An Interview with Top Gun Maverick Actress Monica Barbaro
As Top Gun: Maverick Entering its second weekend in theaters, after giving Tom Cruise the biggest box office opening of his career, some of the conversation surrounding the film shifts to the performances of the talented young actor ensemble. that surround Cruise. One of those stars is Monica Barbaro, who plays “Phoenix,” one of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s interns. Barbaro – who had shown versatility in small-screen roles in the Lifetime drama series UnrealNBC Chicago Justiceand ABC Separate together– stands out in the film due to his thoughtful and understated authority.
As Phoenix, Barbaro represents a vital but often overlooked segment of military women who excel alongside their male counterparts. She spoke to The audiovisual club about her role and the responsibility she and the filmmakers have taken on in making this female character a true equal among her peers. Barbaro also revealed the pace at which Cruise and director Joe Kosinski set the actors to give them the confidence — right down to their walking to and from planes — to play the pilots, and talked about what she hopes to tackle next. .
The AV Club: Your character, Phoenix, is the only female pilot in the group. What kind of responsibility does that entail?
Monica Barbarian: Yes, it was such an interesting challenge. I thought it was necessary, and I think we all thought it was necessary to represent women in a specific way where every woman in the world feels represented by that one character – and eventually we realized that it was absolutely impossible. And then you start looking at him like, no, he’s a character. She is another naval aviator among this group. And I was lucky to have some amazing riders to learn from in that regard. And I asked them these questions and they said the same thing – “WWe simply yearn for the day when we will no longer be women aviators, but we will only be aviators. And everyone in our production team, Tom [Cruise]Jo [Kosinski]jerry [Bruckheimer]I, the Navy, everyone wanted her to be presented as a strong and capable pilot in whom you would entrust your life.
It’s been made easy [through] the actual pilots I met who were definitely the kind of people we got a lot of information from to develop this character. And also just the relationships she has with different people, like her very strong and loyal relationship with Rooster, where she expects the most from him. And meeting Bob and not necessarily trusting him at first and then they form a really good bond where they start standing up for each other. And his feelings on Maverick are like, “Hha ha, who is this guy? But then immediately be like, “Oh, no, he’s going to give us everything we need to get there. So it became things which I focused on.
AVC: Generally, in male-dominated environments, we see tough female characters sometimes overcompensating. But there’s a confidence in your performance that’s really fun to watch. You seem to make her an equal rather than a competitor.
MB: You are absolutely right. It was something in the first pass of the script, and in the audition I did, more of that overcompensation look – and it was a lot of fun to play. It’s very outside of who I am, so it was fun. But it also didn’t feel authentic to the character or to the women I met and flew with. And so again hats off to the production team, we want her to look like someone who just knows she’s really good and her level of competition is the same as the guys. As if it weren’t obvious. It’s not aggressive in a certain way that she thinks she has to be, just to get by. She just knows she’s really, really good at this stuff. She stands tall because of it.
AVC: You talked about some of the relationships, between you and Rooster, for example. How explicit were these in the script?
MB: We’ve always been told that Rooster and Phoenix’s backstory is that they were in flight school together. She has known him for a very long time. I think they’re both the kind of people who don’t push in terms of being humble about their abilities, and they formed a bond early on because I think it was pretty clear that they could trust. And somewhere along the way, they met Hangman, who they found out pretty quickly they couldn’t trust. And that means the world for a pilot. Supporting each other means everything when you’re up there and know you can support each other.
AVC: All the actors in the film do a great job conveying a sense of self-assurance. Was it difficult to develop that feeling of confidence, in and out of the cockpit?
MB: Well, it started with getting this incredible gift as an actor from Tom, which was this comprehensive flight training program. He sort of told us the story in that we spent all this time learning how to fly a basic airplane, the takeoffs, the landings, all that, lingo. We switched to a plane that did aerobatics and we sustained G’s and learned not to pass out and stuff during maneuvers. So we were practicing maneuvers that would be in the script, like I learned what a split “S” was, what he pulled in the first movie — and, like, did one. And then we had dogfights in L-39. So by the time we got to the jet we had a lot of information and we knew what these things were like. And it was worth its weight in gold. I mean, we had to reshoot the scene where we walk into the bar, because apparently we started walking differently everywhere we went after doing all of that. It just enters your body in a way that changes you and gives you a real sense of arrogance, a momentum in your step. So it kind of fed us very organically by learning as much as we could about what these guys do for a living. And it was designed after naval air training courses. I mean, they do it a little differently, obviously, but it wasn’t that different. We said [our real-life counterparts] what we did, and they were like, “Ooh yeah, that’s how you learn to do what we do, ultimately. So we were able to bring that with us in our performance, which helps.
AVC: Did you expect to play a role like this?
MB: I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to play a fighter pilot. If you had asked me, I would have been, like, “Yyeah, let’s do it!” But I did not expect to have this opportunity. And when I saw the first movie, I remember thinking “Oh, i would love to be in a movie like this, but i never thought it could be as a pilot. And it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played. I had a conversation with Joe early on right after I got cast, where he was like, “I looked at all your material and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever done.” But we went through that in the audition process and I think as an actor every character that you play can be a certain side of yourself, and in terms of humans and how we function, we are capable of doing all sorts of things, good and bad. It’s just what we choose. So not to say that an actor who plays an evil character is that person, of course, but maybe they had the opportunity to be that person and chose not to. So I think in that sense it was something that was in me, or part of it was. And I just have to absorb the world around me and bring it out to the best of my ability.
AVC: I’m a big fan of your work on Unreal. What kind of roles are you looking for in the future?
MB: I was very lucky to be able to design my career after finding roles that were really different from the last thing I played. So right now I’m in production for a spy series on Netflix, which as an actor is just a goldmine because you’re not just playing a character, but you’re playing a character playing seven different characters, as she goes undercover and as she lives her cover life. So it’s a lot of fun, and it also involves a lot of stunts. The back and forth between maybe doing something that’s more, I don’t know, classically masculine, and then doing something that’s more stereotypically feminine, I can just do this dance a lot, which is really, really fun for me. I would love to do a classic period piece after that. But I’m always looking to do something different.