MICHAEL PENA TALKS “END OF THE WATCH”

By: Gabrielle Bondi

Growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago, I was surrounded by people who were police officers, firemen, etc. But the thing was… I hardly ever saw them on-duty, or even in uniform. To me, they were hard-working people, just like anyone else. They weren’t like the characters you see on TV or in movies. In fact, I had never seen a movie that as closely captured what I saw from my neighbors or friends’ parents until I saw End of Watch.

After writing several films about corrupt cops (most notably Training Day), director David Ayer spoke about changing it up, “With Training Day and corruption, no one was really doing movies like that. Gangster cops were new. Then, we get 10 years of that. And now to flip it again, it’s like ‘Look at the way cops really are.’ I want to make the most realistic cop movie ever.”

That’s what Ayer did with End of Watch. The film follows two LAPD officers, Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Peña), as they police the dangerous streets of LA. After an encounter with a notorious cartel, their lives on put on the line as they become the targets. That’s just only one element of End of Watch. It’s really more of story about these partners, their friendship, and their families. While there are action and lots of intense moments, it’s balanced out with emotional and comedic scenes, as the two joke around or have heart-to-hearts over their own love lives. It’s at these moments when the movie truly shines. When I told Ayer this, he agreed, describing his favorite scene of the film:

“My favorite scene is the scene where Jake asks Mike for advice about getting married. There’s something that’s just so real and so simple about it that you believe it… Everything is talked about in all these indirect ways, the way you do in real life, and the strength of Mike’s character comes through. You realize how solid this guy is. And he’s like the friend everyone wishes they had. And you see how much Jake is wrestling with this question. and not in a Hollywood way, like a personal, real way.  I was very happy with how that scene came out.”

If it weren’t for the chemistry between Peña and Gyllenhaal, those scenes wouldn’t have been as good as they were. They were literally in sync with each other, on top of giving such distinct and great performances. The two actors didn’t know each other from before and come from different backgrounds. Peña grew up near the Pilsen area (a pre-dominantly Mexican-American community) in Chicago, while Gyllenhaal grew up in California, with parents who were Hollywood screenwriters and directors. So, how did these two develop such a wonderful onscreen camaraderie? Pena said it took them like “two months” during training to get to know each other and form a bond.