Top Gun: Maverick–Jennifer Connelly on Playing Tom Cruise Love Interest

Despite the optics of shirtless volleyball games and locker room sparring, you can’t make a Top Gun movie without a strong woman.

Jennifer Connelly Top Gun
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures / Scott Garfield
For Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel 36 years in the making, the successor to the original film’s Kelly McGillis is Jennifer Connelly, who’s 51.
The 2001 Oscar winner plays Penny Benjamin, a character referenced in the first film, and love interest to Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.
Playing a single mom who owns an Air Force watering hole, Connelly brings new dimensions to the movie.

Tom Cruise?

I had never even met Tom Cruise before. He’s so exceptional. Spending time with him, you understand how someone has been such a movie star for so many years. It was clear to me what the franchise means to him, so I felt beholden to him, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the audiences who love the film so much.

Action scenes?

I have a sailing scene, and it was very distracting environment. We were on a boat shooting up in San Francisco; it was incredibly windy, with big waves. The boat was at impossible angle, moving so fast, and we had to play the scene at the same time. I was so paranoid that I was going to forget something with all those distractions. I found myself standing on the coffee table in my living room, practicing with my kids spraying water at me and blowing on me while I ran my lines. I have video of it.

Love scene with Tom Cruise

We focused on the intimacy of how they fit into each other’s lives. I think those characters have a really tender relationship, the way she understands him. They share a moment in bed chatting, and it tells as much about their relationship as the scene that is the preamble to that. Clearly, they have some unresolved business between them, and she navigates that with humor and playfulness. I feel like she’s someone who is positive and is moving toward happiness.

On set making drinks?

We had a working beer tap on set, and I spent a lot of time pouring. I practiced a lot because I thought that would be a terrible giveaway if I couldn’t do it properly.

“Top Gun” pilot nickname?

I do have a nickname, but from way back when I was in college. I run, but casually. I thought, “I’d love to be on a team, but I don’t play sports.” I am really stubborn and determined, so I thought maybe I could will myself to run really fast. In retrospect, I was more of a mascot. I never competed, and I was the slowest on the team. My nickname on the roster was Death Grip.


I was 14 when I made that movie. I attribute that cultural staying power so much to Jim Henson — those exquisite, huge practical sets. It was a wonderland. And, of course, David Bowie. So all of those elements: amazing sets, puppets and Bowie.

Memorable Movie?

The movie most people approach me about is the David Bowie romp Labyrinth or Little Children from Todd Field. Requiem for a Dream is the big one. That movie had a profound impact on people.