The actor revealed the story behind his fateful decision during a 'Masters of the Air' panel at The 92nd Street Y, New York on Wednesday
During a conversation with Josh Horowitz for his Happy Sad Confused podcast at The 92nd Street Y, New York on Wednesday, Butler, 32, confirmed that he had been in the running for a role in Top Gun: Maverick but he ultimately chose another path.
“I ended up having to choose between going to the screen test for Top Gun: Maverick or saying yes to Quentin Tarantino,” he admitted.
After waiting to work with Tarantino, 60, “for so long,” Butler decided to go with the Oscar winner.
“I’d already met with him, so I did that,” he said of the decision, which resulted in his role in 2019’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Butler starred as Charles Watson, a member of Charles Manson’s cult who plots the death of two Hollywood stars, including Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, before ending up dead himself in the film.
He previously said on Hot Ones that it was “always” his “dream” to work with Tarantino, before praising the director for the joyful atmosphere he creates on set.
Top Gun's casting director, Denise Chamian, told Variety that the role Butler was up for was Rooster — the son of Tom Cruise's late best friend Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died in the original 1986 movie — which ultimately went to Miles Teller.
Despite Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’s release coming nearly three years before Top Gun: Maverick premiered, they were filmed around the same time in the summer of 2018.
Brad Pitt, who played stunt double Cliff Booth in the film, was seen on set in August 2018, while Cruise, 61, shared the first photos from the set of the Top Gun sequel three months before that in May.
In a worlds-collide moment for Butler, Tarantino was outspoken in his praise of Cruise’s incredibly successful venture, which raked in $1.5 billion worldwide, as he admitted he loved the sequel.
"Normally I don't talk about new movies that much because then I'm only forced to say good things, or else I'm slamming someone. And I don't want to do that. But in this case, I f---ing love Top Gun: Maverick. I thought it was fantastic," he said on CinemaBlend’s ReelBlend podcast in August 2022.
While Butler didn't get to live out his pilot dreams alongside Cruise, he did get to explore the aeronautical world in Apple TV+'s Masters of the Air, which sees him play pilot Major Gale Cleven, a.k.a. Buck.
As part of the U.S. Air Force's 100th Bomb Group, which was nicknamed the “Bloody Hundredth,” Butler's character leads a group of elite soldiers through numerous “perilous bombing raids over Nazi Germany” as they faced “frigid conditions, lack of oxygen and sheer terror of combat conducted at 25,000 feet in the air,” according to the official synopsis.
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At the Los Angeles premiere of the series earlier this month, Butler told PEOPLE he "would love to" learn to fly in real life.
"I'm rusty now, but I feel like I could," he said of the skills he picked up while filming the show during the pandemic.
Butler also praised the series' producers, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, as he said it was a "pleasure" working with his Elvis costar again. "He approaches everything with such care and kindness and he does so much research and is just constantly reading about this period."
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