[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Top Gun: Maverick.]
Top Gun: Maverick air coordinator Kevin LaRosa let out a cry so loud when he got the phone call offering him the legacy suite, it scared his family.
Originally hired to be the film’s camera pilot, the veteran aerial cinematographer quickly impressed producers, who in turn promoted him to coordinator, which included briefings before footage flights .
Having worked on several Marvel movies in various aerial production roles, LaRosa is no stranger to big-budget tentpoles. And yet, the Top Gun: Maverick the experience was somehow more magnificent than any of those epics. Why? Two words: Tom Cruise.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, LaRosa spoke about what went into the intense training for the cast and why it was vital. LaRosa also shared her favorite cruise memory and explained why there was no chance Top Gun: Maverick would land anywhere but movie theaters.
How did you become involved in the film?
I got a phone call from the executive producer saying, “We’re finally doing this thing. And you are one of the best camera pilots in the world. And we want you to fly a camera jet Top Gun: Maverick.” We had a good little chat, and after I hung up the phone, I’m pretty sure I was shouting out loud in the garden. This definitely surprised my family. My role has evolved. I started out as a camera pilot and as the producers saw my experience they expanded my role and I became the aerial coordinator for the entire film.
How do you explain your job to people who know nothing about the film industry?
My job is to oversee the shot and facilitate all of the aerial cinematography throughout the film. Things like flight safety and logistics to work hand in hand with the US Navy for data assets. My job was to direct the briefs to go fly the F-18s. My job was also to lead the debriefings when we watched our footage with Tom [Cruise] and joseph [Kosinski] and jerry [Bruckheimer] and our creative team. I helped train the actors on how to fly and walked them through this training program that we designed by Tom.
Safe to assume the work was even more intense, given that it was a major effort for Tom Cruise’s legacy?
Absolutely! Really different from any project I’ve ever been on before! Tom Cruise gave us a very motivating speech that I think set the bar for the entire cast and crew, letting us dive into this very focused project on what our core mission was. In that speech, he said, “We’re doing a sequel to a very iconic and historic film, and we couldn’t make this film until there was a story to tell. And we couldn’t make this movie until there was technology available to help us tell this incredible story. And here we are: The story is amazing, and now we have this technology. Our primary mission is to achieve a level of cinematic excellence never before seen on the big screen. We want to achieve a level of perfection that has never been seen before. This speech touched me and the whole team deeply, and I think it really set the tone for the whole group.
Why was it important that the actors were in the jets, and how would you explain the g-force they experienced?
[Director] Joseph Kosinski and Tom Cruise knew that these images and the performances had to be practical, had to be real. There’s no way you can act and show that kind of distortion on your face when you don’t feel [g-force]. So all the actors flew in these planes. Most people will experience the g-force sensation of a roller coaster – when we feel our body pressed against the seat. You feel g’s, but nowhere near the extent the cast felt in an F-18. You might feel two g’s, but when you were in those F-18s they were shooting up to 7.5 g’s. That’s something like 1,700 pounds of force across your shoulders and your head into your chest. And it’s trying to drain all the blood out of your upper body, and you have to fight to keep that blood in your upper body, or you just fall asleep. You must train your body to resist these deep forces, and you must understand the physiological effects of what they do and how to overcome them.
Fair to say that Tom was more hardcore than anyone about every moment feeling real, because every moment was real?
It’s not just fair to say – it’s the truth. No one has done anything Tom hasn’t already tried. He does this because one of his best qualities is teaching and helping others, giving advice to better understand aviation and the physiological effects to help perfect performance. Tom is the hardest on himself, not only because he wants excellence, but he helps others around him achieve that status, myself included. He is extremely motivating. When I work with him, I get this high level of motivation to try to achieve the same level of excellence.
Everyone I’ve spoken to involved in the project has a favorite Tom moment. Do you mind sharing yours?
The one that resonates with me the most is one day early in production when Tom first got out in the F-18 to start doing some of his cockpit footage. We had just completed a two hour mission briefing. And the results Tom, and as he walks towards me, I get instant chills. He looked absolutely amazing, and watching him climb the ladder off the side of the jet and board was a moment I will never forget. I felt like it was history in the making. We could definitely feel the gravity of what we were doing.
Of all the phenomenal aerial moments, which was your favorite to film?
When we got to the final sequence of the movie, it was one of the most energetic and dynamic flights we’ve done. And I think that plays out on the big screen when you watch the final sequence. The energy you see in the final sequence was absolutely what we felt when we were there. When I was flying, it was very visceral, it was very surreal. What we were doing in these F-18s was probably the pinnacle of my career. This is one of the craziest and most beautiful aerial photography I have ever seen. So the final sequence is really my favorite part of the movie.
It is now clear to audiences that this film was meant to be experienced in the theater. Was there ever any doubt that this would happen, given the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic?
There was no way that would happen. It’s so important that it’s a theatrical experience. When you’re sitting in a movie theater watching it on that giant screen and you can feel the sound in your chest as a Hornet and an F-18 super Hornet take off, that’s the experience of this movie . It’s the only way to get that visceral thrill, and that’s what people deserve when they watch this movie, because that’s what it’s made for.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Top Gun: Maverick is in theaters now.