'Top Gun: Maverick': Meet the New Recruits

Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jay Ellis and more young stars learn the flight school ropes from Tom Cruise in the upcoming film.

When Tom Cruise set out to make the follow-up film to his beloved 1986 hit, Top Gun, he knew the success of the story would hinge on not only the storyline and motivations of his character, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, but in the squadron of young, up-and-coming Navy pilots Maverick is tasked with leading through their near-impossible mission.

"We had to find not only the actors that are correct for the roles, or just a great cast, which we have in there -- each one of them are extraordinary, charismatic, each one very distinct," Cruise said in an exclusive ET featurette from the set of the film. "We also, prior to [filming], I had to go look. This is how we're making the movie."

How they made the movie, it's important to note, was a once-in-a-lifetime Hollywood experience that included weeks of intensive training in aviation as well as filmmaking, as the young stars had to not only take to the skies to withstand flights in some of the world's most high-tech fighter jets, they also had to direct themselves in the flying scenes with IMAX-level cameras outfitted in the cockpits.

"We sat down with them and said, 'This is what we're doing, and if you don’t want to have that kind of experience, I understand,'" Cruise recalled. "Just so that they knew, and I wanted them to be excited about it."

The cast of young pilots was on board, and together they provide the perfect complement to Cruise's iconic action hero status in the film, adding levity to the intense storylines, and giving Maverick a chance to pass on some of his skills -- even the ones that still get him reprimanded by top brass.

Read on to learn about the talented cast of Top Gun trainees and some of the other new faces in Top Gun: Maverick, which is in theaters Friday, May 27.

Miles Teller as Lieutenant Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw

One of the most-talented pilots in the mission training group, Rooster has a history with his commanding officer, as he is the son of Maverick's late wingman and best friend, Nick "Goose" Bradshaw and his wife, Carole, who were played by Anthony Edwards and Meg Ryan, respectively, in the original Top Gun.

"There's been some complicated history between Rooster and Maverick," Teller said of his character. "I just felt for [him], for somebody who is trying to follow in his father's footsteps."

"He is an extremely intelligent and talented pilot, but he has a lot to learn," the actor added. "He learns to test his own limits."

Rooster and Maverick's animosity comes to a head when the pair are forced into a life-or-death scenario behind enemy lines, and Cruise said that Teller's character was the perfect way to link the original Top Gun to the new installment, allowing both men to work through their complicated feelings about Goose's death and about each other.

"He is the amalgam of Anthony Edwards and Meg and what they did on screen," Cruise raved of Teller's performance. "You can just see him bring that and become that... We talked about the nostalgia, the emotion of Top Gun, and he just naturally started to bring it."

"We'd do hair and makeup tests and spend time together, and I knew right away," Cruise added. "He's Rooster."

Glen Powell as Lieutenant Jake "Hangman" Seresin

Channeling an antagonism reminiscent of Val Kilmer's cocky "Iceman" from the first film, Hangman is the hot shot mission trainee who butts heads with Rooster, Maverick, and nearly everyone else on the team, thanks to his boisterous attitude.

"That's why we call him 'Hangman,'" Phoenix notes in the film. "He'll always hang you out to dry."

"Hangman, he doesn't fly well with the team," Powell admitted of his character. "He sort of lives on the edge... He knows he's the best, and he's not here to make friends."

Powell shared with ET that there wasn't much of Hangman's character "on the page" initially, but said he was grateful for the time Cruise took with him to help develop the role -- not to mention to the rigorous training regimen that he prepared to ready his co-stars for their high-flying roles.

"We got a lot of flight time," Powell noted. "It's a really rare experience, flying with the best pilots in the world and getting trained by the best pilots in the world."

Monica Barbaro as Lieutenant Natasha "Phoenix" Trace

"Phoenix is definitely a tough cookie," Barbaro said of her character, who pilots a two-seater with her WSO, Bob. "She doesn't underestimate anyone, and she's very loyal."

"She's probably the leader of the group," co-star Jay Ellis admits. "Her leadership qualities come through quite a bit."

As the only female trainee, Phoenix earns her respect on the team easily -- and Barbaro similarly impressed on set and during the cast's rigorous flight training.

"Monica, her ability to pull Gs, her ability in that aircraft, [was] absolutely natural," Cruise raved of his co-star. "Never had a problem, right from the beginning, just never had a problem physically. Her spatial awareness, her controls are phenomenal, and she became very confident inside the aircraft."

"It still blows my mind that we've done this," Barbaro admitted in an exclusive ET featurette on the training. "There's nothing like it."

Lewis Pullman as Lieutenant Robert "Bob" Floyd

Phoenix's WSO, whose call sign is simply, "Bob," gets a few laughs at his expense early on in the film, but proves to be an invaluable member of the Top Gun team when it's time for the mission.

"He's a back-seater," Pullman explained of his character. "He's dropping the bombs, being a second pair of eyes for the pilot."

The son of actor Bill Pullman, Pullman is something of a Hollywood legacy, but nothing could have prepared him for the unprecedented flight training regimen that Cruise put Maverick's young recruits through, in order to make sure their flights on screen looked as realistic as possible.

"The first couple of days, I was like, 'Can I do this? Am I equipped to keep up with Tom Cruise?'" the young star recalled. "Luckily, he really set us up for success. He set up this incredible training program that he designed... He was trying to give us the training program that he wished he had on the first one."

And while his character in the film suffers some setbacks during a test run gone wrong, Pullman shared with ET that no one on the cast had to tap out when it came to their own grueling training in real life.

"I think maybe anyone who thought about tapping out kept that real quiet," he added with a laugh. "I think you don't want to tap out when Tom Cruise is doing five times as many flights as you."

Jay Ellis as Lieutenant Reuben "Payback" Fitch

"Payback is very confident," the Insecure star said of his character, who pilots a two-seater with his WSO, Fanboy. "And then, as Maverick starts to test the class, you kind of see that fall apart."

The young lieutenant's doubt doesn't last for long, however. "He soon realizes that there couldn't be a better instructor than Maverick," Ellis added. 

The actor felt the same way about Cruise as their Maverick leader on set, and raved about the rigorous flight training the A-list star put his cast through in order to prepare for their high-flying scenes.

"It's definitely the most amazing thing I've ever done," Ellis raved in a preview clip for the film. "All the training 100 percent prepared us."

Danny Ramirez as Lieutenant Mickey "Fanboy" Garcia

Payback's WSO, Fanboy, is a "back-seater" like Bob, tasked with helping their pilot with everything that goes on in the cockpit during a high-pressure mission.

"The mission he's training for seems almost impossible," Ramirez said of his character's development through Maverick's intense training scenes. "But Maverick pushes his pilots to think outside the box."

Jon Hamm as Vice Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson

For every "Maverick," there's at least one high-ranking Navy official trying to get him to do things by the book. In Top Gun: Maverick, that task falls to Hamm, alongside Charles Parnell as Rear Admiral Solomon "Warlock" Bates and Ed Harris as Rear Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain. (Bashir Salahuddin, who plays Bernie "Hondo" Coleman, is more of a friend and right-hand man to Maverick, getting a few of the film's biggest scene-stealing smiles.)

"Someone's got to make the rules and someone's got to break the rules," Hamm said of his character, "and we all know which guy is breaking the rules. It's the one named Maverick."

Nevertheless, the Mad Men star said he was "thrilled" to be a part of the sequel, and especially pleased to get his own call sign. "It's pretty tightly woven into our collective cinematic history, Top Gun, and it's nice to be in that second chapter."

Jennifer Connelly as Penelope "Penny" Benjamin

In Top Gun, Maverick ended up with flight instructor Charlie Blackwood, played by Kelly McGillis, and while there is no mention of their relationship in the sequel, Cruise's character reunites with another lost love -- a single mother and bar owner named Penny, who is mentioned in the original film as simply "the admiral's daughter."

"They had dated when they were so young, before the original Top Gun, and we know that they've clearly been in and out of each other's lives all these years," Connelly shared of her character. "There's a reason why maybe it hasn't worked in the past, but there's a reason that they keep coming back to one another."

"What I like is she has her own vehicle, she has her own agency, you know?" the actress added. "She's an independent woman who's strong, who loves adventure, who's a positive force... She can sail a boat, she has her own bar. She's really a match for Maverick I think."

For Cruise's part, he couldn't be happier with his new leading lady.

"Jen is someone I am amazed that I have never made a film with," he marveled. "This is our first film together and she is so talented and lovely... When she committed to Penny, [it] was very exciting for all of us, because she has that talent to be able to thread the needle that this character needed, and the charisma on screen. You just want to watch her."

Top Gun: Maverick is in theaters on May 27.