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Monica Barbaro Survived Top Gun: Maverick Thanks to Ballet and a ‘High Pain Tolerance’

When Monica Barbaro first learned she booked a role in Top Gun: Maverick, a pipe burst in her family home. “All hell was breaking loose,” Barbaro tells me over Zoom from Toronto, where she’s filming an upcoming Netflix spy series. “I was like, ‘Mom, I got the part and she’s not a love interest, she’s a pilot! We were both tearing up and she’s like, I need to call the plumber.”

Four years after receiving that call and almost three since filming wrapped in June 2019, the highly anticipated sequel to Tom Cruise’s 1986 classic is finally here, introducing a new group of elite Naval aviators. Among the adrenaline junkies vying for a spot on a dangerous mission led by Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is the franchise’s first female fighter pilot, Lieutenant Natasha “Phoenix” Trace.

While Barbaro’s costars include major Hollywood players like Glen Powell, Miles Teller, and Jay Ellis, the lesser-known actor had a secret advantage going into hours of grueling flight and water survival training. Now 31 years old, the San Francisco native graduated from NYU’s BFA dance program in 2010 before moving back to California to pursue a career in acting. Little did she know, years of ballet provided the tools and “high pain tolerance” needed to remain conscious while performing aerial maneuvers in actual F-18 fighter jets.

Paramount Pictures

“There was a funny moment where a couple of the guys were saying they hated going upside down, and I was like, ‘I’ve been going upside down forever,’” Barbaro says with a laugh. “I would do handstands before flights…it helped me control some of the weird feelings of blood rushing to spaces you don’t usually want it to.” For this reason, Barbaro is one of the few actors on set who did not throw up while filming her intense flight sequences.

She may not have arrived on the set of Top Gun with a stacked IMDB profile but that’s about to change. Aside from starring alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the aforementioned spy thriller, Barbaro is signed on for another TV series and two more films in various stages of filming and post-production. In Glamour’s latest installment of New Here, Monica Barbaro opens up about the inspiration behind her Top Gun character, breaking the rules on set, and what it’s like having a Barbie designed in your image.

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