‘Top Gun: Maverick’ director breaks down Val Kilmer’s emotional return

Iceman Top gun maverick
via Paramount Pictures

Warning: Spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick to follow.

It wouldn’t be Top Gun without Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, and the very same could arguably be said for Val Kilmer’s Tom “Iceman” Kazansky; Kilmer was the only other member of Top Gun: Maverick‘s cast, alongside Cruise, who reprised their role from the original 1986 film. Iceman played a pivotal role in Top Gun: Maverick, as we find out it was his influence as an admiral that allowed Maverick to stay in the navy as long as he did; a sign of long-standing camaraderie that began when they themselves were mission candidates at the fighter school.

It was a tricky task to work Iceman into the sequel, as the actor had recently come off a two-year battle with throat cancer that had lasting effects on his body. In an interview with IndieWire, Maverick director Joseph Kosinski touched on what led to the emotional reunion we saw in the film, and how Kilmer himself was key in figuring out how to implement his character.

Obviously, the idea of Iceman being an important part of Maverick’s journey was something we all wanted, but didn’t know what Val’s health struggles were. This was five years ago, so this was before the documentary [“Val”]. [Producer] Jerry [Bruckheimer] and I met with Val. He came over to Jerry’s office and we sat down with him and just told him of our desire to figure out a way to get Iceman into the film. It was Val who came up with the idea that Iceman was sick too, so he could integrate into the story in a way that felt authentic and not something that we were trying to hide.

In the film, it’s revealed that Iceman was also battling throat cancer like his actor had done just a few years ago. Unfortunately, he was not as lucky as Kilmer, and passed away during the events of the film, leading to a funeral scene that was just as emotional as Maverick’s reunion with him.

Top Gun: Maverick is currently playing in theaters.