There’s a line in Hollywood interviews where questions about the subject’s professional life and personal life intersect. How they’re navigated depends on everyone’s mood at the time, although PR people notoriously hate them. But as actress Jennifer Connelly and I strike up a conversation about her new movie, Top Gun: Maverickwe start with a definitely work-related question: Is Tom Cruise a good kisser?
For a split second, the question takes her by surprise. It’s a work-related question, I assure her, as she plays the love interest of film franchise star Tom Cruise in the long-awaited sequel to Top Gun. “Honestly, I can’t…” begins the 51-year-old man, before laughing at my somewhat improbable logic. “There is no way to answer this question. That’s an impossible question to answer,” Jennifer finally says.
“I will say it was such a satisfying time in their relationship and so deserved,” Jennifer said. “So I really liked it. I really liked the timing and the way it was shot. And Tom Cruise was a great person to work with.
“He has a very strong presence. He has a lot of magnetism. He’s also incredibly committed to what he does. If he’s talking to you, he’s incredibly engaged in that conversation and present. It’s really striking.
Say Top Gun: Maverick was decades in the making would be an understatement. the original Superior gun was released in 1986 and starred Cruise as pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, Val Kilmer as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, and Anthony Edwards as Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s best friend. These characters and their interactions are an integral part of pop culture.
The sequel picks up roughly three decades later, when Maverick, now romantically involved with Jennifer’s character, Penny Benjamin, is called back to duty to train young pilots for a new mission. One of them is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), Goose’s son, an encounter that forces both men to come to terms with their grief.
“I thought in the original, the story with Goose, it was dramatic and moving, but I think there’s something particularly poignant about that story between Maverick and Goose’s son,” Jennifer says. “And maybe that’s fitting for the time in his life where we meet Maverick in this chapter.”
“It feels like he’s taking stock of his relevance, who he is, what he has left to do, what he has to face. It’s quite introspective.
I like that in the movie. I thought it gave the film its own raison d’etre, beyond just being a tribute.
On the Kleenex Index of Moving Stories, we might give it a score of three and a half, maybe four, out of five. The film’s director, Joseph Kosinski, beautifully weaves two threads – the story of the fast-paced mission, but also the more personal story that involves Jennifer’s character, Penny – into one.
“I don’t remember him explaining specifically how the stories fit together,” Jennifer says. “But we talked about how she fits into his life, who she is to him and who he is to her. I like their story. I love that we heard about this woman so we know she has always been in his life. And they’ve clearly been in and out of each other’s lives a few times.
In the early 1980s, still in her early teens, Jennifer landed two roles that had a huge impact on her budding career. The first was in Once upon a time in America, directed by Sergio Leone – a legendary crime thriller directed by a legendary director. It was followed by Phenomenadirected by another Italian author, the master of horror Dario Argento.
Early in her career, Jennifer was known for her supporting roles in films such as Jim Henson’s Fantasy. Labyrinth (1986), which also starred David Bowie, the neo-noir crime thriller Mulholland Falls (1996), Alex Proyas dark city (1998), filmed in Sydney, and that of Ron Howard a beautiful spirit (2001), for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
She walked away from acting upon the birth of her first child in 1997, returning several years later to more complex starring roles, such as the traumatized Dahlia in the psychological horror thriller. dark water (2005), Grace, mother bereaved by grief, in Reservation route (2007) and mentally unstable Virginia in Dustin Lance Black’s Virginia (2010).
“I don’t tend to think things in general are that binary,” Jennifer says, referring to the two acts I etched her filmography into. “Of course things changed, but then I started working as a kid, so the roles changed because it would be weird [if they had not].
“I think there were more chapters than two,” Jennifer says. “But if I was going to split my career into two chapters, then the change would probably be when I really consciously decided to do movies as my own choice, and that happened once I became a mom.”
When I bring up the subject of her husband, British actor Paul Bettany, Jennifer’s face is suffused with warmth. Yet she doesn’t know how to explain her magic. “You may have noticed that I’m bad at choosing one thing, a turning point, a defining quality, etc. “, she says. “I find it hard to think in those singular terms.”
I met Paul, I tell him, and I always found him charming. “The things you see, what he presents, that’s it,” says Jennifer. “He’s a really generous person with his love and his kindness. I think that’s something people feel in public, the people he works with. I think he makes people feel appreciated, cared for and loved. It’s genuine.”
“And in his personal life, he’s like that, he’s a remarkably good friend, and I think all of his friends would say that about him,” she adds. “He’s always there, always available, always someone you can count on. So I think that’s a quality that you see and that’s actually the way he is. And I think that’s one of the really special things about him.
Jennifer has three children – son Kai, from a relationship with photographer David Dugan, and two children with Paul, son Stellan and daughter Agnes. “What I’ve learned so far as a parent is that every relationship is different,” she says. “It’s so difficult to make these general statements because the relationships I have with each of my three children are so different because of the things we’ve been through. And they came here as such different people.
As an actress in Hollywood, Jennifer has always pushed for a louder voice in terms of the work she does. And she thinks huge ground has been gained in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Things are still far from ideal, but the improvement, she says, has been substantial.
“I think there’s still room for things to go further, but I think things have changed,” says Jennifer. “I’ve had experiences – and I won’t say the experiences I’ve had – where I read something, a change in a script, and I said, ‘I don’t think you can position a woman that way.’ They haven’t necessarily seen it, but they’re open to hearing that conversation and that perspective, and that’s great.
The culture of film sets has also changed, she says, particularly “the way intimacy scenes are filmed, that there are now intimacy coordinators on film sets, who did not exist previously. I mean, it was crazy before. In the 80s, people just went “la la la” and pretended it wasn’t happening. Now everything is discussed and agreed.
It’s also helpful, she says, not to overemphasize the timing, so it’s always possible to have “a scene in a movie that has intimacy, and it’s still a scene — so it’s not is no more real life than the rest is real life.
For now, Jennifer is happy that Top Gun: Maverick finally hits theaters. It was filmed in 2018 and 2019, and its scheduled 2020 release was delayed by the pandemic. “There were reshoots and additional reshoots, so it doesn’t feel that long to me,” Jennifer says. “Everything about this pandemic was unlike anything we had been through, so it didn’t feel particular to this movie and when it came out. But I’m glad it’s coming out and we can go to the cinema to see it.
Top Gun: Maverick hits theaters May 26.
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