Happy Top Gun Day, everyone! Sure, it’s an unofficial holiday, but what the heck. To mark the occasion, Paramount Pictures is launching the film back to theaters for an exclusive one-week run (Check for showtimes here), and, of course, the high-flying Tom Cruise action classic was released last year as a 4K UHD Blu-ray. Meanwhile, Fatherly chatted with Rick Rossovich, who played Ron “Slider” Kerner, the radar intercept officer to Val Kilmer’s Iceman.
Rossovich, now 64, was a major film and television presence from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, appearing in The Lords of Flatbush, Streets of Fire, Terminator, Top Gun, and Roxanne, as well as co-starring on ER during its first season. He eventually walked away from it all, partly to be with his wife and their two kids, and partly because good projects seemed to vanish. During our conversation, Rossovich – on the phone from Stockholm, Sweden — enthusiastically shared Top Gun memories, discussed how stepping back to be with his family proved to be the right decision, laughed heartily when his wife made an unexpected cameo appearance during our chat, and teased – accidentally?? – the possibility that he might (or might not) turn up briefly in the long-awaited sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, due out this summer in a bona fide theatrical release.
How crazy is that it’s 35 years since Top Gun premiered?
Rossovich: Thirty-five years! It’s gone by in a flash, in a weird way. I have a real nostalgic feeling for it. It’s a sentimental thing because it was such a fun thing to do. It’s only been a good vibe and people have always embraced it and me because of it. I hope I can be around for the 50th, to tell you the truth. If you look at the horizon, that’s a long ways away, 15 years. But we made it to 35. That’s pretty remarkable, that people are still talking about it. I made a lot of things that are completely obscure and lost, though they were well-intentioned and paid for, and this one continues to be a beacon.
You almost played Cougar. Did Tony Scott or Jerry Bruckheimer tell you why they switched you to Slider?
Rossovich: There was never a reason. I never asked. It wasn’t a touchy situation, but I don’t want to make it into a touchy situation. Cougar is really at the head of the film and he plays his bit and then is gone. It was never like I traded roles with one of the guys who was on the set every day with me. So, we didn’t have to face that. Cougar was a good role and John (Stockwell) did a great job. It was an interesting characterization of a guy who’s losing his nerve, but I was so happy to have a little bit bigger slice and to be along for the whole thing.
What interested you about Slider?
Rossovich: That he’s the ultimate wingman. I tried to have a lot of subtlety with that, but always worming my way into things and being up close and Iceman’s go-to guy. Even in some other scenes I had, where I stood alone a bit, I was the ultimate wingman.
There was a lot of testosterone on the set. How much like the characters were the actors?
Rossovich: There was a bit of truth coming out of everyone’s pores. Tom is a constant professional, perfectionist. He’s the guy who’s going to go until he gets it right. Val, a complete actor, knows his stuff, thinks a little bit deeper. Barry Tubb and Whip Hubley, and I got to play our fun sides. We were like the chorus singing. We got to bring out those colors. Tom Skerritt, a beautiful human being, has had an incredible career. James Tolkan, great actor. Meg Ryan made her debut. What a way to enter the mainstream. Anthony Edwards is such a gentle, beautiful human being, and he brought a whole different dynamic to Goose that really is understated. He lifted the show and doesn’t get enough credit.
You and your wife were in a truck accident one day and the next day you were flying in the F-14, right?
Rossovich: Exactly. I went out with one of my paychecks, got a new Ford truck, and we were on a bridge in San Diego when a tire came off a trailer a couple of cars in front of us. There was a chain reaction accident. I went sideways and it caved in my wife’s door, and she was crumpled in the compartment. I had to lift her out. They took the truck away and we never saw it again. Totaled. The next day, she’s in a Jeep along the runway, with back pain, waving me away as I go down the runway and just disappear out to the Pacific Ocean, strapped to a missile, more or less. That was an adventure, but she healed. It’s funny, as I was taking her away from the driver’s side, her sunglasses fell off her face. A car went by and ran over a $100 pair of sunglasses. That’s what I really remember in that moment. It was horrible, so horrible.
People are assuming you’re not in Top Gun: Maverick. Where you asked? Not asked?
Rossovich: The new film, it’s been a passion of Tom’s for the last 30 years. He wasn’t going to do it until he got what he wanted. From what I understand, what I know of the script and storyline, I think it’s going to be a really powerful piece of work for Tom. He always delivers. Get ready world, here comes Top Gun: Maverick. I had a little bit of a discussion with Joe Kosinski. Great fellow, the director. I think he’s really going to deliver. Paramount certainly wants to have a blockbuster, and I think it’s all lined up for that. I visited the set one day while they were filming in San Diego. There might be a glimpse of me in the new movie. I don’t know. I haven’t heard. Maybe I’m not really supposed to talk about that, but my heart’s in it. I’m behind it 100%. I think it’s going to be a great thing for the entertainment business and for the country in general, to have a film like that to rally around, because like the original film, it’s Americana. It really is.
You stepped away from acting. Why — and how satisfied have you been with that decision?
Rossovich: I’d been in the number-one box-office film in the world in 1986. Ten years later, I was bumping around, doing some good roles, some average roles. I was in the number one show in America, ER. I had a great run that year. Then, for a few years, I did other series work and a couple of other movies, but I was missing my kids growing up. I have two kids. My son has a media company here in Stockholm and my daughter is a designer. She lives in San Diego. I was missing them. We lived an hour and a half, two hours from Hollywood. It was hard for me to get out into my garden. I’d made enough things. I’d established myself. I’ve been married 38 years. I had to say, “What’s my choice going to be in life? Am I going to be a careerist?” If I was a cop or in the military, I might retire after 25 to 30 years. That might be enough. I took that route. Now listen, if Quentin Tarantino calls and says, “Rick, I want to torture you on the set one day,” I’d show up. I’ve come back with little things over the last 10, 12 years. But I was satisfied. I never had any problems in life. I feel blessed. I’m just 64 now. I still look good. I still have a six-pack. I’m in shape…. What?
Woman’s voice in the background: Your hair is gray.
Is that your wife?
Rossovich: Yes (laughs). My hair is really gray. She says it looks good!. I live in Sweden half the year, California the other half. I love being in my garden and working on projects, developing real estate. The movie business, the television business, people see the glamour and all that. You know what? It’s a grueling business. I take my hat off to everybody that can stay at it into their 60s, 70s, 80s. It takes a lot of energy.
You mentioned that you left acting, in large part, to be with your kids. They’re both in their early 30s now. Have they told you how much they appreciate what you did for them?
Rossovich: I get that in full measure from my kids. The great thing is, the way technology has changed, we can be so immediate and so close to each other. My son lives a half-hour away here and I’m doing a project with my daughter in San Diego. We’re developing a tract of land and we’re going to have several houses and make a compound there. We have such a close relationship now. I was starting to feel a bit of an estrangement in their teenage years. I didn’t want to go down that road. That was part of the reason. I spent every summer of their childhood going to Sweden. I turned down so much work over the course of my career. I could’ve had a different trajectory probably. I got a call in Sweden from John Wells for ER and I said, “OK, I’ll come home for that.” But I turned down a lot of work so I could give them their Swedish culture and background. It’s paid off 100 times more than having some obscure movie no one ever saw or cared about. Of course, if it was Top Gun year after year, you’d say, “Well, I can’t turn that down.” But that’s show biz. You look at any great actor and you pick and choose every fifth or eighth role that was something that stood out, and the rest of them were kind of, “Huh?”