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Tom Skerritt’s career continues to roar forward at full throttle, but he’s slowing down to take a look back at “Top Gun” – this time in 3D.
One of the most prolific performers of his generation, the 79-year-old actor had perhaps his most iconic turn in 1986’s “Top Gun,” the high-octane blockbuster about Naval fighter pilots directed by Tony Scott that became a zeitgeist landmark for the Reagan Era, established a young Tom Cruise as the emerging mega-star and helped launched the careers of co-stars Kelly McGillis, Anthony Edwards, Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan.
With films like “M*A*S*H” and “Alien” to his credit, Skerritt was a veteran among the cast, adding a worldly wise gravitas to his role as Commander Mike “Viper” Metcalfm the chief flight instructor at the Navy’s elite Miramar training school.
25 years later as the film makes its Blu Ray debut converted into stunning 3D, Skerritt looks back at his stint in the 80s classic and reflects on why audiences still feel the need, the need for speed.
What does it mean to you to be part of a film with such legacy?
I'm just a product of what I've done, and I don't dwell much on the past. But this film is the only one – as much as I love it, it's one of these things that just has a life of its own. It’s beyond anything any of us expected. It’s loved and appreciated, viewed multiple times by each young generation as it comes along, but that's always surprising to me is that the extent that these young people will watch that picture a lot. And now they're watching it with their dads.
How accustomed to that military guy did you become?
I just had an afternoon with the guy, the real guy who was running the actual Top Gun school. And I got his perspective twice, met his wife and he was a very introspective guy and thoughtful and very low-key. So I emulated him.
When you saw the final film, that was a pioneer at the time of what they were calling “The MTV approach” to editing a movie. Was it eye-opening to see it in its finished form for the first time?
I anticipated it. I wouldn’t say I expected it to be so appealing, but anticipating it, yes, I really felt we had a great chance. Knowing the way that Tony Scott was going to shoot, having some background and perspective on his filmmaking, there was a good sense that it was going to be one hell of a good movie. So when I saw it, I felt, ‘Yeah, you hit it. You hit it, Tony.’
The film was also one that cemented Tom Cruise’s status as a super star. What are your memories of seeing an actor like that on the brink of something huge?
I saw it a long time ago in a little tiny film with a couple of other actors, Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack [called ‘War Hunt’ in 1962]. Redford and I have been friends all these years, and he was very clearly going to be big from my perspective at that point. So I learned right off the bat, and from Sydney as well – he talked a lot about becoming a director, and then I met Robert Altman, so I had this gift of perspectives of people who were going to get somewhere. And watching them, how they went about it just reinforced a sense of people that you meet that are going to fly.
Tom sure felt that way when I met him. And I had been with Brad Pitt in ‘A River Runs Through It.’ There was Julia Roberts [in ‘Steel Magnolias’] and some other young people who have done pretty well. But, yes, there was a sense that these people were focused on what they were doing. Focused not only on doing well in their performances, but how to deal with the business side of everything.
Have you gotten any extra-special response from personnel in the military in particular? I imagine that some military people are particularly enthusiastic about the movie.
Well, yeah, I've gone up with the Blue Angels a couple of times, and they all treat me as if I asked, they would give me the Third Fleet. So, yeah, they really love it.
What did you like about the chance to go up and experience that kind of flight for yourself?
I don't know that it's quite walking on the moon, but it's got to be pretty close to it. You really can't describe that perspective, 50-70,000 feet, close to the speed of sound and you can take over control and speed and feel it in your way, because you’re helming the aircraft, you’re in control. That's one big ‘Wow!’
Tell me about working with the great Tony Scott, who was such an influential director with a specific vision.
Well, I followed him around like a puppy dog watching him shoot, which I had done with his brother Ridley on ‘Alien,’ and felt he was somebody I could really learn from him, followed him around, watched to see how he composed a shot. He’s an artist, both he and Ridley are great, great artists and to watch them paint a masterpiece, it's pretty informing. Good guys – he was a great guy. I liked him a lot.
Were you privy to any discussions about a sequel? I’ve spoken to Jerry Bruckheimer about it a year ago and know he has some plans in place. Had you been part of any discussion about that?
No, no. People have talked about 'Top Gun,' saying make it again, or another 'Top Gun.' I haven't paid much attention to any of it. Nobody has talked to me about it.