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Role gave actor inside look at life as policeman


– It’s common for actors to say that making their latest film was a life-altering experience. When Jake Gyllenhaal talks about being profoundly affected by his work on “End of Watch,” he’s not exaggerating.

To prepare for the Los Angeles cop drama, he spent five months cruising crime-ridden neighborhoods in sheriff’s department and LAPD squad cars on the 4 p.m.-to-4 a.m. shift.

“On my first ride-along in Inglewood, someone was murdered. We were the second car on the scene,” he said. “That was definitely a wake-up call. We were involved in stolen-vehicle chases. You see domestic violence, disputes that turn violent. You really see your city differently after that.”

Gyllenhaal also took on the role of co-producer in David Ayer’s film, completing the project for a frugal $7 million. The shooting schedule was a mere 22 days, with ambitious scenes of street violence and chaotic gang shootouts with automatic weapons. With no budget for special effects, Gyllenhall and co-star Michael Pena were peppered by shrapnel from explosive squibs and inside the vehicle during high-speed car crashes.

“A lot of things were done with a split-second to go. We’d only have two chances,” he said.

The film opens with a chase filmed by a dashboard camera. “When that windshield blows? We had three of those windshields. If we didn’t get that maneuver right and hit the ground running with our guns coming out, we’re screwed.”

The 31-year-old star had never played a cop before. In fact, he considered the genre played out. What drew him to “End of Watch” was Ayer’s honest portrayal of life on the street.

The writer/director grew up in L.A.’s tough neighborhoods and understood the mix of mind-numbing routine and sudden violence that police work entails. “I felt there was a beating heart in this script,” and its portrayal of cops as average guys who are called on to display extraordinary heroism.