If Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer allowed him to live his passion on the big screen with the first “Top Gun”, do you know which director allowed Tom Cruise to take flying lessons?
The intoxication of speed, Tom Cruise already had it before the first Top Gun. And he only recalled it in Maverick, taking care to follow the necessary training in order to be able to shoot the flight scenes aboard the cockpit of an F/A-18. Failing to be able to pilot it himself, the Navy being reluctant to let the star play with a device costing 70 million dollars.
The plane in which he takes Jennifer Connelly at the end, a Warbird Mustang P-51 is indeed his, and it is quite naturally him who pilots it. But who really put his foot in the stirrup? Tony Scott, director of the first Top Gun? No: Sydney Pollack. Building on his success in Taps, in the early 80s, the actor had just signed to be represented by the CAA agency (Creative Artists Agency) and met some of their screenwriters and directors.
“I wanted to (…) do a wide range of films, from fantasy to action to musicals and dramas, but to try each of them to assess and understand the different ways of telling a story. ‘take it?’explains the actor in the Maverick press kit. “I was watching Alan J. Pakula with Klute, cinematographer Gordon Willis, right in the Godfather days. Those guys were cutting edge in terms of storytelling. The French influence was creeping into American cinema, but the structural sensibility of the storytelling remained American. Those are things that have always interested me. So, I met Scorsese and Coppola. The important thing for me was to absorb all that.”
“The first time I met Sydney Pollack I had seen all of his films and I just interviewed him. Not as a writer, but as an actor. And we talked about aviation because he knew about my passion for flying, and we became friends.” However, it was not until the following decade that they worked together on a film: the thriller La Firme, adapted from the homonymous novel by John Grisham and which Tom Cruise starred in 1993.
And it is at the end of the shots that the actor’s passion will take the next step: “I had worked so hard on this movie, seven days a week, that I never had time to learn how to fly. So when we finished shooting, Sydney offered me flying lessons and said, ‘ You have to learn to fly now, or you never will. I know it’s one of your passions, do it. It’s gonna take you forever…'”
At the time, Tom Cruise was not yet the star of Mission: Impossible. But Sydney Pollack will quickly understand that he is already in the same state of mind as Ethan Hunt: “Six weeks later, I took Sydney out to dinner…”says the actor. “And he was like, ‘You motherfucker! Did you learn to fly that fast?’ fuck off’.” But the game had only just begun.
“Sydney said, ‘The IFR [Vol aux Instruments], which is the next qualification, took me years, it will take you time. So a bit later I took him to dinner… We’re eating and at the end I say ‘I’m going to pay the bill’, and I open my wallet, I have it I put my money on the table and took my money out, and he looked inside: there was my IFR license inside. He said, ‘You motherfucker! What are you doing ?!'” To which Tom Cruise replied: “‘What’s the deal, Sydney? Taking years…I don’t have years to spare, man’.”
That Tom Cruise never filmed again under the direction of Sydney Pollack obviously has nothing to do, especially since the two men met again on a film set a few years later: the director replaced Harvey Keitel in Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, where he plays Victor Ziegler. We will see him again later in a few series (Will & Grace, The Sopranos and Entourage) or films such as Orchestra seats and Michael Clayton, before his death in 2008.