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Why Val Kilmer Joined Top Gun, Despite Hating The Idea At First

Val Kilmer fiddles with his pen annoyed in class in Top Gun.

It’s hard to think of a Top Gun without Tom Cruise’s Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Iceman making the late director Tony Scott’s ‘80s classic into the beloved hit that it is. Going from a rivalry that was both playful and contentious to a friendship forged in battle, the fact that Kilmer didn’t want to do the film at first makes the movie we got out of the deal all the more special. And you can thank Scott himself, as it was ultimately his touch that made Val Kilmer a believer.

During the segment of the Prime Video documentary Val, the Top Gun legend shares a lot of behind-the-scenes home videos, as well as quite a few interesting tidbits about his initial relationship with the movie. Initially, Val Kilmer was saddled with the role of the smart ass Lt. Tom "Iceman" Kazansky, competition to Tom Cruise’s equally iconic Lt. Pete Mitchell, thanks to his role in Paramount’s Top Secret. But as discussed in his own words, narrated by his son Jack, Val explained how his feelings on that film changed as follows:

Believe it or not, I didn’t want to do Top Gun at first. I felt the script was silly, and disliked warmongering in film. But I was under contract with the studio, so I didn’t really have a choice. It was the director Tony Scott’s colorful vision and energy that made the whole experience enjoyable. It was hard not to be seduced by it.

It really is unavoidable how much Top Gun, love it or hate it, was an effective recruitment tool for the Navy back in the day. That fact is even part of how director Joseph Kosinski’s legacyquel, Top Gun: Maverick, gained unprecedented access to make the long awaited sequel with as much realism as it did. But it also cannot be denied that through Val Kilmer, Tom Cruise, and the rest of the film’s swaggering aviators, ushered in a new era of cool thanks to Tony Scott's slick vision of the Danger Zone.

Even under the familiar sting of contractual obligations, Val Kilmer tried to lose the role of Top Gun by purposefully bombing his audition. As he described in his memoir, I’ll Be Your Huckleberry, everything from his wardrobe choices to his line delivery was meant to push Tony Scott away from casting him. But for his sake, and that of movie history, Scott didn’t take the bait, and Kilmer was cast in the role that would help make him famous.

The rest was absolutely badass history, with Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise using the rivalry of their characters to keep the action going behind the scenes, while also becoming very good friends. And ultimately, the legacy of Top Gun eventually led Kilmer to pull the strongest of 180s, as by his own admission, he found himself begging for a role in Top Gun: Maverick. Coming full circle, the character will be returning in this November’s sequel, and as a four-star admiral, no less.

Sometimes, the opportunity we think is a total mismatch turns into the opportunity of a lifetime. Through Tony Scott's instincts, Val Kilmer’s “contractual obligation” turned into a classic that follows him to this day, as pilots still love to use his call sign whenever they see him at the airport. The continuing adventures of Iceman and Maverick will be headed to theaters on November 19, 2021, as Top Gun: Maverick takes to the skies. In the meantime, you can currently watch Val, which is streaming through Amazon’s Prime Video.

Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.