Interview: Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal as  Brian Taylor in End Of Watch
Jake Gyllenhaal as Brian Taylor in End Of Watch
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Jake Gyllenhaal has gone back to his roots with a new cop movie. Film critic Tony Earnshaw spoke to the actor.

Every modern American film actor should play a cop at least once in his career. For Jake Gyllenhaal that chance came in End of Watch, a gritty portrait of life on the streets of LA seen from the twin perspectives of the police and the citizens of the City of Angels.

For 31-year-old Gyllenhaal it threw up multiple opportunities, not least the adventure of rediscovering his birthplace and riding out with authentic LAPD officers. It was an eye-popping epiphany.

“The very first ride-along I went on, someone was murdered,” he recalls, shuddering at the memory. “We were the second car on the scene. My adrenaline was going the whole time but I didn’t know that that’s what we would run into. That was a turning point for me.”

The intensity of Gyllenhaal’s preparation for End of Watch didn’t just include happening up on a murder scene. He and co-star Michael Peña “spent five months on the streets, two or three times a week for 12 hours at a time with three or four different sets of partners.

“And, yes, that’s the intention of the movie: to see these guys, whether they’re in uniform or not, as human beings. What Michael and I portray in that police car is, I think, pretty true to life. That’s what we both experienced and it totally changed my perception of law enforcement.”

For an actor who’s barely put a foot wrong since his 2001 breakthrough in Donnie Darko – and by way of Jarhead, Rendition, Proof, Zodiac, The Day After Tomorrow, Source Code, and an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain – End of Watch represents a pet project. Made on a $7 million budget it also represents quality indie work. In fact, some are already comparing Gyllenhaal’s performance as Brian Taylor with his work in Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain.

The actor certainly put in the effort. He was with writer/director David Ayer for six months and spent another five with Peña on the streets, in fight training and on tactical exercises with live ammunition. Says Gyllenhaal: “By the time we got to the set we were pretty much thick as thieves.”

Filming End of Watch was, claims Gyllenhaal, transformative.

He goes as far as saying that it changed his life. Born and bred in Los Angeles, he grew up just a mile-and-a-half from the badlands of the south-east side where gang violence is rife. Making the movie opened his eyes to the beauty of his birthplace.

“I got to see a side of LA that is actually LA – not just a world of violence and gangsters and police. It’s a beautiful thing. Having that perspective on Los Angeles changed me.”

Classic Cop Pairings

Lethal Weapon (1987) – LAPD Homicide Sergeant Danny Glover and Narcotics Sergeant Mel Gibson are the original cop buddies.

Rush Hour (1998) – Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan’s partnering was so successful it spawned three films, and a possible fourth.

Hot Fuzz (2007) – Polar opposites Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are comedy gold.