Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal in 'End of Watch' (Photo: Open Road Films)
For his upcoming drama "End of Watch," actor Jake Gyllenhaal went to great lengths to believably transform himself into an LAPD uniformed officer. He spent five months in physical and tactical training, he rode along on patrols, and, it should be noted, he shaved his head.
How successful was he at turning himself into a cop? So much so that real police officers didn't realize he was an actor and not one of them.
In an email interview, the film's writer and director David Ayer (who also wrote "Training Day" and "The Fast and the Furious") explained how it happened. He said that the movie's "found footage" shooting style required the camera crew to stay out of sight while Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, who plays his partner, performed their scenes. Ayer said, "There were times where Jake and Mike are in uniform in a marked police vehicle," and there were no cameras to indicate a movie was being filmed.
Ayer recalled, "Cops in LA will do a hand sign with four fingers to say 'everything's good.' Jake threw a 'Code Four' at some LAPD cops rolling by and they threw a 'Code Four' back. I don't think they had any idea it was Jake Gyllenhaal!"
"Jake put his heart and soul into the training," Ayer said. "There are a thousand subtle things cops do, and I wanted Jake to have the body language and presence of an LAPD officer." Ayer called the training process "months and months of blood, sweat and tears, and it enabled Jake and Mike to be so believable together."
Authenticity was obviously a high priority to Ayer who said many of the events in the film were inspired by true stories from a former LAPD gang officer. In the movie, Gyllenhaal and Peña make a big bust which gets them marked for death by a powerful drug cartel. Ayer said the cartel in the movie is his creation based on actual crime rings. He said, " There is a lot of cartel activity in the US, and Los Angeles especially because we're close to the border... . It is not uncommon for LAPD officers in South LA to run into cartel affiliated people."
Ayer stated that even the film's shooting style -- where all of the footage comes from sources like cell phone and security cameras -- is inspired by reality. "Everybody films everything in their lives these days," Ayer said, "Even the bad guys!" As a result, Gyllenhaal and Peña were required to not only be convincing cops, but also cameramen. Ayer said, "A couple scenes are entirely Jake's camera work. He got pretty good by the end!"
Also starring Anna Kendrick and America Ferrara, "End of Watch" opens on September 28.