Val Kilmer Shares His Feelings About His Relationship With Tom Cruise on the Set of ‘Top Gun’

Tom Cruise has gone from one of Hollywood’s biggest stars to one of its most controversial figures. Before he was known for his close ties to Scientology and his bizarre marriage (and divorce) with Katie Holmes, he was one of Hollywood’s most revered A-listers. As more and more focus has been on Cruise’s behavior, people have asked about how the star interacted with his co-stars during the height of his career. Val Kilmer, who co-starred with Cruise in Top Gun, has opened up about what that relationship was like and how the men are getting along in recent days as they worked on a long-awaited sequel to the 1986 hit. 

Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer were superstars in the same era of film 

Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer | JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s both Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise found their stride as young, popular actors. 

Cruise began his acting career in 1981 with the film Endless Love. By 1983’s Risky Business, it was clear that the young actor — then in his 20s — was headed for stardom. Cocktail (1988), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), A Few Good Men (1992), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Mission: Impossible (1996), and Jerry Maguire (1996) showed that Cruise could bring hit after hit after hit to the box office with a wide range and impressive performances. 

Meanwhile, Val Kilmer took on his first role in 1984’s Top Secret! and soon found himself the star of the now cult classic Real Genius (1985). He famously portrayed Jim Morrison in The Doors (1991) and followed it up with Thunderheart (1992), The Real McCoy (1993), and his career-defining role as Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993). Soon after, he solidified his title as superstar by playing Batman in 1995’s Batman Forever

Both men have gone on to have impressive careers since their rise to fame though both have faced struggles. Cruise’s controversial relationship to Scientology and Kilmer’s tragic loss of his voice to throat cancer have caused bumps in the road for their work. 

Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer had tense relationship on ‘Top Gun’ set

Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer worked alongside one another to create the 1986 action flick Top Gun. In the film, they were rival pilots known as Maverick (Cruise) and Iceman (Kilmer). As Screen Rant reports, that rivalry didn’t stay in front of the cameras: “Iceman and Maverick’s fictional rivalry in Top Gun, however, was rumored to spill into real life. Kilmer and Cruise have long been speculated to not get along.”

Kilmer was just out of Juilliard and was more or less forced into the Top Gun role, so he was trying out some method acting. In fact, Looper explains that Kilmer was very intentional at keeping the divide going behind the scenes. Kilmer explained in his recent documentary that he “would purposefully play up the rivalry between Tom’s character and mine off-screen as well. And what ended up happening is the actors in true method fashion, split into two distinct camps.” He was on one side. Cruise was on the other. 

‘Top Gun’ sequel will bring the actors together again 

It’s been a long time, but Cruise and Kilmer once again shared set as they stepped back into their roles as Maverick and Iceman. Top Gun: Maverick is completed and expected to release in mid-November. Obviously, Cruise is back in the title role. Kilmer, too, will reprise the part of Iceman as the story plays out what these pilots are like 30 years into their careers. 

At this point, Kilmer is clear that their relationship is professional and one of respect — even if they don’t share a lot in common. “Tom is a comrade I respect and admire, though as creatures we hail from galaxies far, far away from one another,” Kilmer explained. 

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[Correction: An earlier version mistakenly said Kilmer played Van Morrison, not Jim Morrison.]