David Ayers' "End of Watch" is a gritty police movie with a twist: No bad cops.
We've come to expect that cop movies will focus on the crooked officer, or the good cop trying to make his way in a department filled with corruption. But the two central characters in "End of Watch," played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are both good cops – and the struggle is not with morality, but with ordinary lives and relationships in a job where your life could be threatened every time you get a new call.
The center of the movie, which opens Friday, is in the good cop/good cop relationship between Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, played by Gyllenhaal and Peña. Their rapport, particularly in a series of wise-cracking, insult-spewing scenes as they drive around Los Angeles while on duty, is lively, persuasive and affectionate, and it grounds the rest of the film.
TheWrap spoke to Gyllenhaal and Peña at the Toronto Film Festival, where "End of Watch" premiered.
The relationship between the two of you is the heart of the film. How do you build that relationship so it feels real?
Jake Gyllenhaal: Five months of perpetual time together. Two or three ride-alongs a week with the LAPD, Sheriff's Department, Inglewood PD, from 4 to 4:30 or 5 in the morning. Fight training three or four times a week. Dojo in Echo Park with David Ayer's best friend. Tactical training with a guy named Rick Lopez, a SWAT member who trains SWAT.
And then rehearsal between that, and time spent with each other and each other's families. Just texting and on the phone, enjoying each other and annoying each other. That's how it came together.
Michael Peña: A lot of talk. How I am with my brother, how he is with his sister? Trying to see if there is any common ground.
Was it easy to find that common ground?
Peña: The first couple of months were kind of rough. You have to feel really comfortable with somebody to really speak your mind, and that took me a little bit. But it was one of the things that after a while, I can say anything, I can be completely honest with this guy.
Much of the dialogue fells improvised, but was that the product of the rehearsal you're talking about?
Peña: We rehearsed like crazy, for like five months. It looked improvisational. We wanted to give that very real, real look, so that people are in the movie with us. So it justifies the action sequences.
Gyllenhaal: The idea was not only to get inside the cop car in an original way, but to really start getting inside those two guys. The preparation we did, and the developing of our relationship, was to get those uniforms off. We were wearing them, but they didn't define us, and they didn't define our performances.
Our performances were about our relationship together as friends. You could put these two guys together in any context and hopefully they'd be entertaining to watch.
But this isn't just any context – it's a dangerous one.
Gyllenhaal: Just by the fact that they were cops, when they hopped out of that car that friendship was threatened on a minute-by-minute basis. I always looked at it like the scenes that happen outside the cop car are designed to threaten the thing you see inside the cop car. And if that relationship inside the car isn't strong and original and humorous, and a real friendship, then there was no reason for the movie.
There's tons of action and thrills in it, but ultimately that is the cop genre. Inside the cop car, that's the original part, in my opinion. That's how it feels to me on the screen, and how it did in the script.
What were the keys to the cop mentality?
Peña: There's a lot about family values, and there is an honor and integrity that these guys really believe. And that took a while in rehearsals. It's one thing to be written, and another thing to really believe in these ideas, and hold them sacred in a way.
Taylor and Zavala are constantly upping each other, helping each other out, trying to make each other better. And I think that's a really important thing. In any police department you need that kind of brotherhood: you need to have pacts that you'll be there, so you can both do your jobs as well as possible and get home alive.
When you got involved, did you know it would entail those months of intense preparation?
Peña: Yeah. Jake was already involved, and David said, "Jake wants to go all the way, man. You guys are going to have to hang out a lot to be real brothers." And I was like, "I'm game, dude." I thought, okay, he wants the realness. He wants it to be seamless, where it doesn't look like acting. I wanted that challenge.
And it got to be a really cool game. Out of nowhere, he'd start a scene while we were eating, and I'd have to go with it. There was one scene in particular that we clearly ran over 100 times.
Gyllenhaal: Definitely. Maybe more.
That's a lot of preparation for a fast shoot, isn't it?
Gyllenhaal: We had 22 days to shoot it. We shot all the scenes in the cop car in a day and a half. One whole day and half of a night. So we rehearsed it like a play.
When you're making a movie for $7 million and there are limited resources and you're trying to make an action movie, you have to be ready. And we're both similar actors in that we find that you can't over-rehearse anything, and if you can over-rehearse it then there's something wrong with the story.
But yeah, the journey was longer than usual for such a short shoot. It was a very interesting, long one.