IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Tom Skerritt Talks 'Top Gun 3D' Blu-ray and his Distinguished Career

Tuesday, 19 February 2013 11:38 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Tom Skerritt Talks 'Top Gun 3D' Blu-ray and his Distinguished Career

Actor Tom Skerritt has had a long and distinguished career in film and television that has spanned more than fifty years, which is truly an amazing accomplishment. Throughout his career the actor has had an opportunity to work with such legendary filmmakers as Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Garry Marshall, Cameron Crowe, and Robert Zemeckis

Beginning in the early ‘60s, Skerritt has appeared in such classic films as MASH, Harold and Maude, Up in Smoke, Alien, Steel Magnolias, A River Runs Through It, and Contact, not too mention ground breaking television programs like Cheers and Picket Fences. But it was his role in the late Tony Scott’s Top Gun, which will be available in 3D on Blu-ray beginning February 19th; that the actor may be remembered for best. 

Top Gun, of course, was the 1986 phenomenon of a film that made Tom Cruise an international superstar and gave everyone “a need for speed.” The movie follows the students of an elite Navy fighter weapons school called “Top Gun,” who all compete for best in class. But things get complicated when a young daring flyer codenamed “Maverick” (Cruise), begins a relationship with his civilian instructor (Kelly McGillis). In the film Skerritt plays Viper, the head of the school that becomes Maverick’s mentor and father figure. In addition to introducing the world to Tom Cruise, the movie also featured early appearances by such future stars as Val Kilmer (Batman Forever), Anthony Edwards (TV’s ER), Adrian Pasdar (TV’s Heroes), Meg Ryan (When Harry Met Sally), and Oscar-winner Tim Robbins (Mystic River). 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with legendary actor Tom Skerritt about his work on Top Gun, as well as his impressive career. The distinguished actor discussed the iconic movie, why it works in 3D, how he knew Tom Cruise would be a star, the relationship between Maverick and Viper, his research for the film, collaborating with the late Tony Scott, the list of legendary directors that he has worked with, what he learned from Robert Altman, and which of his illustrious projects he is most proud to have been involved in. 

Here is what the legendary actor had to say:

IAR: To begin with, what do you think it is about Top Gun that really lends itself to the 3D format?

Tom Skerritt: Well, to begin with Tony Scott. His style, much like his brother’s style, is very freeing and I think a lot more will be brought out. It is a great homage to Tony in my view of the great director he is and was. So I’m looking forward to seeing all those things that I mentioned as I watch the film again for the first time. 

Can you talk about working with the late Tony Scott when you were on the set making the film originally?

Skerritt: It’s always difficult to answer questions like that when you’re looking back twenty-five years. All I know is that he saw that I was very interested in what he was doing, basically I love watching good directors and learning from them. I followed him around a lot, so for me he was a terrific teacher. He and his brother work in a very similar approach and he taught me a lot about filmmaking. 

You’ve worked with some incredible directors in your career including Robert Altman, and Robert Zemeckis, as well as Tony and Ridley Scott. You must have learned a lot from all them, correct?

Skerritt: Yes, and Hal Ashby. I mentored with him for several years. But yes, I’ve been very fortunate to learn from all of them.

When you made this film, Tom Cruise had already done Risky Business but Top Gun is really the movie that propelled him into superstardom. When you were making it and working with him, did you have a sense of how talented he really was and what a big star he was going to become?

Skerritt: I started out right after college falling into a film that starred Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack (War Hunt), and right off the bat I got a sense that these two guys were special. I knew Redford was going to be big sure enough, and I’ve had that experience with Julia Roberts (Steel Magnolias) as well. I knew that they were going to be quite big in the business and Tom falls into that category too. He was a gentleman, a good guy, and really focused about his work. If you are focused, and pretty good, chances are you’re going to make it at whatever you try to do in your life. 

What kind of research or training into the world of jet fighter pilots did you do to prepare for your role in the film?

Skerritt: All I did was go and meet the guy who ran (the real) Top Gun. I didn’t need to know how to fly, what I needed to know was what I could approximate from meeting the guy who was running Top Gun at the time. So a lot of what you saw me do was what I learned from seeing the guy that I met. 

I think Viper is not only a mentor but also very much a father figure to Maverick, did you see the role that way too? 

Skerritt: I think anyone in that position is both a father figure and mentor. Tom and I had some discussions while making it, and I know that he had had his father die when he was young, so there was a little bit of that going on. There was a feeling of looking up to the older guy and we had a mutual respect for each other. 

You have been lucky enough to be involved in several classic films throughout your career that have really withstood the test of time, Alien and MASH both come to mind. However, were you surprised by the initial success of Top Gun and then the legacy that the film has had over generations?

Skerritt: I think so, generationally is really the issue. I’ve never been in a film that has been so generational in terms of appreciation. Young people today are looking at that film multiple times in a way that the first audience did twenty-five years ago. So that is a new experience for sure. I don’t think there are many films like that. 

As I just mentioned, you also starred in the classic film MASH. Can you talk a little bit about working with legendary director Robert Altman?

Skerritt: I don’t know that I would be in this business if it weren’t for him. After that first little film I told you about that I did when I was in UCLA Film School, I met him during that period and he basically became my mentor. I did a little job on a television show that he was directing and he saw that I was very interested in learning about film. All those wonderful comments he would make on the side I took to heart and that is basically how MASH came about. So what he gave me I carry with me. 

Finally, in addition to MASH, Alien, and Top Gun, you have been involved with several classic films including Harold and Maude, Up in Smoke, Steel Magnolias, and Contact, as well as great television series like Cheers, and Picket Fences. Looking back on your distinguished career, is there one project in particular that you are especially proud to have been a part of?

Skerritt: Oh God, I feel so fortunate to have and have had the career that I have that I just can’t pick one over the other. I don’t take this business or my good fortune for granted. So it’s hard to pick one out. You named off some quality products that I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of, how could I possibly choose one over the other? Also including A River Runs Through It, you didn’t name that one. 

Top Gun 3D will be available on Blu-ray beginning February 19th

To watch our exclusive interview with Val Kilmer about the possibility of a Top Gun 2, please click here.

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