‘I make movies for the big screen!’: Tom Cruise jets in Cannes to hype new Top Gun

Cannes: Tom Cruise is adamant. There was no way that Top Gun: Maverick was ever going to launch on a streaming service, even after it had been held back for two years during the pandemic. That was not going to happen. Ever! he told a packed theatre at the Cannes Film Festival, where the long-awaited Top Gun sequel had its international premiere on Wednesday night. I make movies for the big screen!

Top Gun: Maverick’s launch on the Riviera was big in every respect. Danger Zone, the theme song by Kenny Loggins from the first film, blasted out over the Croisette as the stars mounted the famous red-carpeted steps of the Grand Lumiere Theatre. Then came the piece de resistance: a fly-past of eight French fighter jets trailing red, white and blue vapour trails. For a moment, the crowds stopped shouting, Tom, Tom! with their phones at the ready and stared upwards, and there was a collective gasp.

The first Top Gun, directed by the late Tony Scott, came out in 1986. Cruise was then a fresh-faced new star, made famous by the sex comedy Risky Business, with a hundred-watt smile deployed in Top Gun at every opportunity. He is now nearly 60, but that hasn’t dimmed the enthusiasm of fans or the critical reception at Cinemacon, where the new film was shown in a sneak preview late in April. The new film, opined film industry news site Deadline, is perfection as an example of …what makes a big-scale Hollywood movie.

Cruise is famous for spruiking his films around the world, touring red carpets for months to promote the Mission: Impossible films he also produces, but this was a flying visit even by his own hectic standards. He flew into Cannes in the middle of the afternoon, posed with co-star Jennifer Connelly for photographs, changed clothes for his on-stage interview, changed again for his premiere and was due to leave straight afterwards. There wasn’t even time for him to reprise his showstopping dance from Tropic Thunder at one of Cannes’s legendary parties.

For the festival, however, hosting the Maverick premiere and having one of the most famous stars in the world on the red carpet is still supremely important. It says not only that the festival is back at full strength, but that it remains the most important event in the cinema calendar.

Cruise’s on-stage interview gave some clues as to how action heroes are made. Cruise said he knew he wanted to be in films by the time he was four years old, although he was also keen to fly planes. I wanted to have an adventure, he said. I was a kid who would climb the tallest tree in the wind. I wanted that. And I wanted to do that and to make it part of story and characters.

That was also the time of one of his earliest stunts: an attempt to parachute off the roof using one of his bed sheets. I looked. My mother was in the kitchen. She had four kids. So I thought ‘OK’ and I jumped off the roof. But it’s that moment when you jump off the roof that you realise, ‘This is terrible; it’s not going to work’. I hit the ground so hard; luckily it was wet. I saw stars in the daytime for the first time; I remember looking up and thinking, ‘This is interesting’. And, ‘Oh my gosh, my mum’s going to kill me’ because the sheets were dirty. And now I do that on a movie set.

People ask why he is so keen on doing his own stunts. But, you know, no one asked Gene Kelly, ‘Why do you dance? ’ He studied old Hollywood and saw that studio actors were constantly updating their skills with riding or archery lessons; he just gave that idea a different twist. I’m an aerobatic pilot. I speed-fly. I fly helicopters. And I take dance lessons and singing lessons.

As a producer, he said, he wanted to push the art form. How could I immerse an audience in a movie with this kind of action? The answer was Mission: Impossible, the seventh instalment of which is now in the pipeline. Top Gun: Maverick is directed by Joseph Kosinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who also produced the first Top Gun with his then producing partner, Don Simpson.

People say, ‘Why Top Gun after 36 years? Why now? ’ said Cruise. But I wasn’t ready in 1986. Don and Jerry wanted to make a sequel immediately but I said, ‘I don’t want to. I need to grow as an artist. I need to know what cinema is. I know what I don’t know. And I’m learning. ’ Not that he has stopped learning, he added.

Like everyone else who has come to Cannes, Cruise makes a point of saying how good it is to be back in the cinema. He waves a hand across the breadth of the theatre. Look at us all together, all united, all speaking different languages, from different cultures, different ideas about art, cinema and storytelling, but we are able to come together as a community and have a shared experience. That’s not something you can get at home.

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