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Here’s How ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Brought Back Iceman’s Voice For That Emotional Scene

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Last year, the exact role of original Top Gun star Val Kilmer in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ was shrouded in secrecy, stirring a lot of speculation. Despite battling throat cancer, a fight Kilmer confirmed in 2017, which impaired his speech, he was brought back into the film. Maverick’s director Joseph Kosinski and star Tom Cruise ingeniously integrated Kilmer’s real-life hardships into the storyline of his character, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. They managed to incorporate Kilmer’s voice, which he lost during his treatment, into the film in a deeply poignant way.


Kilmer’s clear speech was a casualty of chemotherapy and two tracheotomies—a surgery enabling breathing without the need for the nose or mouth. In 2021, thanks to AI technology, Kilmer’s voice was reproduced using archival audio. This method was employed to include Kilmer’s voice in the movie, allowing his character to deliver a brief yet stirring speech to his former Top Gun colleague, Maverick (Cruise), following a tough period training some Top Gun graduates. Just like in real life, Kazansky also employs a computer to communicate in the film.

Sonantic, the AI firm that collaborated with Kilmer to recreate his voice, constructed over forty speech models for the film. The “best, highest-quality, most expressive dialogue recording” was chosen for the movie, as confirmed by John Flynn, Sonantic’s CTO and co-founder, in an interview with Forbes. This project has established new techniques and protocols for future clients. Viewers of Maverick would confirm how this innovation led to one of the film’s most moving moments.

Image via Paramount

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Kilmer Expresses Gratitude for the Opportunity to Speak On-Screen Once More

Kilmer expressed his appreciation for AI in voice recreation, particularly relevant in this case:

“I’m indebted to the entire Sonantic team who remarkably revived my voice in a manner I never thought feasible. Communication is the crux of our existence as human beings, and my voice’s impairment due to throat cancer has made it hard for others to comprehend me. The opportunity to narrate my story, in a voice that sounds genuine and familiar, is an incredibly special privilege.”

Concerning the voice’s implementation, Kosinski, during a talk with Rian Johnson for Variety’s Directors on Directors, credited Kilmer for suggesting they draw on his life for Iceman’s illness. He regarded it as a courageous proposition from Kilmer and worked the storyline into the script for both Iceman and Maverick. The initial plan was for Kilmer to speak throughout the scene, but it was Kosinski’s decision to introduce the AI voice as a dramatic reveal halfway through.

It’s truly inspiring how Kilmer, along with the Maverick creative team, found a way for him to meaningfully and authentically contribute to the film. Sonantic’s work is revolutionizing the industry and could potentially assist those outside the film world who confront similar difficulties.

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is currently available for streaming on Paramount+.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about ​

How was Val Kilmer’s voice included in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’?

AI technology was employed to recreate Val Kilmer’s voice, which he lost due to his battle with throat cancer. Using archival audio, his voice was reproduced, and this method allowed for Kilmer’s voice to be featured in the film.

Who worked with Val Kilmer to recreate his voice for the film?

An AI company named Sonantic collaborated with Val Kilmer to restore his voice. They developed over forty models of his speech, and the most expressive one was selected for the film.

What does Val Kilmer think of the AI recreation of his voice?

Val Kilmer expressed gratitude for the AI technology. He appreciated the ability to narrate his story in a voice that feels authentic and familiar, despite the impairments caused by throat cancer.

How was the AI recreated voice of Val Kilmer used in the film?

The AI recreated voice was used for Kilmer’s character, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, to deliver a brief, heartwarming speech to his former Top Gun classmate, Maverick. The voice was revealed as a surprise halfway through the scene.

What impact could this AI voice recreation technology have outside Hollywood?

This technology can potentially be a game-changer for those outside the film world who face similar challenges to Kilmer, offering a way to communicate more effectively despite impairments caused by illnesses like throat cancer.

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