Jake Gyllenhaal takes on a cop's life in End Of Watch, which opens in cinemas on Friday, November 23. The hunky US actor reveals why being a policeman is scarier than it seems, his real-life 'bromance' with co-star Michael Pena and his return to theatre.
By Shereen Low
Jake Gyllenhaal is giving off a slight air of weariness and he's making parts of our interview feel like a police interrogation.
The 31-year-old looks ever so slightly delinquent in his casual jumper and trousers, mop of dark brown hair and unruly beard.
He's cagey when asked if he would take a bullet for anyone, offering simply a sheepish "um-hmm", and bats away a question about Fifty Shades Of Grey (he's been linked by the rumour mill to the part of Christian Grey in the upcoming film adaptation) with a shake of the head and a curt: "I'm not going to answer that question."
Maybe he's tired. He's been throwing himself into his off-Broadway debut If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, which has enjoyed a two-month sold-out run and has been extended to December.
Either way, the police analogy is appropriate because he's here to talk about his latest film, cop flick with a difference End Of Watch.
In the film, which is written and directed by former US Navy serviceman David Ayer, Gyllenhaal plays police officer Brian Taylor who, alongside his buddy and colleague Mike Zavala (played by Michael Pena), patrols his patch, talking about life and love in the process, and springing into action when duty calls.
"What sets it apart from all of the other cop genres that we've seen in so many mediums is the real friendship between these two guys and the fact that their relationship is potentially threatened," explains the Oscar-nominated actor.
"End Of Watch doesn't exist without the bond between them. 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 film is different. We're two pieces of a whole, and this doesn't work without either one of us."
Despite his hectic schedule, Gyllenhaal says he's at his happiest when he's working on an all-consuming project.
"I want to come home at the end of the day and be wiped out and feel I've torn my heart out from acting and feel fulfilled. At this point I don't have the desire to do anything other than projects that make me feel that way," he says.
End Of Watch certainly falls into that field. The first actor to be cast, Gyllenhaal so impressed the director and producers with his dedication and passion that they gave him an executive producer credit.
"I spent five months preparing for the movie together with Michael for a 22-day shoot, which is the shortest movie shoot I did in my career," he says.
While the shoot, which took place on location in one of the most crime-ridden and violent neighbourhoods in the US, was short, the consequences of what he experienced are far-reaching.
"I learnt a lot of things about policing and law enforcement and the world that a police officer lives and works in, and the sacrifices they have to take," he says.
"I also learnt about commitment to the movie itself from my job and the absurdity of my own job. How much work it takes to create something credibly authentic and real, and the devotion it takes from your own life," he continues, before adding with a chuckle: "Do you want me to keep going?"
Gyllenhaal says the easiness on screen between him and co-star Pena is real. "We had not worked together before this movie, but five months together was enough to create a real friendship.
"We spent almost every day together. We did tactical training with live ammunition, we did ride-alongs with LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department). We did fight training and sparring five days a week in a dojo, and in between we were rehearsing the scenes with David - each one we did over 100 times each. And after five months we actually became real friends."
The ride-alongs were a harrowing experience. "The very first one that we went on, someone was murdered in front of me. It was a gang shooting that was obviously drug-related," says Gyllenhaal.
"We were the second car on the scene. I was scared at the time because it's really easy to become complacent. What was actually scariest was watching these police officers and asking myself, 'How will I function being an actor in the back seat of their car, which is an extra responsibility for them, to make sure we're safe and protected?'"
He adds: "You got some pretty incredible guys dealing with both things at the same time. It was really life-affirming. My three closest friends are police officers from this adventure and that's more important to me than any movie."
As you would expect from Ayer, who counts Training Day, S.W.A.T and Street Kings among his projects and whose work is inspired by his teenage years on the most troubled streets of Los Angeles, End Of Watch is authentically gritty and violent.
Gyllenhaal defends the brutal scenes, saying: "It is not in any way gratuitous, it is done in a way that is real and communicates something more about the heart of the movie than it does being indiscriminate violence."
As the son of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, and the younger brother of Maggie, it was inevitable that Gyllenhaal would go into acting.
His big screen debut was as Billy Crystal's son in 1991's City Slickers, before his break-out turn in October Sky in 1999 - but it was dark drama Donnie Darko that made people take notice.
He has enjoyed starring roles in blockbusters such as The Day After Tomorrow and Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, and been praised for his performances in Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain opposite the late Heath Ledger, war drama Jarhead and David Fincher's crime thriller Zodiac.
It is, therefore, understandable that with the choice of roles he's being offered, Gyllenhaal is being picky about his projects. His future jobs include comedy Nailed with Jessica Biel, thriller An Enemy and vigilante drama Prisoners.
"I think when you do anything, any endeavour, be it artistic or whatever, if you're not learning something from it, you should stop doing it," he says.
Extra time - Perfect police Paris/Classic cop couples
:: Lethal Weapon (1987) - LAPD Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and Narcotics Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) are the original cop buddies.
:: Rush Hour (1998) - Chris Tucker (Detective Carter) and Jackie Chan's (Detective Lee) partnering was so successful that it spawned three films, and a possible fourth.
:: Hot Fuzz (2007) - Polar opposites Simon Pegg (PC Angel) and Nick Frost (PC Butterman) have to join forces to solve a murder whodunnit in the village.
:: The Other Guys (2010) - Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg team up as "desk jockey" Detective Allen Gamble and hot-headed Terry Hoitz respectively in Adam McKay's comedy parody.
:: 21 Jump Street (2011) - Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as the mismatched crime-busting couple in the big-screen version of the 1987 TV series.
:: End Of Watch opens in cinemas on Friday, November 23