daughter of an admiral that Maverick got in some sort of romantic hot water with. Cruise, director Joseph Kosinski, and the writers of "Top Gun: Maverick" (including Christopher McQuarrie, among others) picked up on this 36-year-old thread to weave a new-old romance into Maverick's life.

Connelly kept it playful with Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick

Jennifer Connelly — an Oscar winner for "A Beautiful Mind" and more recently one of the stars of the sci-fi series "Snowpiercer" — is very much aware that the character of Penny Benjamin came from a reference in "Top Gun" that casual viewers may have missed or forgotten. "Clearly, in the original, Pete had been dating her," the actor explained in an exclusive interview. "They've been in an on-and-off relationship all these years and have a lot of history. Then, he walks into her bar yet again, and they come back into each other's lives."

But Connelly added that Penny, who has seemingly been ghosted by the roguish Maverick before, is not an instant pushover for this particular pilot's way with a motorcycle, winning smile, and perfect teeth: "I love the way she reacts to him and handles that unfinished business that they clearly have with so much playfulness and a little bit of mischief."

In other words, the relationship between Maverick and Penny — which hits another bump or two this time out before landing in what may be (slight spoiler alert) a pretty nice place — is not what one would describe as tortured. "Not at all," said Connelly firmly. "She is someone who really wants to be happy and makes choices that move her in that direction. She looks out for herself. She's independent and strong, and she really adores Pete, but she knows him too, and she knows how to set her boundaries."

"Top Gun: Maverick" is out in theaters now.