When he made his debut in the role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the film Top Gun (1986), Tom Cruise was only 23 years old. The celebrity will be 60 on July 3, and a quick check of the math reveals that fans have been saying the slogan from his breakthrough film, “I feel the need, the need for speed,” to Cruise for well over half of his life. Cruise will celebrate his birthday on July 3.
The one billion dollar sequel that was released this year, Top Gun Maverick, has only provided more opportunities to bring back the quote, including in headlines, reviews, tweets, gifs, and other forms of media. However, the actor, who in real life enjoys flying aircraft, driving automobiles, and riding motorbikes just as much as the man he plays in Top Gun does, has strangely never heard that phrase echoed back to him when he’s been pulled over for genuinely speeding.
In an exclusive interview for the Top Gun special issue of PEOPLE magazine, Tom Cruise was asked if a police officer had ever yelled at him something from “Need for Speed.”
Cruise responds in the negative before swiftly adding, “I wish they would!”
It defies logic and reason. Never? It’s possible that he never goes over the posted speed limit when he drives.
“Sometimes I get speed,” he acknowledges. “Sometimes, I get stopped. But in addition to that, I spend a lot of time racing motorcycles and cars and flying helicopters, which allows me to release a lot of pent-up energy.”
Throughout the entirety of Top Gun: Maverick, that passion for high speeds and incredible heights is on full display. Although off-camera Navy pilots were at the controls of the military jets that he and his co-stars were filmed in, Tom Cruise piloted the vintage P-51 prop plane that was his own during the scene in which Maverick gives Jennifer Connelly’s character, Penny, a ride in the clouds. The scene takes place when Maverick gives Penny a ride in the clouds.
“With this movie and I even in ’85, I wanted it to be a love letter to flying,” says Cruise. “I wanted it to be a love letter to aviation.” “It has to do with flying. Not just the difficulties, but also the attractiveness. I parachute. I am a speed flier. I am a helicopter pilot. I perform acrobatic manoeuvres on each one of those.”
There is no denying the fact that he has a true desire for speed; in fact, he chose to celebrate his 60th birthday by going to the Grand Prix of Great Britain to witness the Formula One races. But his attachment to flying goes well beyond the simple thrills it provides.
“There’s a poetry about it at a level where you’re looking at what man has achieved, what he’s capable of, to see the world from that viewpoint,” says Cruise, who earned a pilot’s licence after the first Top Gun movie. “There’s a poetry about it at a level where you’re looking at what man has achieved, what he’s capable of, to see the world from that viewpoint.”
“I’ve flown in places where birds flew right up close to me as I was flying. We are travelling in the same aircraft. I mean, it’s just, it’s wonderful. It possesses both force and majesty all on its own. I take in the scenery, taking in the sunrises and sunsets as well as the night sky. Because I was the kind of kid who, when I was very little, would sneak out of my window, climb up on the roof, and stare at the stars, I find it absolutely incredible that I am now able to look out the window of a plane and see the stars for myself. That blows my mind completely.”