Rick Rossovich Shares 'Top Gun' Memories as Movie Turns 30: 'The Volleyball Scene's Like an Eighth of a Page...'

Rick Rossovich in ‘Top Gun’ (left) and today (Photos: YouTube/Facebook)

By 1986, actor Rick Rossovich had several film credits to his name, including The Lords of Discipline, Streets of Fire, and The Terminator. But Top Gun, which arrived in theaters that summer with Rossovich as Slider, wingman to Val Kilmer’s Iceman, was a game-changer.

Not only did that movie lead to more high-profile parts—in the years that followed, he starred in numerous film and TV projects, including Roxanne, Navy Seals, and E.R.—it also gave Rossovich the opportunity to power-flex his way into the Movie Abs Hall of Fame.

Related: ‘Top Gun’: On Its 30th Anniversary, A Look Back at the 1986 Reviews

In honor of Top Gun’s 30th anniversary this week and its recent re-release on Blu-ray and iTunes, Rossovich—who now lives in Sweden—took a few moments to reflect on the movie, starting, naturally, with that volleyball scene:

Yahoo! Movies: Can you tell me what you remember about shooting the volleyball scene?
Rick Rossovich: It’s funny because we had a read-through of the script…and the volleyball scene’s like an eighth of a page, a quarter of a page. There’s really nothing in the script about the volleyball scene, so there wasn’t a lot of anticipation about shooting that. It was something that wasn’t thought of, really, beforehand.

All of a sudden one day it was on the schedule and we kept to it. We had, I think it was a parking lot, as I recall, and they just dumped a load of sand somewhere that had a good backdrop for [director] Tony [Scott]. And he just directed it like that. Boom. And he just got shot after shot after shot. And we just had fun. I’m sure we could have gone longer but we only shot it for like, you know, an hour and a half. It was good light and then it was gone and that was it.

Related: Meet the Real-Life Badass Who Inspired ‘Top Gun’ Love Interest

You know, the scene has been one of those scenes that kind of is a stamp of the movie. So it’s kind of bigger than I ever anticipated. It’s funny. I was in good shape. The boys were—Tom and the whole thing. I think [Val and I] won, as I recall. I think we won.

Did you map out what you would be doing or was it more like: “Hey here’s a volleyball, guys, have at it”?
No, it was more like we choreographed a few things eventually, but we were just playing and they were just grabbing shots and they were just setting up. And Jeff Kimball was the [director of photography], a great DP, a Texan. You know, it was just flying into the camera, diving into the camera, into the sand, blah blah blah. And it was about camaraderie. By that point in the shoot we were pretty comfortable with each other. We had been hanging out. There was some competition, sure. We had to set it up, and it was over. It was over quick.

You wouldn’t think that would make such a big thing but I remember years later making a movie called Navy Seals and there was a football scene on a beach. All the talk on the set was it would be the volleyball scene of Navy Seals, you know, kind of like that. I was kind of chagrined when I heard the other cast members talking about that. And eventually, Bill Paxton in that movie turns the football scene on the beach into a golf club, a parade of golf carts, and us—Charlie Sheen and everybody—hitting golf balls. It was so far away from what I think the writers were trying to ape on Top Gun. Because you couldn’t do better than the volleyball scene, really, to tell you the truth.

Watch the ‘Navy Seals’ golf scene:

That scene is one of the first scenes people think of when they think of Top Gun. Obviously, it was of interest to the women who were watching, but it’s also known for its homoeroticism. In fact, a piece published a few days ago called it the most homoerotic moment in cinema history.
My sister just sent me a piece over email about the homoerotic thing. The Quentin Tarantino thing, that keeps coming back up. It’s great fun. You’ve got to take it all as great fun, all in a loving way. It’s all a good love.

I’m sure you could not have imagined when you were shooting that scene that it would be discussed this way.
But then you can also just keep watching the movie and go to the shower scene. And the way we wrapped our towels and the way we kind of draped around in the steam and the way Val loved the column he was leaning against. It was beautiful. It was all great stuff.

You mentioned the competition in the volleyball scene. On the set, was there friendly competition between the actors? What were those relationships like?
It was great. It was great competition. Something that really set the tone early on—we had just all met and we had a read-through in Hollywood and all of a sudden we were in San Diego. Originally, I was cast in the John Stockwell role, where I was landing the plane in the very beginning of the movie and then I’m drummed out because I lost my nerve. On the day of the read-through, Tony pulled me aside and said, “Rick, I’m changing roles. I want you in this role with Val.” And it was my lucky day, really, to step up and get a bigger slice of that movie, and a great character and great to be in the four best pilots.

Related: Young Tom Cruise Talks ‘Top Gun’ in 1986

So we were down in San Diego and all of a sudden we were shooting and just touring sets. I remember we were in a group and we met on a ball field, and I see Val carrying a box. You know, a pretty good-sized box. He had to have both arms around it. He carried it from way far away to where we were meeting, like 150, 200 yards, whatever it was. He put it on the ground. As we turned to leave, he said, "Tom, that’s for you.” And it was a case of wine that he made Tom carry back. [Laughs] It was kinda funny. It was kinda like that, right off the bat.

You mentioned that you switched from Cougar to the Slider role. Do you know why Tony Scott made that change?
I don’t know, maybe they just saw something they wanted to exploit in me. That I’d bring a little bit different flavor to it. I was a big kind of cocky kid, too. I was the only guy that was married at the time; I was just a year or two older than everybody else. I’d done a really fun movie for Paramount called The Lords of Discipline, which was my first really big break. Franc Roddam directed that and he was from the same town as Tony Scott and Ridley, and Franc was a great director, too. I gained 35 pounds for the role of Pignitty for Lords of Discipline… I kind of set a marker there and I think maybe he was aware of that. I don’t know who was talking at Paramount at the time. I was in love with Paramount, let me tell you. It’s still my favorite studio.

Watch a teaser trailer for ‘The Lords of Discipline’:

Do you remember the first time you saw Top Gun?
Let me just jog the memory. I can’t really… okay, oh yes, of course I do! What am I saying? I’ve been building a barn for my wife, an art studio here in Sweden where I live. I’ve been trying to think about thisit’s 30 years! [Back then] you’re at that point in your life, your mid-20s, and everything is happening at once. Everything is coming at you. But I remember we saw it the first time at a theater on [the] Paramount [lot], and it was just for us, just the cast and a few other people. I remember—this is funny—I remember Tom arriving and Tom coming into the theater with a cigar lit, okay? This is the truth, I’m telling you the truth. We were just all laughing. We were just young guys having a ball, you know. The Right Stuff: that’s really what it was all about. And Tom was there, you know, he was full. And he walked in with a cigar. Someone went up to him and said, “You know, you can’t have that in here. We have to put that out.” He just kinda looked at it, and he looked at the person who said that, and he just handed it to that person. We sat down and we watched the movie and we were all really stoked, let me tell you. It was a great experience. They had the music on full-blast and it blew us away. Then we all lit up cigarettes afterward.

I had a career for 25 years and I retired about 10 years ago. I’d just had enough. I want to do other things and build things and travel. But this movie has kept me forever young. For that, it has my deepest appreciation.

Watch the ‘Top Gun’ trailer: