He is Kevin LaRosa Jr., the man who trained Tom Cruise to fly in Top Gun 2

Tom Cruise goes through a canyon at 450 miles per hour (724 kilometers per hour). He raises his F-18 fighter jet, the eight G-forces visible in the lines on his face, before inverting the plane and diving. This is just one of the exciting action sequences that have made Top Gun: Maverick in one of the most praised films of the year. Fans and critics alike have been vocal in their praise, and since its release a week ago, it has so far grossed an estimated $176 million in North America alone. also had the end of Cruise’s biggest opening week as a movie star, a maddening statistic considering his storied career.

More importantly, though, the continuing strength of Cruise himself is on display. While other stars turn to superhero franchises for big box office receipts, here’s a man capable of carrying the weight of an entire blockbuster on his shoulders alone.

Cruise repeatedly touches the sky in the movie, but who put him there? That job fell to Kevin LaRosa Jr., aerial coordinator and lead camera pilot forTop Gun: Maverick. FaceTimed from his home near an airfield north of Los Angeles, he detailed how the film managed to pull off gravity-defying stunts — few of which required CGI — and what it was like to be responsible for one of the most famous men of the planet. And a man who, just to add a little more pressure to LaRosa’s job, insists on doing his own stunts.

Don’t need a stunt double

Cruise is known for being a physical actor, preferring to jump off buildings himself rather than have someone else do it for him. He broke his ankle while he was jumping from one building to another in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, after which he got up and ended the scene. As she dangled from the side of an Airbus A400 plane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Cruise was hit in the chest by a rock. He said it “felt like a bullet.” “If a larger rock hit him in the chest, or if smaller debris hit him in the face, then the show would be over,” director Christopher McQuarrie told The Associated Press. New YorkDaily News in 2015.

It’s this kind of devotion to his craft that helped make Cruise an industry legend. However, with Cruise busy circling the sky in a fighter jet, LaRosa admits she sometimes wishes Hollywood’s biggest star didn’t have to do all the work himself. “We all think that way, right? Of course Tom does things in this movie where I look at it and say, ‘Wow, that was crazy.’”

A pilot with pedigree

LaRosa is a second-generation stunt pilot and a third-generation pilot, with a resume that includes the likes of Iron Man, The Avengers Y transformers. His father had even worked with Cruise before on Mission: Impossible III.

When you were initially offered the job at MaverickLaRosa let out a scream so loud it scared her own family. Initially hired as a camera pilot, LaRosa impressed the producers so much that they promoted him to coordinator, which involved guiding the cast and crew before and after each flight. LaRosa led hours of briefings with the Navy before and after each stunt was performed. “Everything in aviation has inherent risk,” he says. “But those risks are negated with excellent briefings, risk mitigation plans, and trials. We call it excellence through repetition.”

Kevin LaRosa Jr., Aerial Coordinator and Lead Camera Pilot

(Kevin LaRosa Jr.)

The pressure of a sequel

From the beginning, Cruise made it clear to the team of Maverick that they were at a “disadvantage”. The movietop gun original transformed Cruise into the superstar he is today. Despite mixed critical reception, the film grossed over $350 million at the worldwide box office on a $15 million budget and, thanks in part to an inescapable soundtrack, became as synonymous with the 1980s as the sweatpants. “When you want to make a sequel to a movie like top gunYou’re going to have all the critics, all the eyes, all the attention on you,” says LaRosa.

Basically, they needed a home run, and Cruise made a series of speeches on set to cheer the team on. According to LaRosa, Cruise told them, “We’re making a sequel to a very historic and iconic movie and we need to get a level of perfection with it. Top Gun: Maverick that has not been seen before in the cinematographic world”. LaRosa pauses: “Those are great words!” he says with a laugh.

The training program

LaRosa also helped Cruise put together the rigorous three-month flight training program for the rest of the cast, which included rotating underwater in an ejection seat to prepare for emergencies. “In addition to training them to be pilots, they needed to check the boxes to be able to fly the Navy plane and go and do the same training that those Navy aviators do,” says LaRosa. Ultimately, they needed to know how to survive in the event of an emergency in a fighter aircraft.

As for filming underwater: “It’s not something you want to do.” However, LaRosa added that actress Monica Barbaro (Phoenix), who previously said that her training as a dancer gave her a “high tolerance for pain,” she impressed more during training. “Monica just did amazing, [era] really good with G-forces.”

Monica Barbaro plays Phoenix in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

(Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures)

Close enough to feel the auxiliary burners

“It feels like you’re right there because we’re literally there,” says LaRosa. When filming in the sky, he’s the one in the camera jet, lining up the shot just “10 to 15 feet away.” [3 a 4 metros] behind F-18s flown by Navy pilots. That means being close enough to “feel the heat from the auxiliary burners,” or the burning fuel coming out the back of a jet engine.

Anyone who has seen the movie will know that the stunts are impressive to watch. In one memorable scene, the Top Gun pilots must perform a death-defying slalom through a canyon to tree-level height to avoid enemy detection. The low-flying, LaRosa recalls, was as real as it seems in the film; in fact, he felt even more dangerous from the cockpit. “I think it’s hard to know how low and how fast we’re going,” says La Rosa, who adds that pilots had “a target number of 100 feet (30 meters) above trees and rocks.” “When you’re doing three, four or 500 knots through canyons, you have to deal with that.” He added that some Navy pilots were able to descend below that 100-foot level.

Unlike the Marvel movies, Maverick he didn’t rely on CGI for his aerobatics: “Actually, it was all about shooting a real plane.”

An aerial scene from ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

(Paramount Pictures)

the vomit bag

Due to the extreme G-forces the cast was subjected to, there was a lot of vomiting during filming, but LaRosa noted that actor Glen Powell (Hangman) had a knack for “handling his business” with the vomit bag and moving on. “For most people who vomit while flying, that’s as far as they go. They don’t count anymore,” says LaRosa.

“Glen could be in the backseat of an F-18, fighting and he felt like it. [de vomitar]. She did what he had to do and then said, ‘Okay, let’s move on!’ and he was ready immediately. That’s quite a skill set, I don’t even know how you get to do it.”

The cruiser effect

Of course, Cruise has a “stomach of steel.” “He’s in better shape than me, mentally and physically,” LaRosa, who appears to be in her thirties, laughs at Cruise, 59. “He’s smart and focused and he really makes you want to do your best.”

Glen Powell plays Hangman in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

(Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures)

LaRosa — who, like apparently everyone else Cruise works with, receives a Christmas cake from the star every year — used the word “perfection” four times in about a 10-minute interval while talking about Cruise’s work attitude. It’s all part of Cruise’s lexicon, which has been forged by decades of anecdotes about the star’s intensity.

“Working with Tom, the best way I can describe it is…” LaRosa pauses, perhaps wondering if what she’s about to say sounds too much like an inside joke with Cruise. “If there is something impossible, if there is something that cannot be done, he is the guy who will figure out how we are going to be able to do it. And there is no one better for that.”

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ it’s already in theaters