RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The new police drama "End of Watch" tells the story of two beat cops in the middle of escalating danger as a drug cartel begins operating in a South L.A.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The cops are patrol partners played by the actors Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal. The audience is meant to understand they're less like coworkers and more like brothers.

MONTAGNE: The movie comes from David Ayer, who also wrote the cop drama "Training Day," set here in Los Angeles. Our colleague David Greene talked to Jake Gyllenhaal about bringing the director's vision to life.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

What drew you to a script about police work?

JAKE GYLLENHAAL: Well, to be honest, I think first and foremost, it didn't have initially to do with police work at all. It had to do with this huge heart in the middle of the screenplay, this relationship between these two men who happen to patrol the streets of Los Angeles together and their friendship.

That was the thing that struck me at first, was how much they really loved each other and how much they devoted their lives to each other. And, I mean, I think that's what makes things entertaining and ultimately original, is a connection between two human beings. And that's why I go and see movies, why I go and see any art, is for that connection.

GREENE: And Jake, I want to hear a little bit of this relationship playing out between you and the actor Michael Pena. And the two of you spend these long hours in a police car together, and we really get a feel for it as the movie goes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "END OF WATCH")

MICHAEL PENA: (as Mike Zavala) Dude, are you going to hook up with a Mexican girl?

GYLLENHAAL: (as Brian Taylor) You're trying to hook me up with them, dude.

PENA: (as Mike Zavala) Dude, it would be great if you did.

GYLLENHAAL: (as Brian Taylor) I get it, man.

PENA: (as Mike Zavala) Sweet, brown sugar. You should marry one of my cousins.

GYLLENHAAL: (as Brian Taylor) If they're anything like you, I wouldn't be able to stand an hour with them.

(as Brian Taylor) Waking up in the morning, being, like, hey, can I tell you a story? There's a story about this and a story about that and a story about this and a story about that.

PENA: (as Mike Zavala) But dude, all you gotta do is this. All you gotta do is this. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Yeah.

GYLLENHAAL: (as Brian Taylor) You want to come to my cousin's quinceanera, my daughter's quinceanera, my brother's quinceanera?

PENA: (as Mike Zavala) Yeah.

GYLLENHAAL: (as Brian Taylor) My sister's quinceanera?

GREENE: I mean, some of the dialogue is really funny. I mean, I laughed through a lot of the movie. Was a scene like that scripted, or were you guys just ad-libbing?

GYLLENHAAL: That scene in particular was totally improv. You know, David was lying in the back of the police car with a monitor the entire shoot, you know. And we shot all of the scenes in the police car - which is probably 30 percent of the movie - in a day and a half.

GREENE: Wow.

GYLLENHAAL: Yeah. So we - Michael and I probably rehearsed every one of those scenes in the car over 100 times over the five months that we were driving from, you know, tactical training to fight training to, you know, the end of the day over to South Central L.A., to going to ride-along at 4:00 p.m., you know, in the afternoon, till 4:00 a.m. in the morning.

In the middle of all these things, we would rehearse these scenes. And so by the time we got into the car, we were ready in every way possible, and it allowed us to improv.

GREENE: There was a ton of preparation. I mean, you just mentioned a ride-along that was 12 hours long?

GYLLENHAAL: Yeah, with LAPD, with Sheriff's Department and with Inglewood PD. We spent two to three nights a week on the streets with different sets of partners, and it was hugely eye-opening for me, just in the way that I was brought up and how - in the area of L.A. that I grew up in, to see what was actually going on in some parts of South Central L.A.

GREENE: This was your city, and you were learning a lot about it?

GYLLENHAAL: Yeah. I mean, I think South Central L.A. gets a bad rap, you know, in a lot of ways, particularly in cinema. And, you know, I think for me, seeing South L.A. and seeing the culture, seeing the families, seeing the loyalty, even the food, you know, is just extraordinary there, and it made me fall back in love with L.A.

GREENE: But the good parts that you're talking about that you might've seen during, you know, these ride-alongs and everything, they don't really come across in the movie. What comes across is an awful sort of portrait of really tough neighborhoods. Do you wish that the movie had shown a few more of the good parts?

GYLLENHAAL: I do. I mean, you know, we shot a lot of those things, and hopefully they will be sort of extras on the DVD. I mean, we had - our experience of shooting the movie was very short, you know. And I think when you have a low-budget film, when you're shooting an independent film, you know, you have to get the entertaining aspect.

You know, I mean, I would have loved to have to spent, you know, have the audience see how boring it can be in a cop car, you know, because that is a big part of the job. And that, to me, is what was most interesting about the movie and, I think, was most interesting about discovering, was the change in police officers from joking in the car, from having a great time, and then as soon as the call comes in, they are completely different.

GREENE: You're on, like a switch at the...

GYLLENHAAL: You're on. Yeah.

GREENE: As I understand it, you actually witnessed a murder on one of your ride-alongs as you were preparing for this film.

GYLLENHAAL: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah, I did. We did a number of times, but the very first ride-along I went on, we were the second car on the scene for a murder, and it was that moment where, as an actor, obviously, you say, you know, what am I doing here? This is not my territory.

And I think that was kind of the moment where I woke up and I said: This is why I do what I do. You know, in one way or another it's absurd, you know, in comparison to a police officer does, but ultimately, being able to see it, being able to feel it I think is all in the movie.

GREENE: You developed a lot of these relationships with some of these police officers you were doing ride-alongs with, obviously, as part of preparation for the movie. But, I mean, did those friendships also last after those ride-alongs?

GYLLENHAAL: Yes. I have probably three guys that I'm really close with after my experience, you know, on the streets. You know, yeah, this movie, because we shot it in such a short time, the preparation, the experience of being on the street was really the experience for me.

You know, the movie was the easy part, and the relationships I made changed my life, changed my perspective on my career, you know, changed my perspective on my life and my family and many, many, many things.

GREENE: How did it change your perspective kind of on your career and on your life, would you say?

GYLLENHAAL: Well, you know, one of the most amazing things I can see with police officers is that they are family, you know. And I think that the closeness and the community of that was an inspiration to me. You know, and, yeah, I have a family who's in the arts, you know, so - and we're all doing different things at all different times.

And I just find myself, you know, desperately wanting to connect with them every day, you know, thinking that I don't know how long we're all going to be happy and healthy, but I'm blessed to know that we all are now, and that's what matters to me. It's the only thing that matters to me, really. And this experience really brought that out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Actor Jake Gyllenhaal talked to our colleague David Greene. The movie, "End of Watch," opens today. This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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