Interview - Michael Pena


Interview - Michael Pena
The star talks about his experience on cop drama End of Watch
Training Day and Harsh Times writer David Ayer directs his third film End of Watch with leading men Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena and we caught up with Pena by phone from the London Film Festival to talk about this new take on the cop thriller genre.

CLICK: How did you get involved with End of watch?
Well first like anything else you read the script and sometimes you just look at who’s involved and you want to be in that movie. And with this one I read it and fell in love with it. It’s like a fresh look at the cop drama. And thank God a lot of people are agreeing as well. It was a joy to read and then I had a meeting with the director and he was planning on something very real and big and I said I wanted it. And he said ‘ok good audition!’ and I hoping he was just going to give me the part! So I auditioned and then four days later I got the part.

CLICK: The found footage style of the film is unusual – was that always the plan from the script stage?
Yea that was on the first page. That was the first thing you read – it was right after the title page. And there was a plan so that nobody would be disillusioned with how it was going to turn out.

CLICK: Well I read that originally it was all going to be found footage – was that true?
Maybe. You know we asked if there was going to be any traditional coverage and he said ‘yea just the major shots to save my ass.’ And then in the editing they kind of did a hybrid of both which I think is just awesome! They broke a lot of filmmaking purist rules. But I think what they did was whatever the best take was, that’s what they used.

CLICK: It doesn’t matter if it’s not in keeping with the style?
Yea dude and at the end of the day the audience is who you’re going for. You want to entertain them for sure but you also want to affect them. And this movie affected them; my brother who usually gives me a handshake after each screening, after Crash or whatever this time he gave me a full blown hug. That’s my barometer of how good the movie is. He loved it and he’s not a very expressive dude so when that happened I thought it must be cool.

CLICK: What was the casting process like – was Jake cast first?
Jake was already on board and I was just waiting around to see if I can get an audition. And then you know I don’t know if I was their choice 100 percent but I was calling them to make sure I got the part. I'm sure that other people were doing that as well but this is the role of a lifetime. Crash and World Trade Centre were and this one was and the movie after this is as well – Chavez. Those are the roles you want to be a part of.

CLICK: Did you test for chemistry then? Because the relationship is so important.
Yea we had a chemistry read. It was me and Jake and then once I got the part it was me and my wife Natalie Martinez. It’s always good to see whether or not it can work because if it doesn’t work I don’t want to be in the movie. If it’s not going to work, especially with the wives too. There was some pretty easy chemistry with me and Natalie. It’s not the biggest part so that’s why it’s even more important but audiences had to believe that we were married and I got a lot of really good responses about that. That we looked like a real married couple.

CLICK: Did it take longer to build that relationship with Jake?
Yea the first two and a half months we didn’t fully get along. But something happened after two months I don’t even know what happened it was like… shit man I really don’t know what happened but we just got to get along. And I knew he had my back and I had his back and it was really cool. He’s a buddy now to this day, even though we grew up really different. I guess we both have an appreciation for the same kind of acting style and movies.

CLICK: You also got to do some training with the LAPD – what was that like?
: Oh yea we did with the Sherriff’s department as well that part was fantastic. We did a lot of ride alongs which kind of opens your eyes to the different parts of town! Some being very dark and very crime ridden and they’re scary man. When you get out of that cop car to get a cup of coffee you’re watching your back to make sure no one is going to shoot you in the face! It changed my life though too in a way. Because I grew up in the ghetto then I left there and grew up in Hollywood where at worst you have champagne problems. And then this one forced my back in to look at it and I came to this cool and also sad realisation that 80 percent of the world lives in some kind of poverty. And that the life that I lead isn’t the most popular or normal. So it changed my life and I used that for the movie.

CLICK: Were you ever interested in being a cop when you were younger? Did this bring up any of those memories?
Yea it did. I wanted to do something in the armed forces and I ended up working at the Board of Trade and doing some finance but it was cool man I definitely liked it.

CLICK: Did you get to shoot any of the footage yourself?
Yea I did I was able to have the chest cam on and you know really use it. I thought it was fantastic there’s not too many times where you get to handle a camera and a lot of the things I did were actually in the movie. I didn’t get paid any extra!

CLICK: Those first person moments with the gun – did you shoot them?
Yea those are the things that you had to shoot – there’s no other way to get that angle unless you shoot it. And that was something that was a challenge but I was glad that I could do it and I actually got into it!

CLICK: You talked about loving the script but there are also several scenes which feel adlibbed – were they?
Yea I mean 97 percent of the movie was already written, there was very little improv. And that’s because mainly I can’t write better than David Ayer. He’s an award winning writer and he comes up with fantastic dialogue. The thing that we definitely worked on was trying to make it look as improvisational as possible so the thing that we did was literally rehearse things 100 times just so it was second nature. And we did it and it was great. I keep getting that which is one of the best compliments that you can give an actor, that it looked really real.

CLICK: The film is all about relationships – between you and Jake and your wife etc. Did you notice that kind of connection and sense of community with the officers you worked with?
For sure yea that’s what’s different about this movie – we had a little family with Natalie, me, Jake, America Ferrera, Cody Horn, Frank Grillo. We made our own kind of family, our own kind of movie. So that’s why it’s so weird cos it’s a small group of people and we did our own story. So it’s kind of like the little engine that could, it came out of nowhere and people are liking it. So you gotta be fortunate that you can be in that position. This movie is mainly about relationships but there’s humour in it, there are thriller elements. But people are liking it so I’m digging it!

CLICK: Finally, do you have any other projects lined up? You mentioned Chavez.
I'm doing Gangster Squad, that comes out in January. And then midyear I did this movie called Chavez where I play Caesar Chavez and we’ll be doing the festivals for that one.

End of Watch is in cinemas from the 23rd of November and is reviewed right here.

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