A Lovely Little Life: Kelly McGillis on Top Gun

The 80s icon talks about her evolving relationship to The Righteous Brothers and her recent career resurgence.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

A little movie called Top Gun turned Kelly McGillis into one of the most enduring romantic icons of the 1980s, a decade with powerful competition for that particular honor. As Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood, a civilian instructor at the most prestigious (and kick-ass) flight school in American, she was seduced by Tom Cruise via The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," thus cementing the tune's popularity and, as we learn in our interview, ruining it for the actress forever.

Top Gun has been converted to 3D for a theatrical release earlier this month, and is now available on Blu-ray for home video enthusiasts, so McGillis was kind enough to answer our questions about the production and her recent career revival in genre films like Stakeland, The Innkeepers and the 2013 Sundance Film Festival entry We Are What We Are.

Read CraveOnline's review of the Top Gun 3D Blu-ray.

CraveOnline: I watched Top Gun again, obviously, before this interview, and I’ve been really struck by how much The Righteous Brothers have been playing over and over again in my head.

Kelly McGillis: [Laughs]

How has your relationship with The Righteous Brothers changed over the years?

Well, it’s changed from really liking that song, to kind of really being over that song. [Laughs] For a long time, every time I walked into a place somebody would sing that song, and I’d just be like, “Really? It’s not that clever anymore. You’re not the first person to do it.” [Laughs] So for a while there it was not so fun.

It always struck me as kind of an odd song to sing to someone at a bar. It’s kind of accusatory.

Yeah, a bit, I guess. But I don’t know if we shot it in an accusatory manner.

No, it’s just a little ironic, I always thought.


When you were making Top Gun, what was the sense of the film? Did people think it was going to be a big hit, or was it just another job?

In my mind it was just another job, but I think that Tony [Scott] and Don [Simpson] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] all hoped it would be a big hit. I had no clue it would be as big as it was. I thought it would be a big movie, just because it’s a good, old-fashioned movie. Good versus bad, fast planes. But I had no idea it would have the life that it’s had.

What were your conversations with Tony Scott about Charlie as a character? What were your ideas at the time?

I don’t know if I had too many ideas. I mean, I met the lady that the character was based on. I practiced a lot of the verbage to be able to just rattle it off my tongue, because those aren’t things that I normally say. Yeah, we just kind of talked moment-to-moment in making the movie, just never really sat down. It’s all so stylized. So there’s that fine line between reality and style, I think.

Who is the woman that Charlie was based on? What was she like?

Oh, she was really nice, but she wasn’t anything like I was in the movie. That’s why I’m [saying] it wasn’t necessarily a reality, documentary style of movie. It was a heightened reality, and it was very stylized. I mean, look at the film. The whole film is very stylized.

I was noting that with a friend, when we watched it, how before Top Gun, military films didn’t seem so fetishized as they are now. Top Gun made it seem so “cool.”

Tony brought that style to the movie. So it was really talking more about style and stuff like that than the deep ins and outs of method acting.

What do you remember most about Tony on set at the time?

Oh, he had a great sense of humor. He was so much fun to work with. I just really, really enjoyed him. I think that the film works so well because he stylized that movie, and the visuals in that movie come from him. I think that’s what made the film so good. In a way, it was like an MTV movie of the 80s, you know? I think he really brought that to that.

Your chemistry with Tom Cruise really grabbed a lot of people. What was your relationship like on set? Did that scripted relationship feed into it at all, or…?

No, we were just professionals and doing our job. Tom is incredibly nice. He’s very sweet. He’s very genuine and very respectful. We were just doing our jobs. Acting is acting. [Laughs]

When was the last time you saw Top Gun again?

I think before it was released.

Really? That long?


I was just wondering, because some people like revisiting their films and some don’t.

I would be one of those that don’t.

Is there anything that you’re particularly fond of in Top Gun, or a favorite part of the movie, or is it just in the past at this point?

I don’t really have a particular part of the movie that’s my favorite thing. I had such a great time making that movie, it was really like being in summer camp. It was so much fun. All of us hung out together, we had a great time. I just think the whole experience of making the movie was really fun.

I’ve been really enjoying some of your recent work. You were great in The Innkeepers.

Oh, thank you.

Thank you. What was character based on? Was that based on anyone you knew, in particular, or was that just Kelly McGillis coming in, being creative?

[Laughs] Oh, it’s just me being goofy!

But you’ve been doing some films that are more genre-related with that and Stakeland and I just saw We Are What We Are at Sundance.

Oh yeah. I haven’t seen it. Is it good?

Oh, it’s so good! It came out great.

Oh, good.

I’m a big fan of that movie. It has this wonderful gothic feeling to it. Does that kind of material really appeal to you now? Or did it before?

I don’t know. For me, I’m really starting over in my career after taking time off to raise my kids. I don’t know, it just seems to be what’s coming my way, and I really grateful though that I get to work with people now who allow me to be just who I am. You know, none of that pressure to be twenty or thirty, or to have to keep on coloring my hair or do all of that Botox-y stuff. I’m just really to get the opportunity to work with people who want to work with people who really look the age that they are.

What sort of roles are looking for, in particular? What’s your next step?

I have no idea. I don’t go out and look for stuff. I have a very lovely life. I’m semi-retired, and I’m thinking about teaching acting in Asheville, NC., to give back. Yeah, no, I have a lovely little life. I’m not really pursuing much of anything right at the moment. That’s not to say I won’t in the future, but right now I’m just very contented with working a little bit here and there. I’m very happy with my life the way it is today.

That’s amazing that you want to teach an acting class. Do you have a philosophy about acting that you feel you want to espouse?

[Laughs] No… No. No. I don’t have “a philosophy that I need to espouse.” No. Just helping people who want to act. I have a great for the technique of acting, and I have great respect for the amount of work that it takes to be a great actor. You know, I went to school for six years studying acting before I ever got a job. So I think I have the experience of having approached things differently, and what may work for one person doesn’t work for another, and so my hope is just that I can offer people help where they most need it.

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel, the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and the co-star of The Trailer Hitch. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.