‘Top Gun: Maverick’: How Val Kilmer’s Voice Was Brought to Life in the Movie

by Lauren Boisvert

Val Kilmer lost much of his voice in 2017 after a battle with throat cancer and various tracheotomies, and something innovative needed to be done for his return as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky in “Top Gun: Maverick.” Leaving him out of the film would have been a grave disservice to fans and to Val Kilmer himself. So, the film turned to the artificial intelligence company Sonantic to create Kilmer’s voice.

Sonantic works specifically within the entertainment realm to create “compelling, nuanced, and stunningly realistic voice performances,” according to their website. They use AI to craft these voices, which means the company studied Val Kilmer’s films and interviews to create an authentic copy of his unique speech pattern. The voice was then dubbed over Kilmer’s performance to create a virtually seamless production.

Kilmer’s condition was written into the film, however. When Maverick goes to see Iceman, he’s using a keyboard to communicate, and wears a scarf around his neck, much like Kilmer does in real life. But, the AI allowed him to speak a line that he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. He was able to tell Tom Cruise’s character, “The Navy needs you Maverick.”

In an interview with the New York Post, Kilmer’s daughter Mercedes stated that seeing her dad act again was “extraordinary.” She said, “It means a lot to my dad as he’s very proud of that film. This is what he loves to do.”

She continued, speaking of the AI used to bring her father’s voice to life. “They were able to dub him with his own voice, which is amazing,” she said. “It’s such a technical feat, being able to engineer his voice that way, that it’s an extension of the technical feat of the film.” 

Val Kilmer Shared His Thoughts On Being Back On-Set with Tom Cruise

Val Kilmer played a small but pivotal role in “Top Gun: Maverick”; as Admiral of the Navy’s Pacific fleet, Iceman had a hand in keeping Maverick in the Navy, as Tom Cruise’s character never played well with authority. Maverick eventually goes to visit his old friend, and the two have a heartfelt reunion. They share a hug, just like at the end of “Top Gun,” and Kilmer shared that the emotions were “straight from the heart.”

While doing publicity for the film, Kilmer wrote his answers down in order to share his thoughts. In an interview with USA Today via email, he explained his feelings about being in “Top Gun” again. “I was very moved the first time I saw it,” he wrote of watching the movie. “Almost 40 years is a long time for a reunion. We laughed all day. Tom is great and surprisingly funny!!”

Of his character, he wrote, “It is nice to see Iceman reach such success in the career he loved. It’s a good story arc. And it was very exciting to be back at it with Tom.”