The movie “Top Gun: Maverick” roars to record heights. Jay Ellis’ profile soars into the stratosphere with him.
Ellis, an actor who spent an important and meaningful part of his youth in Tulsa, plays Lieutenant Robin Fitch “Payback” in the movie. He attended seventh grade at Carver Middle School and eighth grade at Bird Middle School before spending his freshman year of college at Booker T Washington High School and his early years at Metro Christian Academy.
Ellis said during an interview on Wednesday that he just wanted to make things like (Top Gun: Maverick crossed $200 million at the box office), and said he always thinks of home when doing that.
“I always say a lot of the roles I do and a lot of projects I do, and even why I act, a lot of it is influenced by my time in Tulsa and my experiences in Tulsa, my friendships and playing basketball there,” Ellis said.
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“The first theater class (at Carver Middle School) I attended was in Tulsa. A lot of Tulsa is in everything I do and also how I make choices as an actor and as a human being. I am forever grateful for my time there.”
Ellis came to Tulsa in middle school because his father got a job at American Airlines. He said his mother worked at BOK for many years and was the operations manager for a mortgage group before his parents joined him in Los Angeles. He said he comes back to Tulsa two or three times a year.
Ellis is working on a book to be released in May. He said the book is “just a collection of stories from my childhood all the way through high school, so I’m really excited to share that. There’s a lot of Tulsa in this book.”
In the meantime, here are excerpts from the phone-related questions and answers:
You have attended 12 schools in 13 years due to your family’s military background. It must have been difficult, but did something happen with the deportations and going to all those different places?
“Yeah. You know, it’s hard because I’m an only child. So when I was on the move, I always had to bring back friendships and relationships and schools and sports. I’d have to restart all these things myself. That was the hard part of it, but my parents were really good at being consistent. They were always for me in some activities.They pushed school first and then sports.
“But you know, as I got older, I think the thing that I took away from him is, every school I went to, I had to be a different version of me—as if I tested a new personality trait knowing if it would work in that school. I have to be the guy. The cute in one school year. The next year I have to be the runner. The next year, I have to be the cultured. And I’ve just been testing things out and exploring the character before I even knew I was exploring the character. Whole years later, I walk into a room and feel comfortable in Any room because I feel like I’ve just had so many introductory conversations with people that it doesn’t bother me.”
Somehow, you were kind of acting before you acted?
“I definitely think so. I 100% think I was definitely acting before I acted. Again, I didn’t know that was what it was at the time. I was just either watching something on TV and saying, ‘Oh, I want to do that tomorrow when I I go to school.” Or you see the dynamics in the classroom and who’s cool and who’s not cute and who’s athletic and who’s cultured. (You see) the smart kid’s table and who’s the actors. Really people and people study and sit down and realize, “Oh, I can do that” or “I like that” or “I want to be like this” and then I go and try it and act it out somewhat.”
Since you spent your middle and high school in Tulsa, is Tulsa more home than other places you lived in as a kid?
“Yeah. You know, I always say Tulsa to me feels like–that’s where most of my memories lie. It’s my first step–my first kiss, my first time in a car, my first dip in a basketball game. Like all my beginnings in Tulsa. To this day.” That, five or six of my closest friends all still live in Tulsa. My grandmother is there. I have cousins there. So Tulsa is definitely home to me.”
Why did you switch from Booker T Washington to Metro Christian when you had already made some friends at Booker T Washington?
“It was crazy competitive in sports there. I think that was No. 1, which I really enjoyed because I love the competition. I’m competitive at heart. It was so much fun, but there were only so many places and I really wanted to play basketball. In college. I felt like I’d had enough as a player that if I had the chance to really play somewhere and start and be able to really make an impact on the game, I’d probably get a chance to go play college basketball. And that’s what I eventually did. That was the reason The main one is to literally move to give myself a chance to go play in college.”
(Booker T Washington basketball teams were full of top college talent at the time. Ellis played the state championship playoffs his first season at Metro Christian and was an honorable pick for all Metro in 2000. Former Oklahoma State and National Basketball Association guard Brooks Thompson coached Metro Christian during Ellis’ first season calling him a “great player” after his regular season win over Holland Hall. Ellis went on to play for Concordia University in Portland, Oregon.)
I know why your name is Payback in Top Gun: Maverick. You still wanted to pay Pocola money to get you out of the state championship when you were young.
“Man. I will never forget that game. I remember the hotel room. I remember the night before. I remember driving to the gym. I remember all about that game. I would make them pay for it.”
Do you feel like you were destined to be in “Top Gun: Maverick” because your father and grandfather had a history in the Air Force?
“I gotta tell you man, if it’s not (fate), this is the biggest coincidence in history. It definitely feels that way. I was a huge fan of the original. I saw the original when I was a kid living at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas, and the theater was full. And I just remember staring at that screen and I was like, “Oh, I want to do that.” And I didn’t know if it was acting. I didn’t know if it was flying. I didn’t know what it was, to be honest with you. But to have two or three generations of my family now in the Air Force and in aviation and then come back full circle to be in this movie, man, what a blessing. What an absolute bliss. It’s what you dreamed about as a kid and it’s already happening. It’s Only one for the books, man. Amazing.”
Being in this movie seems to change your life and change your career.
“It’s definitely life-changing and career-changing. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had a really good track. I’ve done two series that have been super successful now. My latest series, ‘Insecure’ on HBO, has been honored by the Television Academy, and has always been in contention for awards and has won To a lot of critical acclaim. And you go and make this little movie that is a sequel to a beloved movie and you want to do it right. You want to make sure that you represent the men and women who gave their lives and time away from their families every day to protect our country. You want to make sure that you represent them properly, And then you also want to make sure that you respect and protect what (director) Tony Scott created with this original movie and then you get the chance to do that, which is a very amazing experience, obviously, going to work every day with Tom (Cruz) and (producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Christopher Macquarie) and Joe Kosinski, our manager.
“And then it stays for two years because of the pandemic and you’re just waiting for this thing to come out for the world to see because we knew how good it was. We were in it. We were so excited. The first time we saw that, we were like, ‘Oh my God, this is so special.'” And after That, to go out and get that kind of response, and it’s a lot more than we ever imagined or hoped for, it’s crazy, man.The amount of calls and phone calls and emails and texts I’ve had from people in this industry, from people I grew up with from traveling in Everywhere, from people from Tulsa, it’s crazy. It’s definitely a career changer and a life changer.”
There are some risks involved in making a sequel because you don’t want to destroy a legacy, but “Top Gun: Maverick” went the other way. It’s the biggest weekend hit of Cruz’s career and the biggest Memorial Day release ever. Can you pinpoint why people love the movie?
“There’s a lot. There’s a nostalgia factor, right? People loved this original and have been waiting for (a sequel) for a long time, so I think that’s a big part of it. You know, you really want to know where the Maverick ended up and where he’s today, and we’re on to what It is today. I think Tom did such a great job and Mac Kew, who wrote it, and Joe, who directed it, did a great job making sure this movie looked familiar, but it was also fresh and trendy. I think that’s kind of a secret mixing up making sure that We respect the original film and even honor it in a few places.
“Joe did a really amazing job with some picking. The opening of the movie, for example, is a perfect example of that, but then also make sure you’re introducing a new chapter. We’re in a new world. It’s clearly not 1985, and we’re in A whole different world.And I think these people have done a great job of keeping us on that line of original respect and honor, but also making sure that we create our own lane because there’s a new audience that will come into this who are drawn to that.This alchemy is what created the gold.It’s It’s so amazing. It’s the pressure of creating diamonds.”
Were you ready for this moment?
“Yeah man. I feel like I’ve been here waiting, you know? I was ready for it. … I’ve always said I feel like I’m in the place I’m supposed to be because there’s something I have to learn from the moment I’m growing up But I know where I want to go and I know that to get where I want to go, I have to be present and be in the moment, but I never forget what the end goal is. I feel like I was here. I’ve been doing it. I’ve been working, I’ve been lowering my head. I’ve focused on the thing. This is where I want to be with the biggest movie in the world, making movies with Tom Cruise, making action movies, making movies for thousands of people (see). I think it was on 25,000 screens in This past weekend that’s a lot of people I love entertaining people I love storytelling I love when people are on the edge of their seats or their hands are covering their faces or panting or laughing or crying I love doing that and being a part of projects that do it so I feel like I was I’m ready for that and I’m where I’m supposed to be right now and I’ll keep moving forward.”