‘Top Gun’ Star Kelly McGillis Revisits Her Need for Speed

By David Weiner

Still got a need for speed? Back when TOP GUN soared onto 3D Blu-ray in 2013, I had a nice chat with Kelly McGillis for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT about her iconic ‘80s hit — working with Tom Cruise, the influence of the late Tony Scott, her body issues while making movies — and how she really felt when people come up to her and would start singing You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.

David Weiner: What is it about TOP GUN that makes it a cinematic classic that endures?

Kelly McGillis: I just think it’s the same kind of dynamics as a good old western. There’s good guys, there’s bad guys, there’s a lot of fast action and I think it’s just kind of the same genre of movie, and I think that those kind of movies are tried-and-true and well-tested people enjoy them.

DW: Did you know you had something special on your hands while you were making this movie?

Kelly McGillis: I didn’t think of it as that special and I didn’t think it would certainly be around in re-release [on a 3D Blu-ray] 27 years later. I’ve never had that experience with a movie, which I think is rather amazing.

DW: How was the vibe on the set since you didn’t quite know how big it would be?

Kelly McGillis: We all were an ensemble, we hung out together, we ate dinner together, played together, and the set was just really easy, relaxed. It was great fun to be at work and I think a lot of that was due to Tony Scott’s influence. I think I can safely say for all of us we had a really good time making it.

DW: The late, great Tony Scott… I remember when this movie came out in 1986, I was a big fan of THE HUNGER and I couldn’t believe he was behind such a different film. What kind of impact did he make on you, specifically regarding his personality and approach to making such a huge project?

Kelly McGillis: To me it was Tony that took the stuff of the page and made it look the way it did, and I think part of the thing that worked so well about this picture is that it’s stylized, and it was kind of the first — in my mind, maybe I’m wrong – MTV-stylized kind of movie, and I think it was his vision that created that. I really loved working with Tony. He was the nicest guy in the world, funnier then all get-out and just really easy going.

DW: Of course, you’re working with Tom Cruise and you guys pull off this amazing romantic chemistry that is larger than life. Do you have a favorite on-set moment working with Tom?

Kelly McGillis: We had to get this one shot by an airplane and it was at golden hour, and I remember going back to that friggin’ tarmac about 120 times (laughs). Not that much, but probably five or six times trying to get the light just right. It was like the most frustrating thing to me. I’m like, “Why can’t you just light it?” So I do remember that and I just remember working with Tom — he’s such a kind and generous and respectful person, he was just lovely to work with.

DW: How did this movie change your life?

Kelly McGillis: It changed my life dramatically. I became a household name all of a sudden, and also people recognized me because I no longer was wearing an Amish hat and Amish clothes [like in WITNESS], and that really scared me. But I think one of the great gifts of it was it gave me the ability to kind of pick and choose things, and I got to go back to theater, which is what I went to school for, so I was afforded to be allowed to do a lot more theater.

DW: Is that something that you wanted to pursue a little more than film? Or did you want to just balance great acting opportunities?

Kelly McGillis: I always wanted to be a theater actress; it never occurred to me that I might be able to work in a movie. I don’t know why, it’s not something I ever thought of. I think because a lot of times I just didn’t think of myself as, you know, pretty or movie star kind of material at all. And famousness wasn’t what I aspired to have in my life. I really wanted to have that kind of arty farty theatrical lifestyle, and it was a little overwhelming when things changed, because it was unexpected. It’s not something that I strove for.

DW: Now it’s decades later and we’re still talking about TOP GUN. Is this kind of therapeutic for you?

Kelly McGillis: (laughs) No, I’m not in that much need of therapy, thank you. I can’t imagine how it would be therapeutic!

DW: Have you been in a bar and had people confront you with a version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’?

Kelly McGillis: Oh yeah, and that dogged my rear end for a long time. Oh my god, I hated it, I hated it. It was just, like, non-stop for a while. It becomes unfunny really quickly, because it’s just embarrassing to have all these strangers that you even don’t know to have singing to you! It’s like, “Really?”

DW: Do people still quote lines from the movie to you?

Kelly McGillis: Oh yeah, they sure do (laughs)! I can’t even remember anything I said or did in that movie, much less having somebody quote something. There are people who are really gifted at that and I am not one of them.

DW: Are you content with how the movie ended up? Or do you wish you can go back and change something about your performance?

Kelly McGillis: You know what? I don’t do that to myself. I see it one time when I have to see it to talk about it, and then I don’t go back and overanalyze it or dissect it. My job was done when they said “wrap” on the set that day and I have to walk away — for better, for worse, whatever it is, it is that. And I see no point in going back and staring at myself and hyper-analyzing myself and being super-duper critical. That just seems to me like self-defeating behavior.

DW: Very wise. Can you watch yourself though? Do you ever go back and watch TOP GUN and some of your other projects?

Kelly McGillis: No. I did have to see one of my movies for a fundraiser event that I did in Pennsylvania, and it was interesting to me because what I thought whole time was, “Why did I think I was so fat and why did I think I was so ugly?” I really had issues. It was very interesting to me, because I remember making the film, I felt like I was fat and ugly, and I thought, “I wonder why I thought that so much back then?”

DW: It sounds like you clearly overcame insecurity and now you’re very confident about how things are. Thank you very much for re-living your TOP GUN days with us!

Kelly McGillis: Thank you!


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