Why Tom Cruise’s Love Interest in “Top Gun: Maverick” Looks Different

Everett Collection / Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

“Top Gun: Maverick” is packed with nostalgia and callbacks to the original 1986 movie, including some legacy characters and familiar scenes. One thing viewers have noticed has changed, however, is who plays the love interest to Tom Cruise‘s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. The sequel – which was nominated for six Academy Awards – sees Maverick, now decades into his career, wooing a bar owner (and daughter of an admiral) named Penny Benjamin. Here’s what to know about Maverick’s love interest.

Is Penny Benjamin in the Original “Top Gun”?

Penny, played by Jennifer Connelly, is not physically in the first “Top Gun” movie, but she does exist in it, though only mentioned in passing. She is never actually seen on screen.

In one scene, Maverick’s past exploits are said to include “a history of high-speed passes over five air-control towers and one admiral’s daughter,” and Maverick’s BFF Goose mutters Penny’s name under his breath – making her the “admiral’s daughter” in question. That’s later confirmed when Goose’s wife, Carole, teases Maverick about his romantic history, telling her that Goose “told me all about the time you went ballistic with Penny Benjamin.”

While she never appears in person in the first “Top Gun,” Penny becomes a major character in the sequel. Now played by Connelly, Penny owns a bar that is the downtime destination of choice for the TOPGUN crew. She’s less than thrilled when Maverick shows up again, and their dialogue definitely implies that they’ve had a bit of an on-and-off romance throughout the years between the two movies.

“It started the first time when they were quite young. And you get the sense that they sort of come together, they have this sort of fiery romance, and then it falls apart,” Connelly described in a 2022 interview with FilmIsNow. “But then they keep coming back to each other.” She echoed those sentiments in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I think that they had a few flings that didn’t pan out particularly well in the years between,” she said. “We talked about their backstory and what that history might have been.”

The actor also recalled being 15 years old when the first movie came out. “I don’t remember the exact moment, to be honest with you, but I remember the flying, Tom on his motorcycle with the aviators, and what a charismatic character he had created,” said Connelly. “And of course, I remember the songs that got stuck in my head and never left.”

Why Isn’t Kelly McGillis’s Charlie Blackwood in “Top Gun: Maverick”?

Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”

In the first “Top Gun,” Maverick’s love interest is Charlie Blackwood, an astrophysicist who crosses paths with him at the TOPGUN academy. Other cast members from the original “Top Gun” returned for “Top Gun: Maverick,” like Val Kilmer, so what’s behind this love-interest switcheroo?

Kelly McGillis played Charlie in “Top Gun,” but when the sequel came around, according to her, she wasn’t even asked to be part of the movie.

“They did not [invite me back], and nor do I think they would ever,” she said back in 2019 when the first trailer for “Top Gun: Maverick” dropped and she was conspicuously absent. “I’m old and I’m fat and I look age-appropriate for what my age is, and that is not what that whole scene is about,” she said. McGillis, who is now 66 years old, is almost exactly five years older than 61-year-old Cruise; Connelly is 52. McGillis had nothing but positive things to say about Connelly joining the cast, however, saying she’s “so glad [Connelly] got that opportunity.”

In contrast, director Joseph Kosinski said that bringing back Charlie simply wasn’t in line with the story they were looking to tell in the sequel. “I didn’t want every storyline to always be looking backwards,” Kosinski previously told Insider. “It was important to introduce some new characters.” This meant excluding some characters from the original, including McGillis as Charlie and Meg Ryan as Carole Bradshaw.

Related: Jay Ellis Says the “Top Gun” Cast Wants a Third Movie: “We’d Love to Be With Tom [Cruise] Again”

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