‘Top Gun: Maverick’s’ Lewis Pullman Takes Flight

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Nearly one month after its release, “Top Gun: Maverick” continues to ascend to new box office heights. The film is soaring toward the $1 billion mark, already marking star Tom Cruise’s highest-grossing film and Paramount’s second-best theatrical release. The reward has been a long time in the making: for Cruise, several decades since the original “Top Gun”; for fresher-faced stars like Lewis Pullman, who plays a weapon systems operator in the film, it’s been a four-year wait since beginning work on it. The action flick waited out the pandemic, with several delays to ensure an enthusiastic theatrical release. That choice paid off in the form of rave critic reviews and a boon for theaters struggling to regain pre-pandemic attendance and excitement.

“There was no other way. Tom was so trepidatious about making a sequel in the first place. He didn’t want to stomp on sacred grounds until there was the technology available to really make sure that it could cut its own path,” Pullman says of the film’s holdout. “And so when he waited that long, it was like, we could wait another couple years, you know?”

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Pullman, the son of actor Bill Pullman, chats about the film and his career early one morning after a late shoot night for an indie movie in Kentucky. “Let me just have a sip of coffee,” he says, no trace of exhaustion cutting into his zeal for discussing his recent projects. The uncertainty around when “Top Gun” would finally be released resulted in a particularly busy spring for the young actor, who fit in three splashy premieres for “Top Gun” around new work. One week after starting rehearsals down South for “The Starling Girl,” directed by a recent Tisch grad, Pullman flew to Cannes and then London for the world premiere, returning Stateside to start filming the following Monday.

“We had all worked on [‘Top Gun’] for so long and all put so much into it. I wanted to get the chance to have a big hurrah with the whole gang,” Pullman says.

The San Diego premiere of the movie proved particularly personal for Pullman, who attended with his mother, brother and great-uncle, who was a B-17 radio operator during WWII. (Pullman’s father, who was in rehearsal for a play, caught the film in a New York theater several weeks later.) Pullman describes the experience of watching the film in a theater as electric and visceral. “Being able to see the gravitational impact on our faces, and hearing that compression in our voices really transports an audience member into the cockpit, like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” he says.

While several years have passed since filming wrapped, Pullman notes that he’s carried Cruise’s specificity with him into his subsequent projects. “What I took away and became a mantra for me was his refusal to settle for mediocrity,” says Pullman, who describes Cruise’s approach to storytelling as Shakespearean. “Even in a small moment he is constantly striving for how can we not make this great, but how can we make this exceptional?”

After wrapping “The Starling,” which costars Eliza Scanlen, Pullman is headed back up to Massachusetts to complete reshoots for “Salem’s Lot,” a new adaptation of the Stephen King novel set for release later this year. Pullman leads the project as Ben Mears, a writer who discovers his childhood hometown has become inhabited by vampires; Pullman credits director and “It” screenwriter Gary Dauberman’s psychological take on the story.

While he grew up in L.A. in a family with strong ties to the industry, Pullman notes that his father kept his professional life separate, and following in his footsteps wasn’t a given. “His job was always a little mysterious to me,” says Pullman, who instead fell into acting courtesy of a high school play audition. “It was scary, but there were little glimmers of this weird magic; I felt like for a second I was transported into somebody else’s body and into another world. And that was really exciting,” he says of his first audition experience. “I also had some social anxiety and was quiet, and I remember for the week after that, I had this lightness about me, where everything was a bit easier. And so I got a little hooked on that [feeling]. It was a way to get out of my shell.”

But his attention at the time was more focused on drumming; he was in a band with several friends, and it wasn’t until college, with the encouragement of one of his professors at Warren Wilson, that he seriously thought about an acting career. Since graduation, he’s soared high with Tom Cruise, starred in the noir thriller “Bad Times at the El Royale,” and played an aspiring rodeo rider in the Amazon series “Outer Range,” among other roles.

“[Acting] is a great kaleidoscope with which to see life,” says Pullman. “And it’s made my life a lot more fruitful.”

A still from “Top Gun: Maverick.” - Credit: Courtesy
A still from “Top Gun: Maverick.” - Credit: Courtesy

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