Interview: Miles Teller On Flight Training For ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and More

Miles Teller is no stranger to a little buzz. Since making his mark in Whiplash, the actor has always managed to stay a part of the “ones to watch” conversation. So it is no surprise that he is also involved in the most highly-anticipated movie of the decade: Top Gun: Maverick.

“There is no green screen in a Top Gun movie,” says Teller to Men’s Journal. “Every shot, every stunt, was the result of the work, the real sweat, that we all put into it. The production was over the course of a full year, which was definitely the longest shoot I have ever been a part of.”

Teller assures us that Maverick, now scheduled to release summer of 2021, will be worth the wait for all of those Top Gun fans. The actor decompressed after the intense filming by taking a trip out to Finland late last year with the founders of The Long Drink, the canned-cocktail company he recently became a co-owner and ambassador for. Now he is back to work, and back in the gym, preparing for prison drama Spiderhead with Chris Hemsworth.

We discussed flight training, living on an aircraft carrier, prepping for the next gig, and how a good Finnish sauna-cocktail mix is a great form of recovery.

Once you knew you had the Top Gun gig, when did the flight training start?

I had about three months of flight training before starting the movie. That time was important to get comfortable with the crafts but also to build up our G-force tolerance, because all of the aerial elements were shot practically. The training started in a Cessna, and moved to an Extra 300, a single-prop aerobatics craft, where you start to improve your G-tolerance. From there we got into an L-39 Albatros, flying with these guys called The Patriots, who are the civilian equivalent to the Blue Angels.

Right off the bat, I am flying this fucking plane myself with The Patriots in formation with three other planes around, which just felt insane. I had one jet right above me, so close, and then planes on both wings, then we did a loop while holding that formation. I was holding the stick, and I landed the plane as well.

I stepped out of the craft and said, “Guys, we just met, there is no way you should trust me that much.” I wouldn’t have trusted me.

How did it feel to get up in that F-18?

They would have me go up in a F-18 for an hour or hour and a half, pulling anywhere around seven-and-a-half Gs. Getting to fly around with the best naval aviators in the world.

The F-18 is just a completely different beast. Every element of our training came into play during those sequences, all of the breathing techniques and tolerances. Every single day of the shoot we were really getting after it, up until the very last day people were fainting and puking.

Did you have any additional training that you had to do before getting into a cockpit?

Before we got into the jets, we had to pass the Naval Aviation Survival Training course in San Diego. You learn all the protocols you need to go through if you ever have to eject over the ocean. They drag you across the water, they flip you on your bag, they want to see you able to get out of your harness and much more. That all leads up to the big test they put you through, which is called “The Dunker,” where they put you into a modified helicopter, strap you to a chair, and then submerge this tank underwater.

They blindfold you. Give you a chance to grab your last breath and then they take you down under the surface. Once you are under, they start to flip the tank and you have to prove you can go through the right operations to get out, as calmly as possible. Your partner is in there with you, and together you have to break open the hatch. It feels like some sort of torture chamber to a degree.

Miles Teller
Miles Teller Courtesy Image

What was it like to film those flight sequences?

There was a lot that went into each of the flight scenes. Before we would shoot, we would go into a briefing like the military does, going over each movement and stunt very specifically––what the altitude is going to be, what our speed is going to be.

The stakes are incredibly high, even if you are not actually flying the fighter jet, you need to be aware of every movement, because if the camera is pointed at you and you are even a millisecond off as far as timing, the whole scene is a bust. That means everything from the motion to the eye-line has to be perfect. This is especially the case when it comes to dogfighting, because there are so many factors you need to take into account.

I know you have a strong connection to the military and have portrayed service members before like in Thank You For Your Service. What did it feel like to be a part of a franchise that is such a massive one in terms of public awareness?

The military is in my family, so portraying what they do comes with a special seriousness. I grew up in a pretty small town in Florida, and it was one of those schools where recruiters were around pretty often. That wasn’t the path that I took, but a lot of my close friends did go into the military. Portraying these service members and knowing what they sacrifice gives you a real respect for the life.

I think there is no doubt a divide between active military and civilians these days, as well as veterans. There has been a lot of compassion lost for these military members as well, so if this movie can bring back any of that, it would be well worth it.

What was it like to get to film on an aircraft carrier with actual Navy crew?

I was on one of the aircraft carriers for about two weeks. Doing that really made me empathic to their daily life really made me want to bring that reality to the screen. Being on the carrier itself was gnarly, being in such tight corners. Not that it feels as compact as a submarine, but walking through the quarters, you felt how close that you are to your crew mates constantly.

There are definitely days where you may go without seeing the sun. That was our experience too. There is no way that we could have done this movie without the Navy. The pilots were doing part of their training while they were on the carrier with us, so they were working to pass the qualifications for landing and taking off on a carrier at the time. The mornings on the carrier were early, because we were only getting a few-hour window to film before they started their workday. That would usually be sometime between 6 to 8 in the morning.

How did it feel to witness the fighter pilots at work on the carrier?

I mean is really incredible to see how precise these guys can be when they are flying a rocket. The United States has the only naval entity that launches and catches jets on the carrier.

I will say it is not great for sleeping, because it almost seemed like they were taking off all hours of the night. I was bunking up with Glen Powell. During the night we would just be lying there and you would hear explosions of jet fuel and machines colliding with the deck. Everything on the ship is shaking.

What was that like as far as team building for the cast?

I think the cast got close during that time, going through an experience like that really brings people together. Being there in a highly demanding environment, away from the usual distractions or comforts. It was a bonding experience.

On that note, what was it like working with the man himself, Tom Cruise?

Going in, you know how hard he is going to work. Everyone knows the legend and it’s all legit. He elevates everyone around him. He is so dialed into the details that he not only knows every element of his job, but he knows what is going on in every department, from props to wardrobe. He’s a machine.

How do you think people are going to react to the final product?

Playing Goose’s kid and getting to continue that storyline that was established in such a powerful way all those years ago, there is a lot of history there. I think when audience realizes the character I play is that tiny kid they saw in the original, it is going to hit. I was able to see it a couple weeks ago. The movie just blew me away, and my wife said, “That might be the best film I have ever seen.” She was crying multiple times.

I don’t think it would be possible to recreate what we did with all of the practical flying. You hope to be part of something that lasts forever. I think that we might have done that. It is fun, entertaining, emotional, and high-octane. There is a lot of heart in the story, and I can’t wait for people to see it. For fans of the original, I think they are going to be grinning from ear-to-ear the whole time. This is going to give them what they want.

Did you guys get any off-time to relax and cut it up in a bar like they do in the original?

The naval aviators have a saying: “twelve hours, bottle to throttle”. That is just supposed to get across that you need that amount of time from having a beverage to being flight ready. There were a few times where I had a week or two off and I was in scenarios where I would have really liked to crack a few beers. Or have a Long Drink.

I was at this wedding in Orange County, and I wanted to enjoy it. I was drinking and dancing into the night, but I ended up having to flight train the next morning. It was like 100 degrees and we were doing all of these aerial acrobatics. There is nothing worse than being hung over and pulling G force. It was horrible.

I heard you had a pretty epic trip to Finland with The Long Drink guys.

It was awesome. I brought a couple of buddies with me. I had never really been to that part of the world in that way. The Fins are a lot of fun. They love saunas and they love karaoke. I don’t know if they have a bar that doesn’t have karaoke, because it felt like every one we walked into, someone would start singing eventually.

It is also like the sauna capitol of the world. They would get it up to 200 degrees and then start beating you with eucalyptus leaves. Once it got too hot, we jumped into the Baltic Sea, which was like 38 degrees or something like that. It was a great recovery and felt awesome.

How did you get involved with the company? It is a solid drink, and the fact that it was born out of the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, it’s got a cool backstory.

I agree. It all really came about after I tried it while I was out in New York. I wanted to learn more, and eventually met the founders. They are a great group of guys. I wasn’t seeking out anything like this, coming on-board as an owner and ambassador. I have gotten those calls before, and never really was compelled to do it. But for this one, I feel like if my name can help get it out there, I am down for that.

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