Meet the ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Cast

Thirty-six years after Iceman, Hollywood and Cougar took to the skies in “Top Gun,” a new team of colorfully nicknamed characters are suiting up in “Top Gun: Maverick.”

This time, the aviators are recent graduates of the Navy’s elite fighter school, a.k.a. Top Gun, and they’re tasked with a near-impossible mission overseen by Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the brash pilot played by Tom Cruise. Flying alongside Rooster, the son of the original film’s ill-fated Goose, are Hangman, Phoenix, Bob, Coyote, Fanboy and Payback, who must help destroy a foreign enemy’s uranium plant and get out alive. (Though the characters all have actual names, they’re introduced by their aviator call signs, and that’s how they’re known.)

The intensive tutelage began offscreen: Cruise monitored the actors’ progress during a grueling five-month training program that culminated in the cast shooting their own action sequences from the back of real F/A-18 jets flown by Navy fighter pilots.

Here’s a peek at the new generation of actors behind the call signs.

Glen Powell

The actor initially auditioned for the role that went to Miles Teller.Credit…Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Age: 33

“Maverick” role: Hangman

Where you’ve seen him before: “Set It Up,” “Hidden Figures,” “Scream Queens”

Powell originally auditioned to play Rooster (then called Rascal) but lost out to Miles Teller. Then, when Powell was offered the role that would become Hangman, he turned it down for fear it would be a copy-and-paste take on Val Kilmer’s antagonistic Iceman in the 1986 film. Cruise persuaded Powell to sign on, and they worked together to make the character distinctly Powell’s own. Still, the cocky, confrontational pilot shares more than a few traits with Iceman — as does Powell with Kilmer. When Powell moved out of the San Diego hotel where he had stayed during filming, he bumped into Kilmer, who had just arrived to shoot his scene. “The last things that I moved out of my room were protein powder, weights and tequila,” Powell said. “I’m literally wheeling them on a luggage cart into the elevator, and as the doors are about to close, Val steps in. He looks at me. Then he looks at the luggage cart. And he just started dying laughing. He’s like, ‘This is ‘Top Gun’ right here.’”

Monica Barbaro

Though the actress could change her character’s call sign, she had good reason to stick with it.Credit…Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Age: 32

“Maverick” role: Phoenix

Where you’ve seen her before: “The Good Cop,” “Chicago Justice,” “UnREAL”

The military did not allow women to fly in combat until 1993, and in the first “Top Gun,” all of the Navy fighter pilot characters were men. Barbaro’s role in the sequel is a reflection of the service’s inclusive shift, and her filmed flights were all handled by female Navy fighter pilots. “When I found out I got the part, I was like, ‘Mom, I got it! And guess what? I get to play a pilot. I’m not a love interest!’” the Northern California native said. “We used the women that we got to fly with as role models for how we designed the character.” And while the actors were allowed to change their characters’ call signs, it quickly became clear during the cast’s downtime together that “Phoenix” was a good fit for Barbaro: “Let’s just say, we had one pretty wild night, and the next morning they were surprised that I arose from the ashes.”

Greg Tarzan Davis

He was a schoolteacher not long before turning to acting.Credit…Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Age: 28

“Maverick” role: Coyote

Where you’ve seen him before: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Good Trouble,” “Chicago P.D.”

Not long before landing “Maverick,” Davis was an elementary schoolteacher in his home state of Louisiana. “I’m a big believer in following your dreams. I would preach that to my students,” Davis said. “But I realized I wasn’t doing that — because my dream was to be an actor. So I decided to give it a shot.” In a role reversal, Davis, who has gone by Tarzan since his own “wild” youth, said he felt like a kid throughout production, enthralled by the aviation toys and tasked with learning new things. While “Maverick” was in postproduction, he got a call from Christopher McQuarrie, the writer-director of “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One”; the frequent Cruise collaborator was asking him to join the cast, no audition required. “I put the phone on mute and jumped up and down and screamed,” Davis said. “That was my first offer, and having an offer is an actor’s dream.”

Lewis Pullman

The back story for his character’s call sign didn’t make it into the movie.Credit…Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Age: 29

“Maverick” role: Bob

Where you’ve seen him before: “Outer Range,” “Bad Times at the El Royale,” “Catch-22”

Of all the call signs, Pullman’s “Bob” (also his character’s first name) is the most mysteriously straightforward. “Bob is reclusive and quiet and a hard nut to crack,” Pullman said. “One of the original drafts had this moment where he kind of earned his stripes, and Hangman says, ‘I think I know what Bob stands for: Big Ol’ Balls.’ They didn’t end up using that, but it gave me a reference for Bob’s trajectory. He starts out as this unassuming guy, who then finds his strength.” Pullman needed strength of his own when Cruise walked into the first table read. Despite being the son of the actor Bill Pullman, Lewis was star-struck. “Tom basically ripped through the doors. His motorcycle in the background. He’s got his helmet on. The sun is glistening. He takes his helmet off, and his hair is perfect,” he said. “Tom is like Cary Grant and Buzz Aldrin and Buster Keaton and Evel Knievel all woven into one man.”

Jay Ellis

As a boy, the actor saw the original “Top Gun” with his father on an Air Force base.Credit…Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Age: 40

“Maverick” role: Payback

Where you’ve seen him before: “Insecure,” “Escape Room,” “The Game”

Ellis distinctly recalls the day his father, who was then a mechanic in the Air Force, took him to see the first “Top Gun” in a theater on base in Austin, Texas. “I remember just looking up at the screen thinking, ‘I want to do that. Whatever those guys are up there doing, I want to be a part of that somehow,’” he said. Rather than enlist, Ellis became an actor. Fast forward three decades, and he found himself shooting “Maverick” and paying homage to the original’s beach volleyball scene with a game of beach football as the camera panned over the cast’s glistening muscles for a sun-dappled montage. “We probably went through five different types of oil because the makeup team was trying to figure out what wouldn’t soak into everyone’s skin so quickly,” Ellis said. “We started out with baby oil, then we moved on to argan oil, coconut oil, avocado oil. We switched to glycerin at one point. They were spraying us down with Evian bottles. It made for a very slippery game.”

Danny Ramirez

He thought he wouldn’t have to worry about his fear of flying. He was wrong.Credit…Paramount Pictures

Age: 29

“Maverick” role: Fanboy

Where you’ve seen him before: “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “On My Block,” “Assassination Nation”

Before signing on, the actors had to check a box attesting they weren’t afraid of flying. “I lied,” Ramirez said with a laugh. “I was like, What’s the worst that could happen? It’s a Tom Cruise movie, that means he’ll be the one doing the stunts.” Without his usual commercial-flight routine of wine and noise-canceling headphones, Ramirez found himself struggling not to vomit as his F/A-18 rolled and dove through the air. The actors each had their own tricks to cope with motion sickness: Davis relied on Dramamine. Pullman preferred a preflight diet of rice and fresh ginger. For Ramirez, slowly building tolerance in incrementally smaller and faster planes was key. Adding to the degree of difficulty: They not only had to deliver their lines, but also set up the shots and adjust the cameras themselves once in the air. “I was like, ‘Are we going to get some kind of camera operator credit or what?’” he said. “Having to line up another jet going 500 miles an hour to stay within the frame was an experience I’m probably never going to have again.”