updated 05/28/2009 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/28/2009 AT 4:55 PM ET
Kelly McGillis was relaxing in the Florida sunshine and preparing to go on a cruise last February when a simple question caught her off guard: As a single woman, was she looking to date a man or a woman?
“It was like a moment of truth,” says the actress, 52, who became a star after appearing with Tom Cruise in Top Gun in 1986. “[A reporter] asked me the question and I thought, Hmm, do I say the truth, or do I just say, It’s none of your business, which is my standard answer?”
“I said you know, I’m just going to say the truth,” McGillis told PEOPLE at rehearsals for her new play The Little Foxes, which opens May 29 at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, Calif.
McGillis’s “truth” was a long time coming, and the answer was simple: “Definitely a woman.”
The woman who made many a male s heart flutter as the sultry flight instructor in Top Gun has been married twice and has two children. But she says she’s actually been a lesbian most of her life. “I tried really hard not to be who I am. I tried super hard,” she says. “It was a difficult journey for me to come to terms and be whole and happy with who I am.”
Still McGillis, who stars as Regina Giddens in the play alongside Julia Duffy and Marc Singer, says she was surprised people made a big deal about her revelation.
“I got on a cruise … I thought the whole thing had just disappeared [after the interview], and then I got a phone call: ‘Oh my God, Kelly, you can’t believe it, it’s everywhere.’ ”
Back to Work
The Little Foxes is McGillis’s return to acting after spending eight years as virtually a full-time mom to her two children, and she says it’s been a challenge.
“The idea of being judged just totally freaks me out,” says McGillis. “Even though I try really hard not to care what people think about me – and that really is my little adage, what you think about me is none of my business – it does matter, and it is hard.”
One thing she’s not working on right now: romance.
“I am single, and I’m really happy to be so. I was with somebody for eight years, and I just want to be single … I have such cool friends, and such a cool life,” says McGillis. “I don’t know what God’s plan is for me at all, I just know I’m so happy to be here and happy to be working.”