Anthony Edwards doesn't live to see the closing credits of Top Gun, but he's arguably the most important character in Tony Scott's 1986 blockbuster. As Nick "Goose" Bradshaw, the actor functions as the literal wingman for the film's high-flying hero, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise in the role that made him a superstar. It's Goose's tragic death midway through the movie that provides the dramatic catalyst for the rousing third act finale that made Top Gun the highest-grossing film of the legendary summer of 1986 and a perennial favorite 35 years later. (The movie returns to theaters on May 13 — Top Gun Day — for an exclusive one-week engagement at more than 150 Dolby Cinemas.)
"You look in scripts for journeys of characters, and the Goose character is wonderfully tragic because you like him so much," Edwards told Yahoo Entertainment in 2016, when Top Gun celebrated its 30th anniversary. "You're like, 'Why does he have to die?'"
Watch our full Role Recall with Anthony Edwards below, or needle drop to 2:06 to see the Top Gun portion
There's a good narrative reason for Goose's sacrifice, of course: almost every hero's journey has a casualty along the way. "In that kind of form of storytelling, you have to make your hero suffer and overcome," Edwards explains. And after his best friend's accidental death in a routine training engagement gone wrong, Maverick does indeed suffer major personal and professional setbacks. Guilt-ridden for his role in leaving Goose's wife, Carole (Meg Ryan), a widow, and his son, Bradley, without a father, the would-be Top Gun develops an aversion to flying, as well as an aversion to his new lover, Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis).
Fortunately, Maverick rallies in the movie's homestretch and flies alongside Iceman (Val Kilmer) into a non-routine aerial battle against some ace MiG pilots. As Top Gun ends, he decides to remain in the program as an instructor — a job he apparently still occupies in the soon-to-be released sequel, Top Gun: Maverick. And Edwards is secure in his place in the franchise's history: "It was nice being a kind of emotional speed bump for the telling of that story."
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in commemoration of Top Gun Day, another of the film's veteran pilots, Rick Rossovich — who played Iceman's wingman, Slider — confirmed that the rest of the cast knew that Edwards had the juiciest role. "He's one of the under-credited pieces of the Top Gun puzzle, because he delivers a great performance, and the character has all these dynamics that drive the film," notes the actor. "He really makes Tom's character hit the wall."
"That's the great thing about Top Gun," Rossovich continues. "There's all this flash and great music, but it really has this emotional core. I take my hat off to Anthony — he's a great guy." Funnily enough, Rossovich later reunited with Edwards for a recurring role on the first season of ER, the blockbuster NBC series that gifted dearly departed Goose with another classic death scene.
Asked whether Iceman might have similarly spun out if Slider had been the one to die instead of Goose, Rossovich suggests that Kilmer's reaction would have been... chillier. "He would have snorted or something," he says, laughing. "He might have used it if he needed sympathy for something, but I think he was more calculating than that. Ice had a certain prima donna note to his character that Val played terrifically. Slider was a pleaser, and I spent a lot of the movie trying to cozy up to him — that was my throughline."
Off screen, though, Rossovich says that he had a warm relationship with his co-star that continues to this day. There was one instance where his friend almost got him in trouble, though. "Val had cabin fever, and told me, 'Let's go to Los Angeles — I want to meet a friend for dinner," Rossovich recalls. The duo made the two-hour drive from the Top Gun set in San Diego to L.A., and were in the middle of eating when the waiter brought a phone over to their table.
"It was Tony Scott on the line saying, 'Where are you, mate?'" Rossovich says. "Then he said, 'Get back here; I have a scene for you.'" That scene turned out to be the immortal "Slider, you stink" moment — a line that the actor still has quoted back to him today. "I smelled like my fatigues," he jokes now. "That scene wasn't in the script. It kind of came out of left field!"
Experiences like that impromptu trip to L.A. formed a lifelong bond between the real-life Slider and Iceman. "I love Val — he's my son's godfather," Rossovich says of Kilmer, who recently survived a two-year battle with throat cancer. "He's an interesting character, besides being one of the finest actors of our generation. I haven't seen him in a while, but he's coming back strong. He's working on several movies and has other projects."
For the record, one of those movies is Top Gun: Maverick. Even though Iceman notably hasn't appeared in any of the early trailers for the Joseph Kosinski-directed sequel, producer Jerry Bruckheimer confirmed to Yahoo Entertainment last year that Kilmer would return. "No spoilers, but he’s in the movie," Bruckheimer promised. And speaking of returning characters, Bradley Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller) is all grown up and following in his dad's flyboy footsteps. He's even got the requisite fowl call sign — "Rooster."
Time will tell if Rooster turns out to be another emotional speed bump that slows Maverick down. After numerous coronavirus-caused delays, Top Gun: Maverick is poised to finally fly into theaters on Nov. 19, followed by a run on the new Paramount+ streaming service. And there may even be a Slider sighting all these years later.
"He might or might not show up, I've been sworn to secrecy!" teases Rossovich. "I can tell you that the film is going to be a blockbuster. We've been waiting for it for two years, and we're all on pins and needles to see it. Tom is going to get it right: he's waited 30-plus years to be in the position to make it with his vision. He's the guy, and he'll get it done."
Top Gun is currently streaming on Showtime, and is also available on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray. The movie returns to theaters on May 13; visit Fandango for showtimes and ticket information.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment: