He flew the F9F Cougar, but navy aviation and just aviation in general, I was raised on it, and I was drawing airplanes from being just the littlest of kids.
Val Kilmer is the voice of one of the F/A-18s. Did his role as “Iceman” in Top Gun recommend him for the role in your movie?
I have yet to meet an individual that does not love Top Gun, and I’m one of the biggest fans. When I knew that we were going to have a couple of F-18s in the movie, the most current aircraft the Navy flies, I wanted to reach out, and so [producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn] wanted to get those guys if we possibly could. Tom [Cruise] was filming Mission Impossible 4, so he was busy, but we were able to get the other two coolest guys in the film, and that’s Goose, Anthony Edwards, and Ice Man.
Tell us about the character of the British de Havilland Comet. You’ve chosen British actor John Cleese to play that part.
First of all, that’s a great airplane—a great looking, iconic, early racer. I thought about the origin of that airplane and I wanted to get somebody who could play this sort of acerbic approach, but also really funny, kind of old school RAF. John fit the bill, and he was very enthusiastic to do it and has just been an absolute blast to work with.
You certainly did your race history homework, because you’ve got a Gee Bee in the story.
As you know, that was a tremendously successful plane that Jimmy Doolittle flew, and we love that airplane. Everyone knows the barrel-chested Gee Bee. It made a fine appearance in The Rocketeer, which is really a cool moment in that film. Then there’s a back story that Jeff Howard, our writer, found. This Mexican racer [Francisco Sarabia] flew the Gee Bee to the Washington area. So we knew that we wanted to also have a Mexican character, because I love that whole area of the world and its warmth and its people.
And there’s a blimp?
[Radio sportscaster] Colin Cowherd plays the blimp. I'm another big fan of sports radio. I listen to ESPN all the time, and I hear him do play-by-plays and calls. He also works with Brent Musburger, so it was a perfect way to team those guys up once again and actually pull them into our world.
What else about the aviation community is in this movie? What spirit of the film comes from that community?