In their mission to abide by their oath to serve and protect, Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) have formed a powerful brotherhood to ensure they both go home at the End Of Watch. The only guarantee for these officers is that there are no guarantees when patrolling the streets of South Central, Los Angeles.
Between the blue lights, blaring sirens and adrenaline pumping action thrives an honest and often humorous banter between partners who spend most of their days in a police car awaiting the next call. The officers have formed a bond that allows them to function as a unit in the face of danger, knowing full well, at any moment, they could be called on to lay down their lives.
The vivid action unfolds entirely through footage of handheld cameras shot from the point of view of police officers, gang members, surveillance cameras, dash cams and citizens caught in the line of fire. This 360° perspective creates a riveting and immediate portrait of the city's darkest, most violent streets and back alleys and the brave men and women patrolling them.
Writer/Director/Producer David Ayer (Training Day) was driven to get the story of Los Angeles cops "right" and open a window into a rarely seen world of law enforcement for all its truth, grit and compassion. Produced by John Lesher, Nigel Sinclair and Matt Jackson, with a cast headed by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña and featuring Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera, Cody Horn, Natalie Martinez and Frank Grillo, End Of Watch is a powerful story of family, friendship, love, honor and courage.
"When an officer finishes his shift, he's got this log book and makes log entries... Code Six here, stopped this guy, detained this suspect... The last thing they write is "EOW" and the time. Veteran officers will tell you there's pretty much one thing you've got to do every shift and that's EOW... end of watch and go home. If you don't go home, that's also called an end of watch". - David Ayer
Growing up on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, life could have turned out very differently for writer/director David Ayer. He saw a neighborhood ripped apart by gang violence. Instead of contributing to it, Ayer began channeling those experiences into stories while serving in the U.S. Navy. His stories began to take shape and eventually formed screenplays such as the acclaimed film, Training Day. "To go from Training Day to End of Watch is in a lot of ways, to complete a circle", says Ayer. "Something about writing cops is easy for me. I have the 'I-can-write-about-cops' gene".
With a string of cop films following Training Day, including S.W.A.T. and Street Kings, Ayer was concerned with typecasting in Hollywood and began to avoid the genre for some time. "It was pretty clear that I was headed down a certain road here", said Ayer. "But one of my mentors (acclaimed screenwriter Wesley Strick) in the business told me to find my niche and exploit it. So that's when I said, I know this - I've got to get back to this".
But this time, Ayer would take a much different approach. Being friends with many men in law enforcement, he was looking to tell "their story". While his previous works centered on gangster cops or corrupt cops, this script would center on what the real job was like.
"The thing about the cop genre - we haven't seen what they really do at work", says Ayer. "We've seen what Hollywood thinks they do. We've seen every other cop movie... where you gotta have the scene where two cops argue about jurisdiction".
In past interviews, Ayer himself has said stories about corrupt officers are the most interesting subjects for cop films. End Of Watch has made him rethink those earlier sentiments. "I've finally proved to myself that's not true", said Ayer. "And I think I proved to other people, that that's not true". For Ayer, the danger of everyday police work, coupled with "having to go home and have a normal relationship" with your significant other, was his way in.
"These guys see mayhem and carnage and are faced with incredible psychologically destructive situations and then they have to go home and put work into a relationship", says Ayer. "Somebody who can do that successfully to me is a fascinating person".
Ayer's re-entry into the Los Angeles cop genre was his script for End Of Watch, which he wrote in six days. Ayer brought forward all of the skills he learned over the years to tell a very traditional story - one that had not been fully told before. "I wanted to capture the story of guys that go out there, work hard, do their job and are fundamentally good people", said Ayer. "What we've been trained to expect from a cop film is not going to be met in this movie. It's the reality of it. It's the boredom of it. It's how people connect, how cops connect to each other. So this is really about being let into a secret world".
Ayer's approach to take all of the clichés of cop films and upend them, attracted producer, John Lesher to the project. "What I thought was really special about Ayer's script was that it wasn't a typical cop film, or a corrupt cop movie", said Lesher. "It was really the story of two best friends and what they go through on the police force. The film has its action and violence, but it's ultimately a story about friendship, family and those universal themes that resonate with everyone".
Producers Nigel Sinclair and Matt Jackson were both drawn to the film after reading the script and reached out to Lesher to meet and discuss the project. Sinclair and Jackson signed on the make the film, without really knowing who the cast was, which was rare for an independent finance company. "We called Lesher back the next day after our meeting and said we'd make the film. Within 24 hours thereafter Gyllenhaal who had had read the script unbeknownst to us, committed to the film overnight", said Sinclair. "That was a fortunate twist of fate ".
"Nigel and I were passionate about realizing the script from the pages and discovering David Ayer's vision and why this film was unusual", said Jackson. "David was telling a story that was more about the camaraderie between two officers and points of view that capture an inside, visceral and exciting perspective".
"This film isn't really about two cops - it's about two guys who to go to work, put on a police uniform and they become those people that we all see on the street", said Sinclair. "And in South Central Los Angeles, they are confronted with terrifying and dangerous situations sometimes for a defining part of their day. So in the film you see these young men at work and in their family settings and it's that contrast which gives the movie its power".
As the police technical advisor on the film and a former fifteen year veteran of the LAPD, Jaime FitzSimons appreciated Ayer's quest to tell an accurate story. "I think the way this film is being shot and the way David has written it - oth police officers and people in the community are going to see it and think, 'Finally,'" said FitzSimons. "Finally, somebody has shown both sides of the equation of what it's like to live in a community like this and what it's like for two officers that are best friends to police a community like this. Ayer really gets into the significance of their partnership and what it means for their loved ones and families, touching on all aspects of two police officers' lives".
The action of End Of Watch unfolds like a documentary. Ayer developed the film to be extremely visceral with the viewer right in the middle of every scene. "I was really going after true point-of-view", said Ayer. "I wanted it to be like watching YouTube - where something in your mind tells you this is real. This film is like YouTube meets Training Day in a lot of ways". Throughout filming, Ayer continually sequenced each shot so the audience is immersed deep within this world. For Ayer, End Of Watch combined top-notch production values with the real and visceral sense of YouTube.
"I was attracted to Ayer's ambition to give a truly authentic look at what it is like to be on the police force", said Lesher. "His filmmaking techniques felt organic and like something we haven't really seen before". From the relationship of the officers, to real-life locations to the extensive camera angles, authenticity was essential to the success of End Of Watch. To make the action more immediate and immerse the viewer more fully, cameras filmed virtually 360° of the action. At any given time, there were four cameras rolling, including two cameras specially mounted to actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña to underscore the realism of the scene. (Gyllenhaal's character is taking a film course as part of his pre-law studies and cameras are visible and organically woven into the storyline.)
"People are going to feel like they are working alongside Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala", said technical advisor, Jaime FitzSimons. "They are going to feel like they are going for the ride... in the police aspect of this, in the partnership and their outside relationships".
The story begins with a heart-pumping car chase as Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Officer Mike Zavala (Michael Peña) are racing through the backstreets of the Newton jurisdiction of South Central Los Angeles attempting to catch a car full of gang-bangers, as a dash cam from Taylor and Zavala's squad car captures every twist and turn of the chase. It ends in a barrage of bullets - one catches Taylor's Kevlar vest - just another hazard of the job.
With each new dispatch comes uncertainty, a new set of challenges and an enormous rush for the two young officers: a local troublemaker has an altercation with a mailman;? a crack head "loses" her babies and Taylor and Zavala find them duct-taped in a closet;? they catch a "Mexican Cowboy" with a truck full of weapons and cash; they heroically save children from a burning building; they uncover a safe house for human trafficking;? and a routine check of an elderly woman's home leads to a large narcotics seizure. At the end of every shift they mark down "EOW" on their log and head home.
A longtime "player" in the personal relationship department, Officer Taylor is now falling in love with the radiant Janet (Anna Kendrick) and Officer Zavala welcomes his first child into the world with his wife, Gabby, (Natalie Martinez). As they await their next call, the two men converse candidly about the risks of the job and the rush and fear that comes with the territory. This is juxtaposed with relatable conversations about the women in their lives and tender moments about their hopes for their families.
On the other side of the law, we are introduced to shadowy figures from the Sinaloa Drug Cartel and an LA street gang with names straight out of a graphic novel: Big Evil, Wicked, La La and Demon, among countless other "hoodrats and homies". As the gang-bangers maneuver their way through the Southland, personal video cameras intimately capture them nihilistically wreaking havoc on the neighborhood. "Technology has certainly changed police work. It's absolutely normal now for cops to carry around video cameras, microphones, tape recorders", said FitzSimons. "You see it on the gang side as well. Just look at YouTube. Gangs videotape everything now".
"We stand watch together, a thin blue line, protecting the prey from the predators. The good from the bad. We are the police".
"You can go and make a very technically proficient film and shoot it beautifully, but if you don't have the right actors, you don't have the heart of the movie", said Ayer. "We have our hands on really gifted actors who are willing to truly go the distance for the film".
Jake Gyllenhaal was the first actor to join the cast of End Of Watch. Regarding Ayer's script Gyllenhaal says, "Initially I was excited by how quickly the pages turned. But beyond that, there's a classic story structure to this movie, hidden beneath a radical and fascinating type of storytelling that we haven't seen before".
Gyllenhaal, who also served as an executive producer on the film, was deeply committed to the project for five months where he underwent extensive police training and preparation for the role. "Jake's an incredible actor, so unbelievably committed", said Lesher. "He's tough. He's vulnerable when he needs to be. He really stepped up his game for this film. He's been the captain of the acting team, getting everyone on board and extensively rehearsing with this cast. He's also a great partner as a producer, giving it 150 percent. He has incredible access to different people and things".
"After I read the script, I had a strong instinct that Ayer had just raised the stakes to the highest level for this genre. I began thinking why hadn't anyone else ever made a film like this before", said Gyllenhaal. "It's a fine line between whether you're going to be able to transpose a script that reads like a YouTube clip, into afulfilling cinematic experience. And Ayer does".
Michael Peña was brought on shortly following Gyllenhaal after Ayer and the producers had read several other actors for the role. "We'd always admired Michael's work", said Lesher. "And we read him a few times, until we saw him in Lincoln Lawyer and were just sold on his performance".
"Jake and Michael really both set out to walk the walk and talk the talk", said Sinclair. "And when you see the movie they are completely credible. Throughout filming, they developed a close relationship which also had an element of competition which they deliberately played to. They both brought so much to their roles, that when you see them together on screen, you feel like Jake's stealing the movie, then Michael's stealing the movie - and that goes back and forth".
"With the two of them, it was one of those rare situations, where we were lucky to have both Jake and Michael so early in the process that they were available to do all of the tactical training and ride-alongs to immerse themselves in the culture, said Jackson. "We didn't have to incentivize them - it was a testament to David and his script and his vision, that we attracted the level cast that we did".
"End of Watch doesn't exist without the bond between Officers Taylor and Zavala - and when you read the script, you immediately feel that the story wouldn't work nor would it move forward without that bond. That is what sets this movie apart from this genre as well. This is a story about real friendship", said Gyllenhaal. "Mike's my other half and he's extraordinary in the role. I've been in films where my character drives the whole movie and is required to carry every scene. This is film is different. We're two pieces of a whole. This doesn't work without either one of us".
Peña also found himself attracted to Ayer's script which was not the typical narrative piece. The story of the two partners affected Peña and really inspired him to want to be a part of the film. "The brotherhood aspect of it, how real it is, just hit me in the heart", said Peña. "Certain action scenes were very exciting to read. But then there were also the scenes where the two characters are just talking and those were just as interesting the same way a David Mamet play is".
Peña understood that playing best friends in a movie wouldn't be easy. "It's pretty hard because you've got to be like brothers", said Peña. "You need to get in this comfort zone that you can't just make up. You actually have to have it".
The two actors spent five months together undergoing extensive police, tactical and fight training and police ride-alongs. Gyllenhaal and Peña built a trust through this rare experience. The duo spent numerous hours bonding and rehearsing so they would know each other deeply. Ayer pushed them relentlessly. "Jake and Michael have given me more time than they probably have for any other movie in their careers", said Ayer. "I had them for five months and over those months you begin to believe in the friendship and that these guys have been working together as a police unit. They really are the movie".
It was over those months of prepping for the film that Gyllenhaal and Peña formed a real friendship that made their onscreen chemistry seem effortless. "All the things that you go through in becoming friends with somebody, really good friends with somebody - that happened over five months", said Gyllenhaal. "The trust that it took for us to get through training with firearms, riding in the back of a police cruiser for hours on end, for months- made us understand what it's like to put our lives into each other's hands. And so eventually the friendship just became true".
Anna Kendrick, who portrays Taylor's love interest in the film, noticed the natural camaraderie right away: "They're just so great because it really feels like that's one of those moments where the line between reality and the movie gets blurred. At some points, I'm not sure if it's Taylor and Zavala or if it's Jake and Michael talking".
As characters, Officer Brian Taylor and Officer Mike Zavala are very different people. They grew up in two different worlds and come together as partners in the police force to form this symbiotic unit that functions to not only protect others, but themselves as well. Gyllenhaal's character Brian Taylor comes from a wealthy family in Davenport, Iowa. He joined the Marines to rebel against his parents and later decided to come to LA and become a cop where he meets Zavala at the Police Academy. Zavala comes from the streets of East LA, was an amateur boxer, who got married to his high school sweetheart, Gabby, at 18.
"Brian Taylor is a guy who grew up in a cold, dry household", says Ayer. "He meets Zavala with this rich family life and boisterous world and it's full of love, food and good people. And Taylor is immediately drawn to it".
"These guys are partners and best friends in each other's lives", said Peña. "When I first read the script, I saw a universal story of two people that are completely different who end up becoming brothers. And a lot of times that happens in the armed forces and police work because of the nature of the job". "These are two partners who would give their lives for each other", said Gyllenhaal. "It is that simple. And the irony is that they've found a brotherhood in the most dangerous of places, in a place where that brotherhood is threatened on a daily basis and can be lost at any time".
As FitzSimons explains, what happens on screen, mirrors the common bonds often seen in the real police force: "When you're close like Officers Taylor and Zavala, you probably spend more time with each other than you do your own wife. It's that tight of a bond. No matter what, you make sure your partner goes home at the end of watch".
It's 2 A.M. on one of those rare quiet nights. Zavala driving as usual. Taylor does books. Enters plates in the computer.
- Taylor: Things are getting super serious with Janet
- Zavala: You just found out? That in the paper today or something? Homegirl owns your ass.
- Taylor: She wants to move in. She's always over. Why spend the money on two apartments?
- Zavala: It ain't about money, dude.
- Taylor: Her parents are very traditional. They will go ballistic if she does. But at least we can tell them we're engaged.
- Zavala: Yo. Hold up. Don't play with that. You don't ask some broad to marry you 'cause her folks are old school. Think about this shit. Then think about it again. You're chill. You're not a partier. But marriage is forever. That's making a promise before God.
- Taylor: ...I know... (then) I'm scared shitless.
- Zavala: My grandma who's like deep, dude. She's like seen it all. Okay. When me and Gabby got engaged she asked me one thing. Wanna hear it?
- Taylor: Let's hear it.
- Zavala: She asked me if I could live without her. And if the answer was yes to forget her.
- Taylor: Wow.
- Zavala: Right, dude? That's some deep ass shit. Think about it.
- Taylor: I am. Then: Make a right. We got a fire.
Two characters constantly present throughout the film even when they are not on screen, are Janet (Anna Kendrick) and Gabby (Natalie Martinez), the significant others of Officers Taylor and Zavala. Putting aside the extraordinary pressures associated with their day jobs, the two men are also dealing with the very ordinary problems of their relationships. Gyllenhaal's character is at a point in his life where he is ready to settle down and he meets in Janet, a smart and sexy woman, who is different than the women (i.e., cop groupies) of his past. Janet is a student and they meet during Officer Taylor's extended studies. For the role of Janet, director David Ayer turned to Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, The Twilight Films).
"Anna's brilliant -she's alive and interesting in every take", says Ayer. "She's this great counterpoint to Jake, who's a smart guy, unto himself. She keeps him on his toes and has a very sympathetic but almost comedic quality about her, very endearing and light. And there's some hardcore stuff in this movie, so, any opportunity to show a little bit of heart and a little bit of love and a little bit of light and tenderness, is very welcome".
"Janet really doesn't know the world she's gotten into", says Kendrick. "She has to adjust to this kind of brotherhood and have a relationship in this tight knit world. I'm not sure if she would have gone out with him if he'd been in uniform the first time they met. I think that would have freaked her out a bit". "As the saying goes, he loves her so much it hurts", says Gyllenhaal. "Anna is loving and sexy in a way you that you've never seen her before. The character of Janet for Brian Taylor represents this peace he's never had in his life".
"Brian's a smart guy. Janet's a smart girl. And I think they are both damaged in a way that they don't like to show other people", says Kendrick. "But they feel brave enough to show each other and that kind of honesty just goes a long way for them. It's this kind of understanding of another person's neuroses and fears - forgiveness of someone's past is a huge thing".
As the film progresses, so does the relationship between Janet and Officer Taylor and the film marks time through their relationship milestones. They meet for coffee at Starbucks; they continue to date; it quickly progresses and she meets Zavala and his wife Gabby;? there's a tender night at his place, where Kendrick's character picks up the video camera in the early morning and shares her feelings for him; later in the film, there's a joyous wedding reception, where the bride and groom begins to slow dance and it quickly turns into a surprise where, like many popular viral videos, they break out into a funky choreographed dance.
As the relationship unfolds between Officer Taylor and Janet, an interesting dynamic occurs within the relationship of Taylor and Zavala. Zavala, who's been with the same woman since high school, begins to school Taylor on love in a very brotherly fashion. He wants to see his brother happy and loved as he is with Gabby.
For Gabby, Ayer cast Natalie Martinez (Death Race, Detroit 1-8-7). "Natalie is just fantastic", said Ayer. "I always saw Gabby as really strong - she clearly has a deep love for him, but wears the pants in the house. I love the idea that here is this tough street cop and he's running around shooting bad guys and hopping fences and he goes home and he's like, 'Yes, dear.' He's going along. Which is exactly how they feel together".
"Natalie's got this amazing energy", says Peña. "She is easy to love. Our characters have known each other most of their lives and Natalie and I hung out a lot to create that comfortable factor which is so necessary for their relationship".
The Zavala's relationship dates back to high school sweethearts. He studied to be a police officer and and she, a teacher. "They wanted to create a life and just be a family", says Martinez. The character of Gabby is six months pregnant throughout the film and then as the story progresses has the baby and with that brings added anxieties based on her husband's profession.
"I think that's probably one of the scariest things about being the wife of a cop - the fact that you don't know when they're coming home", says Martinez. And on top of that, when they come home in a certain mood, you have to welcome them into a loving home and and take your husband away from the world that's out there. And when they leave again, you've got to know this might be the last time that you say 'bye.'"
To underscore the brotherhood of the police force, Ayer brought together a team of acclaimed actors to play the diverse lineup of veteran officers. One of the biggest revelations in the film comes in Officer Orozco played by America Ferrera. Ferrera, who is perhaps best known for her acclaimed turn on the hit TV series, Ugly Betty, makes a complete transformation in this role - playing one of the toughest cops in the Newton District.
David Ayer recalls: "And then you have Orozco, played by America Ferrera. When she came in, I assumed, 'Okay, she wants to play Gabby.' And then she drops this bomb, 'Hey. I want to play Orozco.' It's like, 'What?' Orozco was this little part, but it became a big part because she saw an ability to transform herself and connect with this role. "
"What struck me about this script was how much I felt Ayer loved each and every character that he wrote", said Ferrera. "Every role - big, small, one line, no lines - mattered to him. He really loved each character and put a lot of thought into all of them".
Ayer continues: "She's that bad-ass cop. The woman doesn't matter. The size doesn't matter. Because on the streets, she's all fight and you want her backing your calls".
"What attracted me to this role was that she was a character who kind of managed to pull herself up and out of the situation but then chose to, on a daily basis, confront the situation that she managed to get herself out of and to not just run the other way - the way so many others might", offers Ferrera. One of the many and most interesting dynamics at play in End Of Watch, is when Orozco encounters Hispanic gang-members, who see her commitment to protect and serve as a betrayal. Orozco is from these very streets they are patrolling.
"For the audience, there's a bit of a voyeurism aspect to it and you sort of feel like you're watching something you're not supposed to see", says Ferrera. "It really adds to the energy and the kind of daring world these characters live in".
Orozco and Officer Davis (Cody Horn) are a female cop team who must survive in what is still considered a man's world. Their energies clash often between the more aggressive Officers Taylor and Zavala. Offered Ferrera: "It was really exciting to hear in some of the ride-alongs that we did - to hear a male cop say, 'females were some of the best partners they had.' And there were females they would pick over any male. It's not about being a man or woman - a good cop is a good cop. It's about having the instinct to be a good police officer".
The goal for producers Ayer, Jackson, Lesher, Sinclair and Gyllenhaal was to just try to find actors who are really strong who can elevate scenes and bring enormous depth to characters in just a scene or two. One of those actors is David Harbour, who plays the salty longtime veteran of the force, "Officer Van Hauser" who has been broken by too many years in the force. Van Hauser resents Officers Taylor and Zavala for their youth and energy they bring to their jobs. Van Hauser has particular disdain for Officer Taylor's video project.
"You sort of have the older, bitter guys who have been beaten down by the system and isn't quite the true believer in the mission anymore", said Ayer. "And that's David Harbour, who's fantastic, playing this character, Van Hauser, who Jake and Mike love to tease and love to screw with".
"He's sort of this harbinger of doom", says Harbour. "He's been on the force for awhile, has a lot of alimony to pay, hates his job and feels like he got fucked over by the department. A lot of his actions are born out of self-hatred, because he sees a younger version of himself in Jake's character".
Like many of the actors, Harbour went through extensive police training to prepare for the role.
"I've never really seen situations from the police perspective, but after going through this training, I have a whole new level of respect for the amount of split second decisions that these men and women have to make and that can cost people their lives", said Harbour.
Equally challenging for Harbour was acting with multiple cameras, many directly attached to the actors he's playing the scene with. "You really have to think a little differently about how you're going to reveal things", offered Harbor. "The whole process has been very geared towards authenticity and that's reflected in our training and it's reflected in the camera work and in the script and everything. David's a real stickler for authenticity".
Actor Frank Grillo (The Grey) agrees: "In this film, I think you get a genuine sense of what this job really is and how much these guys have to deal with on a daily basis - how dangerous it is. And I think the level of authenticity in this film will show moviegoers how much these guys put themselves in danger day in and day out".
Grillo plays "Sarge" a good cop who's now the commanding officer for Gyllenhaal and Peña's characters. "Sarge loves these kids", says Grillo. "He loves them because they are hunters. They go out looking for it. A lot of cops don't do that".
At the same time Sarge needs to make certain there is a symbiosis in the department and he defends the veteran Van Hauser, out of his years of service to the force.
"Frank is an actor's actor, someone other actors get excited to work with", offers Ayer. "Every family has the big brother and "Sarge" is the big brother that gives you the wedgie and rubs your head and beats you up and takes your lunch money. He's the tough big brother. He's tough love".
Beyond the professional actors, real life LA City Councilmen Eric Garcetti was invited by Gyllenhaal to play the Mayor in a crucial scene in the film, where a medal of valor award is presented. For Garcetti, the experience echoed his work in public office.
"The depiction of this awards ceremony is spot on", said Garcetti. "It's like my day job, but with more lights and a better microphone".
His day on set reminded him of the real courage by the men and women in dress blues. "The medal of valor awards are among the most moving ceremonies I've been to in my life", said Garcetti. "When you hear about these acts of heroism, it brings tears to your eyes. These people get shot, they barely escape from burning buildings and they don't question their call of duty. They know they're there to protect us and we're a better city because of it".
"I understand that factors in your life have created an easy justification for your actions. Poverty, lack of education, drug abuse, emotional and physical abuse may have conspired to rob you of the ability to obey the law. But many other people have endured and transcended much worse circumstances than the ones which have shaped your life. Yet you have made bad decisions".
The filming for End Of Watch took place right around the Newton Police Station, which is one of the most crime-ridden violent neighborhoods in the country and while the filmmakers had a terrific experience during the shoot, these streets, this neighborhood, with their torn history, are as much a character as they are a location.
"David always wanted to shoot in Los Angeles and it was clear to us that we had to, in order to capture the authenticity of the film", said Sinclair. "Because David has a lot of good relationships in the LAPD, we were given a lot of help, counsel and advice on integrity to make everything felt very authentic". "We had a location manager who had shot with David before", said Jackson. "And we shot in a lot of gang affiliated neighborhoods, which on David's part, took a lot of social engineering to be able to get us in there. We really got access to so much that you typically wouldn't get access to and that was because of David. He was very clear in our production meeting, that we were visitors and that we have to make sure we treat everyone in these neighborhoods with respect - from the people to the LAPD".
Officers Taylor and Zavala are working an area of LA called Newton. And the city of Los Angeles is divided into several patrol areas by the LAPD. And Newton is one of the most gang-ridden, violent patrol areas of the Los Angeles Police Department. They led the city in murders. They lead the city in serious felonies. There are approximately 50 different street gangs, in Newton. In other parts of the city, large swathes of territory will be controlled by one gang, in Newton, a fence running down the middle of the block will be the dividing line between two street gangs that have a historical feud for years. The cops who work the Newton District there tend to stay there, because it takes a certain kind of person to thrive in that environment.
"It's volatile", Ayer recalls of his former neighborhood. "There's not a lot of film crews coming down here, so we're a novelty. We'd be welcome on one block and not so welcome on another block as far as the practical shooting matter there".
Outside of some, of what Ayer describes as "looky-loos" the production did not encounter any problems in South Central, where the action on screen was reminiscent to much of the city's tragic history. Actress Yahira Garcia who plays "La La" knows this full well. "Growing up in South Central LA", says Garcia. "I grew up around gangs and my home boys were gang banging. I had a lot of friends that got killed and I almost got killed a few times. Nobody can really escape it. It's all around you".
In the film, La La is a part of a gang led by "Big Evil" (Maurice Compte) and "Demon" (Richard Cabral), what makes them particularly dangerous is their ties to the Sinaola Drug Cartel. Despite her violent actions, Garcia has empathy for her character.
"She obviously had a lot of things happen in her life that turned her into the type of person she is. La La's not a bad person but she just has to survive, because it's pretty much do or die in the streets of LA. Her defense mode is always on".
Like Garcia, Richard Cabral grew up in East LA in "generations of gangs" and started getting arrested at the age of thirteen and eventually fought off a life sentence for a gang related shooting, which led to a shot of redemption. He turned his life around and is learning the craft of acting.
"A lot of people might think being a gang member meant I didn't really have to do a lot of work to become this character", said Cabral. "But it really was a lot of work because there are four of us. Evil, La-la and Wicked. We had to establish that camaraderie... we really had to build that relationship with each other. And Demon, he's not the head of the gang. Big Evil is the main guy. So he has to be humble at times and to get into that character, I had to do a lot of work", smiled Cabral.
Shondrella Avery, who also grew up in South Central, gives a heartbreaking turn as a crack-addicted mother, "Bonita". She had seen the character in mothers around the hood - it was easy to draw on. She knows the good that exists in South Central.
"The good of South Central is that people like myself, can come out of it and come back and tell you, that not every home is riddled with bullets and not every home is riddled with crack addicts and drug addiction and gang bangers", says Avery. "There are some really civil wonderful people that just have had to land in this community, for financial reasons or whatever".
From the film's early stages of development, Jaime FitzSimons has been by Ayer's side advising. FitzSimons spent 15 years with the Los Angeles police department patrolling many of the same streets seen in the film. "Jaime's been a godsend to this project", said Ayer. "I've known him for a long time and he's trusted me with his stories. A lot of the moments he's lived are in this movie and he completely opened himself up to us".
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña would go through extensive training with Jaime FitzSimons to prepare for their roles and build a relationship as partners that would carry through to camera. (America Ferrera, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn and David Harbour all also received tactical training from FitzSimons.) The tactical training included training with live ammo, police ride alongs and even were part of a controlled burn by fire officials in Orange County. FitzSimons was on set everyday and was one of several advisors on the film providing tactical training to the actors.
The LA Sheriff's Department and police departments in LA and Inglewood also assisted Gyllenhaal and Peña in their preparation. Gyllenhaal benefited from the emotional advice from FitzSimons as much as the technical advice. "He was with us at every moment", said Gyllenhaal. "On a daily basis, I would ask him to transfer the situations he's been through in his life to me - everything from the horrible to the extraordinary. And from that, I garnered why partners become partners, why they stay partners and why they would lay down their lives for one another".
For FitzSimons the accuracy of the film was troubling for him to come to terms with at times. "Many of the stories are personal stories of mine, said FitzSimons. "So a typical day in what you see through this film, was a typical day for us. There's definitely a lot of me and my partner in the characters of Officers Taylor and Zavala. There was a lot to draw on there".
Gyllenhaal concludes, "It's about a brotherhood here".
Jake Gyllenhaal (Officer Taylor / Executive Producer) - Academy Award® nominee Jake Gyllenhaal won a BAFTA and National Board of Review award for his poignant performance as 'Jack Twist' in Ang Lee's timeless classic Brokeback Mountain. Gyllenhaal was last seen starring in Duncan Jones' critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller Source Code and Ed Zwick's Love and Other Drugs, for which he received a Golden Globe® nomination for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical".
Working with some of Hollywood's greatest filmmakers, Gyllenhaal has also starred in Richard Kelly's cult hit Donnie Darko, Jim Sheridan's Brothers, David Fincher's Zodiac, Sam Mendes' Jarhead, John Madden's Proof, Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl, Brad Silberling's Moonlight Mile, Nicole Holofcener's Lovely and Amazing and Joe Johnston's October Sky.
Next, Gyllenhaal will be making his U.S. stage debut starring in If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet for the Roundabout Theatre Company. This will be his first theatre performance since 2002 in which he starred in Kenneth Lonergan's revival of This is Our Youth, on London's West End. For his performance he won an Evening Standard Theater Award for "Outstanding Newcomer". He just wrapped production on Denis Villeneuve's new independent film An Enemy.
Michael Peña (Officer Zavala) - has distinguished himself in Hollywood as an actor with a wide range of performances who has worked with an impressive roster of award winning directors. Peña earned notable recognition for his performance in Paul Haggis' provocative Oscar® winning film Crash, alongside Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Terrence Howard. Critically acclaimed for the film's interpretation of complex race relations in contemporary America, Peña has garnered multiple best ensemble nominations for his role as 'Daniel the locksmith' winning awards from the Screen Actors Guild and the Broadcast Film Critics Association for the cast's performance.
Peña was most recently seen in the Sony Pictures comedy 30 Minutes or Less starring Jesse Eisenberg and Danny McBride. He also stared alongside Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in the Brett Ratner action film Tower Heist. In September 2012, you can see Peña in Gangster Squad opposite Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling. The film is set in the 50's and chronicles the LAPD's fight to keep the East Coast Mafia out of Los Angeles.
Peña also has a starring role in End of Watch, which centers on the longtime friendship of two cops. He will star opposite Jake Gyllenhaal. Peña just wrapped Chavez for director Diego Luna, where Peña will portray the labor organizer, Cesar Chavez Peña has worked on a range of films in the past year, including the independent film Everything Must Go alongside Will Ferrell and Rebecca Hall; the dark comedy indie feature, The Good Doctor, starring Orlando Bloom and most recently in the action film Battle: Los Angeles which he was nominated for a 2011 ALMA award.
Peña's film credits include The Lucky Ones, co-starring Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins; Jody Hill's comedy Observe and Report with Seth Rogen; Robert Redford's political drama Lions for Lambs, along with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep; and Werner Herzog and David Lynch's psychological thriller My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done with Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe and Chloe Sevigny.
Peña's other noteworthy credits consist of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, which chronicled the heroism of American servicemen in the direct aftermath of the September 11th attacks; Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby; Matthew Ryan Hoge's The United States of Leland; Gregor Jordan's Buffalo Soldiers; Antoine Fuqua's Shooter; and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel.
On television, Peña also starred in the HBO film Walkout. Based on the true story of a young Mexican American high school teacher who helped stage a massive student walkout in the mid-1960s, Pena received an Imagen Award for Best Actor in the television category for his performance. He recently re-teamed with Danny McBride on the second season of HBO's Eastbound and Down. He also appeared on the F/X drama The Shield for its fourth season as one of the central leads opposite Glenn Close and Anthony Anderson. Other television credits include Steven Spielberg's NBC series Semper Fi.
Raised in Chicago, Peña began acting when he beat out hundreds of others in an open call for a role in Peter Bogdonovich's To Sir, With Love 2, starring Sidney Poitier.
America Ferrera (Officer Orozco) is perhaps best known for her fearless portrayal of 'Betty Suarez' on AB}'s hit comedy Ugly Betty. This breakthrough role has earned Ferrera an Emmy®, Golden Globe® and Screen Actors Guild Award®, as well as both ALMA and Imagen Awards.
Ferrera secured her place as one of Hollywood's most vibrant young talents with her starring role in the Patricia Cardoso film Real Women Have Curves. Her performance earned her a Sundance Jury Award for Best Actress, an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Debut Performance and a Young Artist Award nomination for Best Performance for a Leading Young Actress.
Ferrera well next star in Todd Berger's, It's a Disaster, opposite Julia Stiles and David Cross. The film will have its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. She will also soon be seen as 'Helen Chavez' in Diego Luna's film, Chavez, about famed civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. She will star opposite Michael Peña and Rosario Dawson.
Recently, Ferrera starred as 'Roxie Hart' in the West End production of the hit musical Chicago for an eight week run that started last November. Ferrera was also recently seen in a recurring role on the second season of the CBS hit series The Good Wife, in which she played an illegal nanny and object of Eli's (Alan Cumming) affection.
Ferrera was last seen in Ryan Piers Williams' The Dry Land opposite Melissa Leo and Jason Ritter. She also executive produced the film, which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and won "Best International Film" at the 2010 Edinburgh Film Festival. The film was released by Maya Entertainment. Other feature film work includes Fox Searchlights' Our Family Wedding, Dreamworks' How To Train Your Dragon and Warner Bros' The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, the sequel to the 2005 original. She also starred in the bilingual independent film Towards Darkness, which she executive produced and Fox Searchlight's independent film Under the Same Moon.
Additional credits include the Brian Jun film Steel City, Catherine Hardwicke's Lords of Dogtown and the 2005 Sundance Film Festival entry How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer. Ferrera also appeared off- Broadway in Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, directed by Trip Cullman.
Anna Kendrick (Janet) is currently filming Dylan Kidd's Get a Job, a comedy in which she stars opposite Bryan Cranston. Kendrick recently starred in Summit Entertainment's dramatic comedy 50/50 with Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film received rave reviews from fans and critics alike and several award nominations. The young starlet has a slew of other new projects lined up including voicing a character for the Focus animated feature Paranorman which will open August 17th, as well as starring in Lionsgate's apocalyptic comedy Rapturepalooza. Kendrick can also be seen starring in the ensemble romantic comedy What to Expect When You're Expecting based on the bestselling book series. Kendrick recently completed filming Robert Redford's The Company You Keep and Pitch Perfect for Universal.
In 2010, Kendrick starred opposite George Clooney and Jason Bateman in the lauded film Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman. Kendrick earned a "Best Supporting Actress" Academy Award® nomination and was honored as "Best Supporting Actress" by The National Board of Review and "Best Breakout Star" at the MTV Movie Awards. She also earned nominations from the Critic's Choice Movie Awards, the Golden Globes®, BAFTA and the Screen Actors Guild.
Kendrick was seen in the action packed, genre-bending film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, opposite Michael Cera. She was also seen in the blockbuster Twilight and sequels New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn Part 1. Kendrick also notably starred in Picture House's Rocket Science, directed by Jeffrey Blitz. Her performance as an ultra-competitive high school debate team member garnered critical acclaim and the film received a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. For her work in the film, Kendrick was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Kendrick made her feature film debut in director Todd Graff's Camp, a darling of the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. Her performance in the cult hit earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination, as well as a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Annual Chlotrudis Awards.
An accomplished theater veteran, Kendrick began her career as Dinah Lord in the 1997 Broadway musical production of High Society, for which she received a Tony Award Nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Musical. At 12 years old, the honor made her the second youngest Tony nominee in award history. Kendrick also garnered Drama League and Theatre World awards as well as Drama Desk and FANY award nominations.
Kendrick's additional theater work includes a featured role with the New York City Opera's production of A Little Night Music, starring Jeremy Irons, My Favorite Broadway/The Leading Ladies: Live at Carnegie Hall and Broadway workshops of Jane Eyre and The Little Princess. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California.
Natalie Martinez (Mrs. Zavala) is a well versed and an extremely talented actress who on the big screen has starred opposite Jason Statham in Universal Pictures' Death Race. Martinez is currently in production on the Fox 20th feature Broken City opposite Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crow, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Barry Pepper. This year Martinez will be seen in the indie feature The Baytown Disco opposite Paul Wesley, Billy Bob Thornton and Eva Longoria. On the small screen Martinez is coming off a great run on Detroit 1-8-7 and recently wrapped shooting the CBS Pilot Widow Detective.
Frank Grillo (Sarge) was most recently seen in Joe Carnahan's The Grey starring opposite Liam Neeson and in Gavin O'Connor's critically acclaimed, action drama Warrior opposite Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte. Grillo has also completed a number of high profile projects which will be released in 2012 including Lay the Favorite, directed by Stephen Frears, with Bruce Willis and Rebecca Hall; Gangster Squad, directed by Ruben Fleischer, with Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone; and Disconnect, directed by Henry Alex Rubin, with Alexander Skarsgard and Jason Bateman. He recently wrapped the Luc Besson produced independent thriller Intersection.
Grillo's previous film credits include Wes Craven's My Soul To Take; Mother's Day with Jamie King and Rebecca De Mornay; Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson and directed by Martin Campbell; Gavin O'Connor's Pride and Glory with Colin Farrell and Edward Norton;? Steven Spielberg's Minority Report with Tom Cruise; and The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate.
Grillo television credits include starring roles on The Shield, Prison Break, The Gates, The Kill Point with John Leguizamo, Battery Park with Elizabeth Perkins and Blind Justice with Ron Eldard, as well as guest star appearances on Law & Order: SVU, Without a Trace, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: NY, Las Vegas and The District.
The oldest of three children, Grillo grew up in New York City and spent his teen years in Rockland, New York. He migrated back to NYC to study and pursue acting where he eventually landed his first major role on the long running daytime drama Guiding Light. After three years, he left the soap to star in his first of many television pilots. He is an avid boxer and martial artist and sits on the board of Love our Children, a charity that educates against child abuse. Grillo lives in New York with his wife and three sons.
Cody Horn (Officer Davis) As an emerging young talent and modern-day hyphenate, Cody Horn continues to evolve with each new project she takes on as an actress, model, musician and environmental activist.
Horn was recently seen starring in the comedy Magic Mike as the female lead opposite Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film chronicles the trials and tribulations of an upstart male stripper who is taken under the wing of a more experienced colleague. Also starring Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer and Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike opened this summer for Warner Bros. on June 29, 2012.
In 2010, Horn made her acting debut in the film Twelve, directed by Joel Schumacher starring Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Zoe Kravitz and rapper 50 Cent. She then went on to star in Rob Reiner's Flipped. Prior to establishing a film career, Horn held the recurring role of Emily on the FX television series Rescue Me as well as the role of Jordan on the NBC series The Office.
The stunning 23-year-old, 5'10 beauty has modeled in advertising campaigns for Ralph Lauren, Polo Jeans Co., Izod, Ruehl, Roxy and Catherine Malandrino.
As an activist involved in various nonprofits and charities, Horn currently serves on the Board of Directors for "Global Green", the American affiliate of Green Cross International, which fosters a global value shift toward a sustainable and secure future. She is also on the "Young Hollywood Board of the Environmental Media Association" which believes that through television, film and music, the entertainment community has the power to influence the environmental awareness of millions of people. Horn received "The Futures Award" from the organization in 2005.
Horn graduated from New York University's Gallatin School with a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and currently divides her time between LA and NY.