Tom Cruise on Top Gun 's Most Famous Catchphrase—and the Surprising Place He's Never Heard it Quoted

·3 min read
People May Special Cover
People May Special Cover

Tom Cruise was just 23 years old when he first played Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in 1986's Top Gun. With the star turning 60 on July 3, a quick check of the math shows that fans have been quoting his breakout film's catchphrase—"I feel the need, the need for speed"—to Cruise for well over half his life.

This year's billion-dollar sequel, Top Gun Maverick, has offered only more opportunity to bring back the quote, in headlines, reviews, tweets, gifs and more. But the actor, who loves planes, cars, and motorcycles in real life as much as his Top Gun character does, has surprisingly never heard that dialogue repeated back to him when he's been stopped for actually speeding.

In an exclusive interview for PEOPLE's Top Gun special edition, Cruise was asked if a traffic cop had ever quoted "Need for Speed" at him.

"No," says Cruise, adding quickly: "I wish they would!"

It seems impossible. Never? Perhaps he doesn't ever drive over the speed limit?

"Sometimes I get speed," he admits. "Sometimes, I get stopped. But also, I spend a lot of time on racetracks, on motorcycles, in helicopters, so I get a lot of that stuff out."

That love of speed and soaring is evident throughout Top Gun: Maverick. Although off-camera Navy pilots were at the controls of the military jets that he and his co-stars were filmed in, Cruise piloted the vintage P-51 prop plane—his own—in the scene when Maverick gives Jennifer Connelly's character, Penny, a ride in the clouds.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03: Tom Cruise smiles on the grid before the F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 03, 2022 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03: Tom Cruise smiles on the grid before the F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 03, 2022 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty

"With this movie and I even in '85, I wanted it to be a love letter to aviation," says Cruise. "It's about flying. Not only the challenges, but the beauty. I parachute. I speed fly. I fly helicopters. I fly aerobatics on all of those."

That he has a real need for speed is undeniable—he spent his 60th birthday watching Formula 1 racing at the Grand Prix of Great Britain. But with flying, his attachment goes beyond mere thrills.

"There's a poetry about it at a level where you're looking at what man has achieved, what he's capable of, to see the world from that viewpoint," says Cruise, who earned a pilot's license after the first Top Gun movie. "I've flown where I have birds fly right up next to me. We're flying together. I mean, it's just, it's beautiful. There's a power and a majesty to it. I look at nature, at sunsets, at sunrises and the stars up there. I was the kid who would sneak out my window when I was very young and climb up on the roof and look at the stars, so to be in a plane and be there and look at the stars... it's just amazing. It's amazing to me."

For the full interview and more behind-the-scenes of the making of Top Gun: Maverick, pick up PEOPLE's Top Gun special edition, available now wherever magazines are sold.

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