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Tom Cruise Was Rivals With This Co-Star: "It Was Fun to Play Up The Conflict"

Top Gun's Maverick and Iceman were at odds onscreen and in real life.

Onscreen, they were rivals who became friends. Off-screen, they were friends who became rivals. Well, sort of. In the original Top Gun, Tom Cruise starred as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, while Val Kilmer played his flight school rival Tom "Iceman" Kazansky. The two actors are on good terms today—and appear together in the new sequel Top Gun: Maverick—but when they were making the first movie back in the '80s, they brought their contentious fictional relationship into real life.

In his 2021 documentary, Val, Kilmer explained that he purposely kept Cruise at arm's length while they were making the 1986 film as a way to make his character more realistic. The actor has also shared how Cruise didn't fit in with the rest of the "party boys" on set. Read on to find out more about the relationship between the real life Iceman and Maverick.

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Kilmer stoked a rivalry with Cruise.

Val Kilmer in "Top Gun"
Paramount Pictures

In Val, Kilmer admitted that he altered his real friendship with Cruise while making Top Gun as a way to connect to Iceman.

"On the page, there was very little to the character Iceman," Kilmer explained (via CinemaBlend). "So I attempted to make him real. I manifested a backstory for him, where he had a father who ignored him, and as a result, was driven by the need to be perfect in every way. This obsession with perfection is what made him so arrogant."

The actor continued, "I would purposely 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. You'd have Maverick and Goose (Anthony Edwards) on one side, and Slider (Rick Rossovich), Hollywood (Whip Hubley), Wolfman (Barry Tubb), and me, Iceman, on the other. It was fun to play up the conflict between our characters, but in reality, I've always thought of Tom as a friend, and we've always supported each other."

Cruise kept his distance from the rest of the cast.

Tom Cruise in "Top Gun"
Paramount Pictures

In his 2020 memoir, I'm Your Huckleberry: A Memoir, Kilmer shared that he and his friends from set would go out and get rowdy when they weren't working, and Cruise wasn't part of the group.

"We were the party boys," Kilmer writes (via The Daily Beast). "Every night we'd hit the San Diego nightlife. Once we were stuck at an intersection where all four lights were red. I peeled out, spinning and burning rubber in a perfect circle, showing off. Until we cozied right up to a cop car. He looked at me like, 'Really, dude?'"

Kilmer continues of Cruise, "Tom refrained from our revelry, with good reason. From day one, he was laser-focused on a singular goal: to become the greatest action hero in the history of film. He was up nights learning lines; he spent every waking hour perfecting his stunts. His dedication was admirable. Of course even more admirable is the fact that he achieved his goal … Tom is a comrade I respect and admire, though as creatures we hail from galaxies far, far away from one another."

Kilmer pranked Cruise on the set.

Val Kilmer at the "Top Gun" premiere party in 1986
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In I'm Your Huckleberry, Kilmer also tells a story about pranking Cruise while they were making the movie. As pranks go, it was a pretty nice one, though.

"My favorite moment between us was a small prank in which I gave him an extremely expensive bottle of champagne but placed it in the middle of a giant field and made him follow scavenger-hunt-style clues to find it," Kilmer writes. "I hid behind a bleacher and watched him lug the giant crate to his motorcycle. He never did thank me for the Iceman-style bit. I thought it would break the ice, but I guess the ice was just right."

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The actors—and characters—just reunited.

Tom Cruise at the London premiere of "Top Gun: Maverick" in May 2022
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

Kilmer appears in the recently released sequel Top Gun: Maverick alongside Cruise, but it wasn't a given. Kilmer has suffered from throat cancer in recent years, and treatments damaged his voice. He also has to eat through a feeding tube. But, the actor was able to make an appearance in the film, bringing Iceman to big screens once again.

"You know in the first one, I really rallied hard for him to make the movie," Cruise told Entertainment Tonight of Kilmer. He added of Iceman and Maverick's scene in the sequel, "The kind of talent that he has, and you see that scene, it's very special. It's just very special."

Kilmer also talked opened up about being able to reunite.

"I was very moved the first time I saw it. Almost 40 years is a long time for a reunion," he told USA Today. "We laughed all day. Tom is great and surprisingly funny!!" He added, "It is nice to see Iceman reach such success in the career he loved. It's a good story arc. And it was very exciting to be back at it with Tom … I love Tom. We've always gotten along great."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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