It's a fragrant, sunny afternoon in Laurel Canyon. The door to the big terrace out back is open in this informally furnished new house, from which the 24-year-old proprietor has a fair view of the city that has recently declared him a star. He ambles from room to room in baggy fatigues and a short-sleeved shirt, hands deep in pockets—loose as Goose, his character in Top Gun.

Stifling a mineral-water belch, Anthony Edwards, a veteran of several movies geared to teenagers and campus crowds, slides into a dining room chair and explains, with typical comic irony, what appealed to him about doing the film: 1) that he could act his age for once and 2) that he would get to play a death scene. "The moment you see Goose he's got Dead Man written across his forehead," he says. "Cute Wife. Kid. Likable. He's gone. Doomed." Someone always has to die in movies like this, don't they? "The dead man could not be Cruise. His name is above the title, so there's no way. And you know Kelly McGillis isn't going to die. Val Kilmer [Cruise's rival] could die, but then there'd be no conflict." He pauses, then says decisively, "Yup. Goose's gone."

Edwards had to die 15 times before director Tony Scott was sure he had the shot. The actor's convincingly limp body had to be winched out of the ocean near San Diego all day long. This is where Edwards' trademark sense of humor came in handy. "I got a wet suit under the flight suit. I'm sunburned and frozen out there all day with Tom," he says. "The sky keeps getting better, they keep saying let's do it again. Every shot's more beautiful than the last."

As in Revenge of the Nerds, The Sure Thing and Gotcha!, which caught Scott's eye, Edwards' instinctive, dead-on comic flair rose above much of the film's predictable plot. That flair comes through at home as it does on the screen. This man is genuinely at ease with himself and as naturally funny as Goose. It is tempting to think that, as Goose, he wasn't acting at all. "They kept saying, 'Make Goose funny, keep the humor,' " he remembers with a fake groan. "But a lot of the humor was discovered at the moment. The script was skeletal. I came up with most of it out of desperation."

Edwards says his Goose is his best work to date on film, but his purpose wasn't to blow Cruise out of the critical skies. "I worked very hard and got little help," he says. "I'm proud of my work. It wasn't a competition between us. My intention was not to win over everybody's sympathies so they wouldn't like Cruise. You gotta be in the same movie everybody else is in and stay true to the script."

For Edwards that also meant taking two harrowing hops with Navy fighter pilots aboard an F-14 to film cockpit sequences. "We had to sign papers before takeoff," he says, "like where to send the body. You didn't see [producers] Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer up there." Nor was facing death at high speed his only hazard duty; to wit, the morning they told him he was going to play the piano and sing Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls of Fire. "So they give me a cassette of the song to learn the lyrics in my trailer. Then they get this local high school teacher to record the piano part." Shaking his head, he observes: "It's amazing that movies actually get made. It can get nerve-racking if you take it too seriously."

The door opens. A tanned, cheerful woman with blond hair and lovely, happy blue eyes walks in. "Meg Ryan," he announces. Wait. They look familiar together, these two. Meg Ryan, it turns out, is Mrs. Goose from the movie. They must've moved fast. All their scenes together were shot in only 10 days.

It wasn't like that, they say, as Meg sits at the dining room table. Edwards recalls their first meeting: "It was something at first sight, but not like 'You're playing my wife, so I'm falling in love with you.' Whether those things become sexual or not on location depends on how desperately lonely you get." He says it didn't since he wasn't; during shooting they kept each other at a seemly distance but swapped phone numbers. Edwards finished filming at the end of summer. "I called Meg," he says, "and we got together in September." Says Meg sweetly, "It's just been one big date ever since."

She's 24, from Connecticut, studied journalism at NYU, spent two years with As the World Turns, then went West to do a Disney comedy-western series, Wildside. "Short-lived," she says with a smile. "Opposite Cosby." She's just finished shooting Armed and Dangerous with John Candy. "I mostly get cast for comedy," she notes, then modifies that, with due consideration to her less-than-stellar status. "Actually," she laughs, "it's hard to say I mostly get cast for anything." She and Edwards find that remark immensely funny. This happens to them often. After a recent vacation in Hawaii, says Edwards, "Friends came over for a barbecue, and we were telling stories. We were the only ones laughing. It was like, 'What's wrong with these people?' " Meg remembers: "We went into the kitchen by ourselves and the others started talking about 'that other language spoken at the table.' " In this respect they seem like most people in love.

Even during his Santa Barbara childhood, Edwards found himself immersed in his own world—theater. He did spend much of his free time surfing, hiking, sailing and skiing with his parents and four siblings. (His father, Peter, is an architect and his mother, Erica, a painter of landscapes.) But once he got hooked on acting, leisure became a distant memory. By the end of high school he had been in dozens of productions. "It was a sickness," he says. "I had this thing about hanging out in dark theaters. My family thought I grew out of a rock." After graduation he spent a summer at London's Royal Academy, and he dropped out of the USC drama department a semester short of graduation to appear in his first co-starring film role as Bonnie Bedelia's son in 1983's Heart Like a Wheel. His part was mostly cut. "I put incredible energy and love into it and it was devastating. I was spoiled by theater, where there is no editor."

Now given a wide choice of scripts, Edwards should have no trouble keeping his finest work off cutting room floors. But he isn't letting his raves in a blockbuster obsess him with fame and wealth. "I'm definitely in a town based on money," he muses, "not whether a film is good or bad. To think one film makes a career is ridiculous. It's important to keep perspective and do things other than for money."

But isn't it a drag he's been aced out of any Top Gun sequel action? Not so fast. "The joke on the set," says Edwards, the relentlessly humorous raconteur, "had Goose reappearing like Alec Guinness in Star Wars, in a cloud over Cruise's shoulder, and going in this deep voice, 'MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU, MAVERICK.' "

For now, at least, the FORCE is with Anthony Edwards.