Kelly McGillis: 'I would cameo in Top Gun 2'

But actress appeared uncertain producer Jerry Bruckheimer would ask her

Ever so quietly, Kelly McGillis is back. Over the past couple of years, the Top Gun star has begun to reappear in small but significant movie roles – from Jim Mickle’s vampire movie Stake Land to Ti West’s acclaimed haunted hotel tale The Innkeepers. This month, she reunites with Mickle for We Are What We Are, a gruesome story about a cannibal family  inspired by the 2010 Mexican-made film of the same name.

Now living in Asheville, North Carolina, the 56-year-old McGillis is orchestrating her comeback – on her own terms. “For me it’s kind of like starting over,” she says. “It’s slow, but it’s really good. I don’t feel compelled to be the same Kelly McGillis that I was in the Eighties. I’ve aged. I’ve grown. I have the opportunity to reintroduce myself as a character actress.”

There was a time when McGillis was arguably the hottest female star on the planet. She’d starred in Witness, alongside Harrison Ford, before producer Jerry Bruckheimer cast her in Tony Scott’s Top Gun, opposite Tom Cruise, playing the leather-clad flight instructor Charlie Blackwood. She looked to have a glittering career ahead of her.

Yet the Californian star committed Hollywood hara-kiri – walking away at the height of her fame. You can just imagine the sort of heart palpitations that caused Team McGillis. “My agent at the time wasn’t very happy,” she laughs now, “but that’s OK.” Marrying Fred Tillman, a wealthy yacht salesman, she and her husband moved to Key West, Florida, to open a restaurant called Kelly’s, and had two daughters, Kelsey (now 24) and Sonora (20).

While she didn’t entirely disappear from acting – there were sporadic roles on screen, including Rob Reiner’s comedy North – McGillis never again hit Top Gun levels of fame. “I have no regrets,” she says.

“I would do it again – my kids are my priority in my life.” That only really tells half the story, as she and Tillman divorced in 2002, amid rumours that McGillis was embroiled in an affair with another woman, Melanie Leis, a former bartender at their restaurant.

It wasn’t until 2009 that McGillis came out – despite the odd on-screen hint (she played a lesbian poetry professor in the 2000 film The Monkey’s Mask and appeared on The L-Word in 2008).) Only then did she confirm to website SheWired.com, “I’m done with the man thing.”

A year later, she and Leis married in a civil ceremony in New Jersey, the grey-haired McGillis almost unrecognisable from the blonde bombshell of her Top Gun days.

McGillis is quite open about why it took her so long to talk publicly about her sexuality. “You know what? It wasn’t until after my kids grew up and went out of the house [that I felt ready to do it],” she says.

“Prior to that, I wouldn’t have said anything because it would’ve impacted upon my children’s lives in a very negative way. We lived in a very conservative place in Pennsylvania. It would’ve been very difficult for my children.”

Raised in Newport Beach, the daughter of a doctor and midwife, McGillis moved to New York in 1979 to study acting at the prestigious Julliard drama school, the same year she married fellow student Boyd Black.

It was short-lived, the couple divorcing in 1981 – a year before McGillis was raped at knifepoint by two assailants who forced their way into her Manhattan apartment.

Already ashamed of her sexuality, for years she believed this ordeal was her penitence for being gay – an internal struggle that also led to alcohol and substance-abuse issues.

She now regularly works with those facing addiction problems. “I just try to help people learn how to live sober… I had a huge drug and  alcohol problem and it’s my way of giving back.” Curiously, when we meet it’s just two days after Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a heroin overdose. “I think it’s heartbreaking,” she says, “but that’s the reality of addiction.”

For McGillis, re-building her career has been as almost as sobering as kicking her addictions. “It would be far easier if I was willing to move to New York or LA,” she states. “But – you know what? – I like the quietness and simplicity of my life, and I’m not willing to sacrifice myself for a job.”

She hasn’t even watched We Are What We Are in which she plays “ditzy” Marge, neighbour to the flesh-eating family.

There are forthcoming roles too – a family-friendly TV movie, Love Finds You In Sugarcreek, Ohio, and a movie Blue. What about the persistent rumours that there will be a Top Gun 2?

Would she return as Charlie, if asked? “Yeah, I’d cameo in it maybe!” she says, looking uncertain that Bruckheimer would ask her.

Just 28 when she made the original, she still holds fond memories for a film that turned her into an Eighties pin-up.

“Shit, it was like being at boys’ camp,” she trills. “It was far more popular than I ever imagined it would be.” Now, things are different. “Now, I don’t feel like I have to succumb to that pressure,  because I took so much time off that I can come back to acting – without trying to be anything other than who I am.”

‘We Are What We Are’ opens on 28 February

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones