When he first played Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the 1986 movie Top Gun, Tom Cruise was only 23 years old. With the star turning 60 on July 3, a quick calculation shows that fans have been telling Cruise, “I feel the need, the need for speed,” the catchphrase from his first big movie for well over half of his life.
This year’s sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, which made $1 billion, has only given people more chances to use the quote again, in headlines, reviews, tweets, gifs, and other places. But the actor, who loves planes, cars, and motorcycles as much as his Top Gun character does, has never heard that line repeated back to him when he’s been pulled over for speeding.
In an exclusive interview for PEOPLE’s Top Gun special edition, Cruise was asked if a traffic cop had ever said “Need for Speed” to him.
Cruise says, “No,” and then quickly adds, “I wish they would!” It doesn’t seem possible. Never? Maybe he never drives faster than the limit?
“I do speed sometimes,” he says. “Sometimes, I get stopped. But I also spend a lot of time on racetracks, on motorcycles, and in helicopters, so I get a lot of that stuff out.”
All through Top Gun: Maverick, that love of speed and flying is clear. Navy pilots flew the military jets in which he and his co-stars were filmed, but Cruise flew his own vintage P-51 prop plane in the scene where Maverick takes Penny, played by Jennifer Connelly, for a ride in the clouds.
“I wanted this movie to be a love letter to aviation back in 1985,” says Cruise. “It’s about how to fly. Not just the hard parts, but also the beautiful parts. I parachute. I fly fast. I fly chopper planes. I do tricks with all of them.”
He has a real need for speed. On his 60th birthday, he went to the Grand Prix of Great Britain to watch Formula 1 races. But he loves flying for more than just the thrill of it.
“It’s poetic to look at what man has done and what he’s capable of and see the world from that point of view,” says Cruise, who got his pilot’s license after the first Top Gun movie.
“I’ve flown in places where birds flew right up to me. We’re on the same plane. I mean, it’s just really pretty. It has a sense of power and grandeur. I look at the sky, the stars, the sunsets, and the sunrises.
I used to sneak out my window and climb up on the roof to look at the stars when I was a kid, so to be in a plane and be able to do the same thing is just amazing. I can’t believe it.”