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Monica Barbaro Top Gun: Maverick Interview 2022

One thing that sounds absolutely wild is the audition process for the movie itself, which started over four years ago for Monica. “The audition was just this wild experience of screaming Great Balls of Fire and drumming on my knee,” Monica laughs before confiding she had initial feelings of trepidation about the most secret of projects. “An email came in with a project called Island Plaza and my reps were immediately like, ‘this is the Top Gun sequel!’ I was really excited by the idea of getting to play a pilot in this film, but I was also like, ‘okay a Top Gun sequel, like first off, really big shoes to fill and also, can you do it well? It was an 80s movie. Can this be something updated, but still be fun, and all of the things that the original was?’”

One obvious and much needed update is that a female character is not only at the centre of the action, she is never seen or presented as a love interest. Phoenix not only represents a need for change in the male dominated world of the navy, but in Hollywood’s obsession with male-heavy action movies, too.

“There are still strides to be made,” Monica shares. “There’s a lot in the uniform, and in playing a person who is amongst men and has to be taken seriously by those men. You’re often taken more seriously if you present as masculine as possible. I would love to see things go in the direction of a woman being able to present as feminine as she so chooses. I would love for a woman to be able to present, have the vocal intonation that she has and still be taken just as seriously. And not have to fight twice as hard to get half as much in a male-dominated space, and not have to put all femininity aside in order to be seen as someone who can go toe to toe with the men.”

Her conversations with female navy pilots made Monica reflect on gender disparity further. “Ultimately, a number of people I talked to were like, ‘I would just love the day when I can be a pilot, and not be a female pilot.’ Even when I was cast in this, it was like, ‘Monica Barbaro will be playing a female fighter pilot.’ I’m like, ‘well no sh*t. I identify as a woman, I am a woman and that’s so obvious. You don’t have to delineate, it’s clear.’ It would be really cool to see it be a little bit more balanced gender wise, so that it wasn’t so much about, ‘look a female one!’

“From what I’ve heard from people in the Navy of different generations and I was talking to a consultant on the movie and he said, ‘we didn’t do a good job of integrating women at first and it’s really important the women you see today are so tough, they’re so strong and it means the world to represent them appropriately. We can’t take steps back. It’s important that this character is really strong.’ That was important to Tom, Joe, the Navy, Paramount, everyone to make Phoenix as strong as possible to get to represent all of these cool women we got to meet, and work with.”

It’s clear this mammoth job has ultimately empowered Monica on the ground too. “Having done this it also shifts people’s idea of what I’m capable of as well. People tend to take you a little more seriously when you can prove that you’ve done something as insane as this, and gotten through it with your head on straight,” she admits.

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