Jake Gyllenhaal spoke exclusively with 24WiredTV about his experience preparing for and shooting End of Watch. The actor discussed developing a true-life bond with his co-star, Michael Pena, for an authentic on-screen relationship, as well the intense preparation and production of the movie–for which he earned an Executive Producer credit.
24Wired TV: Your rapport with Michael Pena feels extremely natural in the movie. How did you develop that relationship for the screen?
Jake Gyllenhaal: We spent five months on the streets of southeast L.A. doing ride-alongs with police officers two or three times a week, from 4 PM to 4 AM. And then we did tactical training with live ammunition. We learned how to communicate with each other, and shoot at moving targets, move and shoot at moving targets. And also, every morning we would go to this dojo over in Echo Park with one of David Ayer’s best friends [and learn from master]Richard Mesquita. And we’d fight with these 14 to 20-year-old boys–like MMA-style fighting every morning. And then rehearsals all the time, just me and Mike, just spending basically five months of our lives together, almost every day. Spending time with each other’s families. And eventually, probably like three months in, we started getting to that sort of openly annoyed phase. [laughs] And I think at that point we sort of knew. We broke down a lot of walls in that time, actually. I think a certain truth comes out, where you’re no longer “professionals” doing your job and trying to do it right; you start to become friends. All of a sudden that just breaks stuff down, and then you get to a much more honest place. And our friendship started from there. I think that’s really where the movie started, and that’s the heart of the movie.
24WiredTV: What do you think End of Watch has to say about cops, and how do you think your role helped to communicate that message?
Gyllenhaal: To me, this movie was about two human beings. And I think that there’s a real stigma as soon as you put on the police uniform. On both sides. You put it on, and it feels like a Bat-suit. You see someone in it, they have a history of all the things we know, both good and bad. What was important about the movie was, it doesn’t even feel like we’re in uniform. It just feels like we’re two friends. I think that’s the strength of the movie. That is the movie; the heart of the movie is that friendship. So whether they were police officers or not didn’t really matter. But the fact that they are police officers shows people what really happens inside that car. You have to have an attitude when you hop out, but behind those doors are two beating hearts.
24WiredTV: How did you first become involved with David Ayer?
Gyllenhaal: I had been doing press for Source Code, and we had gone around Europe for a while, and we’d come back and I was jet lagged, and I was given the script. I opened it up at 5 AM in the dark, and I finished it as the sun was rising. And then I called up everyone I worked with, at like 6:30 in the morning like, “Where’s David Ayer? Where’s David Ayer?” And no one was awake. The next day I got a meeting with him, and I was like, “I will devote however much time you need.” He’s like, “I need you for six months.” And I said “Okay.” And that was the beginning of the journey. I read for the role, and then I spent all this time preparing. For a 22-day shoot, by the way.
Gyllenhaal: Yeah, and we made it for seven million bucks. Our resources were limited. You know, these action movies you see are made with a lot more money than we made our movie with. It required all that preparation, ’cause that first scene–where there’s that massive car chase–we only had three shots at that. We only had three windshields we could break with squibs. So we got it on the third one. We did not get it the first two times. Everyone was stressing. It was interesting, because it added a whole energy to that scene. But every scene was like that. Even in the final shootout, with the cartel guys who come down shooting at our windows–we only had two windows to blow. And the first one just blew, before anyone shot a thing. It just shattered; we completely lost that window, and we had one shot at it. The whole movie was like that. It was the fastest movie shoot I’d done in my career. Like that car crash in the movie? That’s a real car crash. They had taken the anti-lock brakes out, and we only had half a block to accelerate,
24WiredTV: Given the found footage style of the movie, was there any extra pressure on you to be its cinematographer?
Gyllenhaal: I shot the majority of it in the style that he wanted, which was that he really wanted it to feel like two guys who didn’t know what they were doing. I think that “classic” movie style is definitely not here. Even the script was written as if it was a YouTube clip that was posted by my character. So there was no real pressure. In fact, it was fun, because most times, you know when the camera’s rolling and then the performance begins. But there was no boundary here; there was no stop and start, action and cut. We were rolling all the time. I was filming everything all the time. So we had a lot of freedom.
24WiredTV: Although there were a lot of Latino cops in End of Watch, the movie seemed to have something to say about the racial divide between Latino perps and white cops. Was that something you saw a slice of while you were on the ride-alongs?
Gyllenhaal: Yeah, I saw that all the time. The weird thing was, I have to say–we pulled over an equal amount of all different races. And I know there’s all that stigma of discrimination. But it was a fascinating look into the fact that it had much more to do with an attitude than a culture. I was fascinated with how they would spot someone in a car that would be so unassuming to me, and all of a sudden we’d pull out a gun or drugs from the car. And then I would try to call people out that I thought looked suspicious, and the police officer would be like, “Pff. Yeah right.” That was really interesting–particularly now.
24WiredTV: How was it working from an executive producer angle on this film?
Gyllenhaal: Well, that was actually a credit that I earned, which I’m proud to say. I auditioned for this role, and then I got it, and then throughout the experience, because of the fact that we were making it with a smaller budget, and everyone had to pick up slack for everyone else, sooner or later, I wasn’t just an actor. I was helping create the movie, and by the end, after the post-production process–which I was involved in, too–David came to me and he was like, “We want to give you producer credit.” To be totally honest, that day was one of my prouder moments. I love making movies, man. To be a part of that producing side was an honor.