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[Interview] ‘End of Watch’ Co-Stars Michael Pena and Natalie Martinez Talk Tough Chicks, Ride-Alongs and Gaffes

Written by on September 19, 2012 

With End of Watch I was struck by how much I became attached to the two cops played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña and how intense the film becomes. There are things you have seen before, and some twists and turns you might not expect, but above all writer/director David Ayer knocked it out of the park in terms of production. The handheld shots help give the film another step forward in immersing the audience. Earlier this month I was lucky enough to sit down with Peña and his co-star, Natalie Martinez, for an interview. Together we discussed the fact that we see female cops without the stereotypes in the film, how Gyllenhaal and Peña were cautious during the ride-alongs, how Martinez and Peña built their relationship, and the Chicken Dance. Check it out below.

The Film Stage: I noticed that while you are driving around, you weren’t wearing your seat belts. Is that something you picked up from other cops on the ride-alongs?

Michael Peña: Yeah. So many little things. For instance, if you a pulling up on a car you give yourself a car length in case they’re running you can pull out quickly. You don’t want to be too close. And the reason you don’t wear seat belts… well, in a high-speed pursuit you definitely would, but as I was pulling up, Jake’s door would be cracked open.

Yeah, I noticed that.

Peña: And sometimes he would leave it open for a long time. But he comes out first, towards the rear quarter panel, making sure he covers there. Then I would come around. All within a matter of seconds. When I see he’s OK I would come right behind the driver and ask him to put his hands on the steering wheel. But it was all by design. It’s those little things that you pick up and we drilled and drilled and drilled those things to make sure the LAPD cops, when they saw the movie, they’d be like, ‘OK, these guys know what they’re doing.’

Of course a lot of those things are going to come from the ride-alongs. Natalie, I interviewed you for Detroit 187 and you were doing ride-alongs up there as well.

Natalie Martinez: Yep.

We have some female cops in this film, and you rarely see female cops in this kind of movie. Did you interact with them at all? Just to hang out and swap stories? I’m assuming they did ride-alongs as well so did you have a little camaraderie or were you pretty much, ‘This is your spot’?

Martinez: I got along with [Cody Horn] and [America Ferrera]. We hung out a lot and got along really well. The big crew was them two, Jake, Michael, [Anna Kendrick], and I. We would hang out when we shot. I didn’t need ride-alongs for this because I’m the wife of a cop. That was more for Michael. But just knowing and being in those ride-alongs and how they live. How it affects them and their family and stuff. That helped me out in my role and any preparation I needed was basically just hanging out with Michael and establishing a good relationship with him so on set, everything was just easy. All the dialogue seems effortless and we were very comfortable with each other. I could bounce ideas back and forth or just putting my hand on him. Or just staring at him. I can just stare at him. We are comfortable with each other and we talked about this stuff. So my job was to just be his wife and be his friend and have that relationship more so than the cop aspect. I’ve done that quite enough, too. [Laughs]

Speaking of the female cops, did you appreciate the fact that they weren’t the stereotypical cops. They’re normal, tough women. But they don’t exude that on the outside.

Peña: Yeah, I liked that a lot. We saw a bunch of women that were police officers and they were like everyday women. And every once in awhile there would be a really, really tough lady cop. But it was unbelievable when I saw this woman pull over this guy and she was just really calm. She told him exactly what to do. And when you have that… like, you’re so certain about what you’re doing. ‘Go over there. Sir, go over there.’ And they actually went and did it because of the way that she said it. The way that she conducted herself with as much confidence and also because she’s got a gun that she can use. All of this is given by body language and command presence or command voice. They really got it done. Sometimes even better than the men did, just based on the fact that most guys won’t hit a woman.

Martinez: Yeah.

Peña: Or maybe it takes them back to mom.

Martinez: Yeah, if you think about it, society… if you’re raised right, and you do come from a mother so you have this respect for women. So you know very well that when a woman says ‘Sit down,’ sit down. Especially if she has a gun. [Laughs] I find women cops a little more… I get scared more from women cops than I do men cops just because you have to be a tough chick to make it into that field. They put you through the same thing as guys. There’s no easy way out just because you’re a girl. That means that they’re even stronger and tougher.

Definitely. In my life, when I’ve gotten pulled over, it’s usually one cop that gets out of the car. And I live in Dallas and I’m not usually driving in bad neighborhoods. But in a lot of movies like this, it’s typically two people. Two partners. Is that mainly inner city kind of stuff?

Peña: Yeah, because it’s like in inner city things and situations, you’re going to have five people in one car. If you’re one person… You’ve got to work in tandem with somebody else.

You’re going to be calling backup all the time.

Peña: Yeah. You’re going to be calling for backup too many times and then there’s two cars. If it’s a neighborhood watch kind of thing and you could quickly call backup, yea. But, literally, there was five or six people in a car, smelling like weed the whole time. If you feel that they have guns, one of them has to be pointing a gun right at the back of their head while the other guy is searching the car. Sometimes they don’t want to go down that easily and you have to make sure you apprehend the people. And sometimes they’re just big. There’s like big football players out in South Central, like, ‘Naw, bro, I don’t wanna do that.’ You have to be like, ‘GET DOWN!’ and you’re literally at a basketball rim. ‘I SAID GET DOWN!’ It’s like my son, who’s four years old, trying to boss me around; it’s not going to happen. So you need that help, man. But in Dallas, it seems pretty chill, dude. There’s a lot of golf courses here. [Laughs]

Peña: I don’t think there’s a lot of cops showing up…

Martinez: It’s a very clean, good city.

It’s funny because I noticed where you’re apprehending somebody that took a shot at you and you kind of twist their arm and you put your knee into their shoulder blade. I’m curious if you got that from them. You’re not supposed to hit this guy once you apprehend him. You’re not supposed to hit him in the face. But you have this passive aggressive thing where, ‘I’m really going to dig into you right now. You’re going to hurt. You’re going to feel me on top of you.’

Peña: Because he tried to shoot me.


Peña: The thing is that is weird is… imagine if you’re in the driver seat, right. And some cop grabs your arm, and twists it like this. [Makes a rolling motion] When your arm is straight, you lose all the strength in it. So you push on the elbow and grab the from the back of the neck, and that literally guides him out and he has no balance. The only balance he has is with his right hand. So you hug the arm, twist it, and then you sit on his back, there’s nothing he can do. And I love how the actor did it. He was like, ‘I didn’t get you? That’s aight.’ It was scarier!

Right, right. Well, there’s a key moment in the film, I have to say. I think you really captured the intensity of the Chicken Dance more than any other film I’ve seen.

Martinez: [Laughs]

So, I’m curious how long ago did you do the Chicken Dance? Did you need a refresher?

Martinez: I think we’re the ones that started it, too, huh?

Peña: You started it!

Martinez: I started it? [Laughs]

Peña: Then I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to do the Chicken Dance.’ And I don’t even remember how it goes…

Martinez: [Mimes the Chicken Dance then they both clap in unison] Ha. [Looks at Peña]: You’re going to learn a lot of these once your kid starts going to school. But I have a lot of little cousins and it’s always something fun that all the kids love.

Peña: Yea, I had no idea.

Martinez: Every time I go to charity things with kids, and whenever you need everyone to get together, the Chicken Dance always gets everyone together.

[All laugh]

Peña: Hard though, the Chicken Dance.

You and Jake were getting into it.

Peña: Yeah, but she started it!

You mentioned last night that you wrecked into that car on accident. I’m curious if there were any other mishaps and also about the ride-alongs and how y’all did them. Were y’all in the back?

Peña: Yeah, we were in the back.

Did you do it with Jake a lot?

Peña: Almost every time it was with Jake. I don’t know if there was anything else that happened. There’s little things, like I got punched in the nose and was bleeding. When you’re out there’s like little explosion things. There was this little ball of wood, that was supposed to let off splinters, and I crawled in this big shootout. Then, BAM, all these splinters went right into my arm. I was like, ‘AHHH!’. It hurt way worse than anything else. Number one, the explosion of that little pop. I think they just miscued it. And then I had to pull out all these little pieces of wood. For some reason, things like that always hurt more than the punch in the nose.

Martinez: Like little…

Peña: They’re little things and right in the nerve endings. So that kind of sucked. But for the ride-alongs, the windows were down, because the only way to open the door is through the outside. So you had to make sure you did that. And you had to get out of the car. Make sure that you’re not a sitting duck, because they would love to snip you off in the car.

So, are y’all decked out in gear?

Peña: Bullet proof vests. I had glasses on and I made sure that I had a hat.

So you didn’t look like Michael Peña and he didn’t look like Jake Gyllenhaal.

Peña: And he didn’t get recognized very much and I didn’t get recognized very much because when you’re getting arrested they’re not like, ‘Oh, man, that’s Jake Gyllenhaal!’

Martinez: But it’s not like that for Steven Seagal. You ever see Steven Seagal’s cop show?

And people are recognizing him all over the place.

Martinez: Yea, he became a cop in a town.

But of course, he’s arresting those people as well. He’s getting up close and personal.

Peña: Not only that, though, but he’s got a camera with him too.

Martinez: I remember this guy was like, ‘Oh, that’s Steven Seagal! I’m getting arrested by Steven Seagal!’ He was tripping out.

Peña: Yea, that didn’t happen to us.

I’m also curious, because these cars obviously have one back seat, did you get left behind a lot whenever people were getting arrested or whatever?

Peña: No, we would call in another car to bring us in. Man, the LAPD and the sheriff’s department really helped us out a lot. We did most of our ride-alongs with the sheriff’s department and they were instrumental in getting this right.

End of Watch hits theaters Friday, September 21st.

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