Monica Barbaro Is Top Gun: Maverick’s Breakout Star

The character Phoenix not only holds her own in the boys club that is Top Gun’s fighter pilot crew, but she is also the heart of the film. “The Navy and Paramount and Tom Cruise and Joe [Kosinski], Jerry Bruckheimer—everyone at one point or another talked to me about how important this character was to them and how important this character is to female aviators in general,” Barbaro said about the role. The pressure to represent the female aviator population in one character felt immense, but Barbaro was up to the task, meeting with many women in the Navy to better understand their experience and help shape the confident and strong-willed character we see on-screen. “The original script had her be more like the way men will write tough women,” she said. “A little too tough, almost like they are compensating for the fact that they are a woman. And I think it grew into a space where she is just great at what she does, and she’s not questioned, and anyone who does question her, that’s a good way in the story to show that they have a problem, not her.” 

Finding the right balance for the character was half the challenge for Barbaro, as the role also required intense preparation. The cast had to partake in many hours of flight simulations along with various survival training courses before they could even step foot in a F/A-18. “We trained so hard in order to be overprepared so that, by the time we were filming, we could do the thousands of other things we had to keep track of,” she said. “It’s things you don’t think of. You fly and come back and look at the footage, and your mask is crooked, and you have to reshoot the whole thing. Not only is that wildly expensive, [but it’s also] exhausting, and it takes time and takes up the military’s time. All of these things have to be super specific, and by that point, you have to not be thinking about how difficult it is to fly in those things.”

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