The 2024 Sundance Film Festival was essentially one giant reunion for the flyboys of “Top Gun: Maverick,” with Danny Ramirez, Glen Powell and Jay Ellis all starring in films playing the festival.
The trio trekked to Park City, UT just days after news broke that a third “Top Gun” movie was in the works at Paramount, and Ramirez told Variety that the cast’s group text — fittingly named with the emojis “up” and “gun” — had been “buzzing” with questions about what’s going on with the developing project.
More from Variety
“Obviously, it’d be amazing to be able to do a third film in this beautiful story. But, as we learned with the second one, it’s got to be absolutely right,” Ramirez said, noting the 30-year gap between the original “Top Gun” and “Maverick.”
“Being cognizant of that, we’re excited at the prospect of everyone back in the air,” he teased. “I’m having withdrawals. And also playing Falcon at the same time. Me and the skies…”
Between playing Lieutenant Mickey ‘Fanboy’ Garcia in the “Top Gun” franchise and as Joaquin Torres in the upcoming Marvel movie “Captain America: Brave New World,” where he officially takes up the superhero alter ego Falcon, Ramirez is spending a great deal of time flying high. But when he dropped by Adobe on Main at Sundance — where Variety led a series of conversations about the state of diversity in the film business — the actor was focused on a slightly more grounded project — Susanna Fogel’s “Winner,” about NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Reality Winner.
Ramirez hadn’t heard of Winner before he was approached with the script, but he was intrigued by Fogel’s take on the ripped-from-the-headlines story. “I thought it was incredibly unique and fun,” he said, explaining why he signed on to the film, led by Emilia Jones. “There’s a complex moral question that we present: ‘At what point is it your responsibility to step in? And what does it mean to step in?'”
Read on — and watch the interview above — as Ramirez discusses the impact of representation in media and how he aims to pay that forward, plus he shares the best advice he’s gotten from Tom Cruise.
How many Sundances have you been to?
This is my second. [2018’s] “Assassination Nation” was my first. I shot the movie, became really close friends with Kelvin Harrison Jr.
We connected because our gameplan and why we’re here is to obviously represent our communities, not just as a color on the screen — as we’re so many times just viewed as, like some seasoning to somebody else’s story. We have to be an integral part of this change in the heart and soul of the films that we do. Kelvin’s a prime example of the avalanche that is formed when that becomes your North Star, just knowing that some little kid somewhere is going to watch you and their life’s going to change, which is what happened to me.
I got to see Riz Ahmed as a lead in this movie directed by Mira Nair, called “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.” I’m like, “What? I thought only white people were the lead in things.” I bought my first acting books the next day, and my life was incredibly changed. Being able to put yourself in someone that looks like you or has a similar background or upbringing can change the outlook of your whole life.
Have you gotten a chance to tell Riz that story?
Riz won an award for “Sound of Metal” and it was at an after-party. He had an award in his hand and I was a little tipsy, a little bold and I was like “Yo, Riz, you changed my life” and I told him the whole story.
What has it been like to have young actors and just young people in in the world be able to come up to you and and say the same thing?
The thing that blew my mind is when I did “On My Block.” I was in and out; it was fun, but I didn’t think much about it. But the trickle effect that, that had: kids reaching out, saying “I’m doing class presentations on you,” and why I embody what they want to do for the rest of their life. I just remember thinking, “Who did I write my essays about?” My college essays were about heroes that I had. And I was like, “Wait, what? Some little kid somewhere is seeing themselves through what I’ve done.”
The volume on that conversation gets even louder when then you are in a movie like “Top Gun.” What is it like to be in these huge blockbusters and bring representation on that level as well?
I talked about that a lot with Jay Ellis and Greg Tarzan Davis, specifically, because one of the biggest blessings also being in like elite circles with the most brilliant minds in storytelling, is that you’re then endowed with all this knowledge that this small little group has, and they pass it down. So someone like Tom [Cruise], he is so accessible. If I have a pitch deck, I send it to him, he’s the first one to send me notes. Having that access then becomes a responsibility. My next step as a filmmaker is to be able to take that same knowledge that I’m learning and being able to pass it down, because experience is sometimes everything. So, Jay, Greg and I just talked about how privileged we’ve been, and how we can then pass on all these golden nuggets that were being given through — whether it’s Julius Onah in “Captain America”, or Joe Kosinski or Chris McQuarrie — we have access to some insanely unbelievable minds.
What is the best note that Tom Cruise has ever given you about one of your films or a pitch deck?
It’s a sports-hybrid-heist film, and within this pitch deck, there’s a line around speed and its proximity to death. He was like, “I love this pitch deck. Can I send it around to a couple people?” I was like, “Absolutely.” He’s like, “I challenge one thing” — and then this is the most Tom Cruise thing to say as well — “The more skilled you are, speed actually becomes a window. It’s not not so much like how close you are to death, but more so an opportunity.” [That note] changed the perspective of this character, and what the film is about; it’s no longer about riding the closeness to catastrophe, but rather speed representing an opportunity. If anyone knows speed, obviously it’s Tom.
Audiences are very excited for “Captain America.” What are you most excited for people to see?
A lot! There’s some phenomenal sequences. The way Julius works and how he structures and layers his characters and films — “Luce” is a phenomenal example of that — like the little hidden gems he places from the score, to different elements of sound, to how he plays with some lenses. I’m excited for the entire experience, but specifically there’s one sequence that we shot, that I haven’t sene yet, but I’ve heard a lot of really great things.
How did you adjust to being in the Falcon suit?
[Shooting in] Atlanta, in the summer, during a 90-degree day is tough. It was insane.
Did Anthony Mackie give you any advice?
I learned by the end to follow his lead on his suit prep, so maybe not double-sleeve everything. Do the cut off.
Best of Variety