Val Kilmer says his 'Top Gun: Maverick' return was like 'being reunited with a long-lost friend'

You can't have a Top Gun reunion without the Iceman. That's how Val Kilmer enlisted himself in Top Gun: Maverick, the long-awaited sequel to Tony Scott's 1986 blockbuster. While the original film shot Tom Cruise to stardom as the high-flying Navy pilot, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, Kilmer achieved fan favorite status as Maverick's sneering rival, Tom "Iceman" Kazansky.

And the actor used that status to personally lobby the makers of Maverick — including Cruise, director Joseph Kosinski and executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer — for Iceman's return. In a new interview with People, Kilmer compared the experience to "being reunited with a long-lost friend," adding: "The characters never really go away. They live on in deep freeze. If you'll pardon the pun."

Val Kilmer's fan favorite Top Gun character, Iceman, makes a cameo in Top Gun: Maverick. (Photo: Paramount/YouTube)
Kilmer's fan-favorite Top Gun character, Iceman, makes a brief, but poignant cameo in Top Gun: Maverick. (Photo: Paramount/YouTube)

Apart from flashback footage of Anthony Edwards — who played Maverick's doomed friend, Goose — and Meg Ryan as Goose's wife, Kilmer is the only original Top Gun star to appear in the sequel, aside from Cruise himself. When the film started production in 2019, Kelly McGillis explained why she knew she wouldn't be asked back to reprise her role as Maverick's love interest, Charlotte Blackwood.

"I’m old, and I’m fat, and I look age-appropriate for what my age is. And that is not what that whole scene is about,” McGillis told Entertainment Tonight at the time. “To me, I’d much rather feel absolutely in my skin and who I am at my age as opposed to placing a value on all that other stuff." In a more recent interview, Kosinski offered another explanation for Charlotte's absence, saying: "I didn't want every storyline to always be looking backwards … It was important to introduce some new characters."

Val Kilmer in a scene from the documentary, 'Val' (Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios)
Val Kilmer in a scene from the documentary, Val. (Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Kilmer filmed his brief, but poignant Maverick cameo — which finds him and Maverick on much better terms — as he was recovering from a long battle with throat cancer, an experience depicted in the 2021 documentary, Val. That film was overseen by his children, Jack and Mercedes Kilmer, and contains a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage from the set of the original Top Gun. Both of them accompanied their father to the Maverick set when he reunited with Cruise.

"We were this close to Tom's face," Jack told Yahoo Entertainment last year. "He came up and hugged me and just looked me right in the eyes. It was very surreal!" Mercedes added that the three-decade interval between movies seemed to fall away when the two stars met again. "I had never seen all of the behind-the-scenes stuff of Top Gun, but my dad filmed all of it, and you can see the guys horsing around on set. And they're all exactly the same when they're together now."

For his part, Cruise confirms to People that seeing Kilmer again stirred memories of the good times they had on set of the 1986 film. "I've always admired his work, his talent," the star says. "We get together. . . we just start laughing. It was special to have him back. It meant a lot to me."

Top Gun: Maverick premieres May 27 in theaters