We recently had the chance to talk to End of Watch director David Ayer. This thriller about two LAPD officers stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, and was Certified Fresh at 86% on the Tomatometer. This week’s DVD/Blu-ray release of the film contains over 40 minutes of bonus scenes, and Ayer was kind enough to take the time to talk about that bonus material, as well as some of what went into making the film.
RT: I’ve just now watched the bonus material, some of the deleted scenes, and was really surprised that some of that stuff didn’t make it into the final film.
David Ayer: You know, it’s always a tough decision. I’m one of those guys, I just want the story to move, and it’s not exactly a plot-driven movie. So even though there’s these great character moments that, at the time and even through editing, I never thought I’d cut, you know, sometimes you just gotta do it.
RT: Those had to be some tough decisions. The interview scene with both Jake [Gyllenhaal] and Michael [Pena] sitting, talking, and going back through the fire scene, it took me right back to that scene when I had watched it in the movie. You’ve done other movies about LAPD; clearly you must know some guys in the department.
DA: Yeah, I mean, I have friends who work there or who have worked there, and I grew up in LA. I’m a good researcher. I listen, you know? It’s a thing of once you get to know cops, and they’re like, “Okay, this guy’s cool,” you know, they’ll open up to you and then you realize, “Okay, these are just normal people with an unusual job.”
RT: I felt like this was a side of day-to-day police work that we don’t normally see in movies. Is that what you were going for?
DA: Yeah, exactly. Even though a lot of the incidents are pretty incredible, that stuff happens. So even in Newton Division, where the film takes place, there’s a cartel presence, they pull over cartel runners, they take big dope hits off the street, you know, shootings are not that uncommon there, so all the things that these guys experience — guys in that area have experienced some of the human trafficking. I wanted to show how people deal with the daily trench work of policing.
RT: You’ve a really great cast here, and I have to point out the chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. I really believed that they had come up from the academy together. That was a level of chemistry between two guys that, you don’t often see. How did you end up with them specifically for this film?
DA: Jake got ahold of the script and, I guess, read it overnight and just came at me, and he’s like, “Dude, cast me. Dude, cast me. It’s the right thing to do. You know it.”
RT: I can hear him saying that.
DA: [laughs] Right? You know, actually, I made him read, because I’d kind of decided, “Yeah, I’ll cast him,” but I wanted him to read almost as more of a task, in the sense of, “Is this guy willing to go through a lot of rigamarole and headache to make this movie,” you know, because of the training and because of the sort of dedication ahead of time. I had him for five months; I had these guys for five months. And once we had Jake, it became about finding the right “Mike,” and, I mean, Pena’s a sick actor. He’s just sick. He came in and he read, and he did the opposite of kill it, and we were kind of like, “What the hell?” But it’s like, this isn’t a guy who auditions; this is a guy who takes his time to get into character, and once he’s there, he’s insane. So it’s kind of like, “Yeah, this is the right guy. This is the right guy.” We threw them together, put them through a lot of training, a lot of work, and they spent basically five months together, learning how to be cops from cops.
RT: Were there any specific things that ended up in the movie that came out of stories from people that you knew in the LAPD, that you can talk about?
DA: Yeah, a buddy of mine, Jaime FitzSimons, who’s a sheriff’s captain in Colorado now, a lot of this stuff happened to him and his partner. You know, they were in a gang unit back in the day in South Central — or South LA as it’s called now — and like, the kids being duct-taped and things like that, he experienced that. That’s how you deal with something like that as a parent.
RT: One of the other things that occurred to me is that you’re not a native of LA. You actually are from Illinois.
DA: I lived all over the country. I was born there, and moved every few years, and then ended up in LA when I was fourteen. So I went to high school out here in the neighborhood and all that good stuff.
RT: I feel like there’s a certain love for LA that filmmakers who hadn’t grown up here come in and have that I think is different than people who are natives. Especially in the work that you’ve done, I think that there’s definitely an interesting look at LA in especially the more crime-ridden areas, between Training Day and S.W.A.T. and some of the other stuff you’ve written. Is there something there that just keeps you going back to that well?
DA: I mean, I grew up in these neighborhoods, and I’ve seen a lot of stupid stuff go down. My wife’s from South LA, and we’ve got relatives there, so it’s still a world I’m connected to, and you know, the old saying in writing is “write what you know.” So it’s something that’s easy for me in the sense of how familiar I am with the world and the culture. But again, there’s that danger of Hollywood of getting typecast and that’s what I’d like to avoid.
End of Watch is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.