If "End of Watch" had been just "another predictable cop movie," Jake Gyllenhaal says, he would not have done it.
"I chose this because it had heart," Gyllenhaal said. He and Chicago native Michael Pena star as two LAPD police officers that spend half their time on the job chasing perps and the other half discussing the meaning of life and love. Although Brian Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Pena) both are honorable officers, they become walking targets for South Central gang members when their ambitions get the better of them.
"The heart of this movie is that we have this relationship and you can take us out of the context of being police officers and put us in another movie and it has that heart," Gyllenhaal told RedEye during an interview Monday at the Four Seasons in L.A. "End of Watch" opens Friday.
Like their characters on screen, L.A. native Gyllenhaal and Pena have become close friends. But that bond didn't happen right away, according to writer/director David Ayer, who told MCT the actors were barely on speaking terms initially. They couldn't agree on anything, Pena has said.
So Ayer assigned them months of police training, martial arts training, weapons training, sparring and doing ride-alongs with L.A. police officers, which strengthened their bond and gave them a mutual respect of each other's talents.
"The torture that I put them through made them become friends," Ayer told MCT. "It became 'Oh God, what have I created here?' They wouldn't shut up."
Their friendship is apparent in how the actors now praise each other.
"Jake was awesome," Pena said. "He was like, ‘This is our movie.' You don't always get that. He's a friend now for life. He wanted me to do the best that I could possibly do. That does something to your psyche. He really took care of me."
Watching Pena rock his role is one of the things Gyllenhaal liked most about the job. He described Pena's performance as "absolutely compelling and inspired."
"For us that partnership, becoming brothers and coming from two different places definitely as people, was key," said Gyllenhaal, who also executive produced the film. "It took us a while to become close, but we are really incredibly close now."
Although the actors spent five months on the L.A. streets observing real officers, "End of Watch" was shot in just 22 days. On Gyllenhaal's first ride-along, a speeding train nearly nailed him. His unit was in pursuit of a stolen vehicle that got stalled on railroad tracks, and he and the officers pushed the car off the tracks with about 30 seconds to spare.
"When you're doing a ride-along there are hours and hours of boredom that are occasionally interspersed with a situation that can be violent," Gyllenhaal said. "The reality of what the job is hasn't always been rightly portrayed [in film] ... We discovered a sense of humor and a real partnership, a brotherhood inside [the patrol cars]."
Witnessing murders, domestic disputes and other heinous criminal acts all are things that might make two actors scoot a little closer to each other in the back of a patrol car. But for Gyllenhaal, the bond with Pena went even deeper. Pena and Ayer gave Gyllenhaal a crash course in "Latino 101," and as a result Gyllenhaal has a new appreciation for Latino culture.
"This movie changed my life," Gyllenhaal said. "The Spanish culture that David Ayer introduced me to, and being around Michael ... It was so inspiring to me. The running joke on the set was that I should marry a Mexican girl!"
The fun didn't end there, Gyllenhaal said. The violent situations the characters face in the film "are all based on things that happened" in real life, Gyllenhaal said. Still, the scenes with him and Pena in the squad car--which were shot in just a day and a half--were his favorites.
"When you're working with a great actor and you get to play with good writing," he said. "To me that whole day-and-a-half was probably the most fun to shoot."
Miki Turner is a RedEye special contributor.
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