After years of delays, Top Gun: Maverick is finally soaring into theaters this May, and with it comes the two biggest stars of the original high-flying blockbuster. Tom Cruise is set to reprise his role as hotshot fighter pilot Maverick, and flying alongside him will be his rival-turned-wingman Iceman, played by Val Kilmer. With throat cancer slowly robbing Kilmer of his ability to speak in recent years, it took artificial intelligence and the urging of Cruise to get Iceman back on the joystick.
Kilmer’s fight with throat cancer began in 2015, but the 62-year-old actor is now cancer-free. After undergoing extensive chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and a tracheotomy to fight the disease, Kilmer lost his voice — a potential death sentence for an actor’s career. But in 2021, the actor teamed up with Sonantic — a United Kingdom-based artificial intelligence company — to re-create his voice. Sonantic released a sample of Kilmer’s re-created voice last year, revealing how realistic their artificial voice performances are.
In the short sample, Kilmer explains how AI gave him new opportunities to continue acting.
“After getting treated, my voice as I knew it was taken away from me. People around me struggle to understand me when I’m talking,” Kilmer’s AI-enabled voice says. “But despite all that, I still feel I’m the exact same person. Still the same creative soul. A soul that dreams ideas and stories constantly. But now I can express myself again. I can bring these dreams to you and show you this part of myself once more.”
In the latest trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, a shot of a framed picture reveals Iceman is now an admiral. He’s also the one responsible for bringing Maverick in to teach the latest Top Gun class. It’s still unclear how large of a role Kilmer will have in the movie, but Cinema Blend confirmed he and Cruise will have at least one scene together — likely relying on Sonantic’s AI technology to give Iceman his voice back.
“To get to work with an actor of that caliber, to see the chemistry, the camaraderie between him and Tom, and to have those two characters reunite in this film, was a really special moment, and one of my favorite parts of the film,” director Joe Kosinski told Total Film magazine.
Fans of the 1986 action flick are eager to see the two pilots take to the skies again. Cruise recognized the sequel wouldn’t be the same without Iceman returning and fought to get Kilmer back. Jerry Bruckheimer, the film’s producer, told People magazine that Cruise insisted the studio get Kilmer to return if the film was going to be made, calling Cruise “the driving force” behind getting Kilmer to join the cast.
Kilmer also fought hard to get back in front of the camera, tapping a level of dedication he once thought he was incapable of. When speaking to Chuck Klosterman of Esquire in 2005, Kilmer wondered at Bob Dylan’s seemingly endless perseverance while going from acoustic to electric.
“He toured for a year, and he was booed every night. Onstage, I could never take three performances in a row and be booed. I just don’t think I’m that strong. […] I mean, he has a dedication to an ideal that I can’t comprehend,” Kilmer said.
Now the renowned method actor is demonstrating his own inspiring levels of perseverance and is starring in the highly anticipated action movie, despite the taxing effects of battling throat cancer. It’s been 36 years since Iceman was last in the cockpit of his F-14, but thanks to Cruise’s demands and Sonantic’s AI technology, the cocky, volleyball-spiking pilot is back.