Michael Pena on Getting Real in David Ayer’s ‘End of Watch’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

Actor Michael Peña has already played a few cops in his career, but in David Ayer’s “End of Watch” he gets to play his most realistic one yet. It also marks the biggest role Peña has had so far in a career which has seen him give excellent performances in “Crash,” “World Trade Center” and “Observe and Report.” Taking on the role of LAPD officer Mike Zavala reminded Peña of his days growing up in Chicago, and his preparation proved to be far more intense than he ever expected it to be.

Peña grew up in a particularly rough area of Chicago where the lure of gang life was always strong. The actor, however, said he “never wanted to be in a gang” and that he “didn’t want to follow anybody’s orders” as he always thought of himself as an individual even when he was really little. Still, playing Mike Zavala brought up a lot of memories of those days:

“I grew up in the ghetto, and the thing is when there were problems, I knew when to get away. But police go to the problems,” said Peña. “I didn’t do that growing up. Seeing it through Jake (Gyllenhaal’s) eyes, it re-ignited what I always knew, but I guess I had buried it. I’ve been living in Hollywood for the past 15 years. And reality just smacks you in the face – that feeling of potential danger everywhere.”

Like his co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, Peña spent five months training with the Los Angeles Police Department which included ride-alongs which lasted 12 hours a day. There was also a good dose of weapons training, martial arts, boxing workouts, and lugging around chest cameras which were also called body cams.

“We did so many damn ride-alongs, dude,” said Peña. “At first it’s brand new, it’s awesome, and it’s amazing. You almost glamorize it in a way. Then you do ten more, and you start getting a little bored. Then ten more after that, you really get into the spirit of it. It was almost like a sport. We really wanted to get into the mindset of what it’s like to be a police officer.”

As for the body cams, Peña remembered them being “so heavy” and “gnarly.” It turned out though that some of the hardest things he had to do in “End of Watch” were not actually physical.

“I was driving a whole bunch,” Peña said. “Then you have the director (David Ayer) in back, which can be pretty nerve-wracking. Sometimes I didn’t know where life began and where the acting started.”

Pena and Gyllenhaal had never worked together before making “End of Watch,” and it apparently took some time to get the sense of brotherhood two cops can have.

“It took three months to click,” said Peña. “There’s a lot of pressure to play like brothers. We had to spend a lot of time together to opening up to each other as well as tactical training, rehearsing. Three months later we had a good rapport and we put that in the movie.”

It was also all the hard-hitting dialogue which Ayer came up with that made the working relationship between Peña’s and Gyllenhaal’s characters feels like a real brotherhood. Peña also admitted he and Gyllenhaal did very little in the way of improvisation on the set as neither of them wanted to mess with the director’s script.

“Nine times out of 10, you aren’t going to come up with something better,” Peña said.

Peña has certainly earned his moment in the spotlight, having given one memorable performance after another. His terrific work in “End of Watch” is not only a major step forward for him, but it also allows him to break through certain barriers which have been placed upon actors throughout the years:

“The script was written for actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and me – a Latin dude. It had to be a Latin dude, there is so much Latin (material) in it. Ten years ago, I don’t know if that would have been the case. I don’t know if it would have been so easy to do.”

SOURCES:

Brian Brooks, “‘End of Watch’ Star Michael Peña Sees Racial Barriers Coming Down in Hollywood,” Movieline.com, September 19, 2012.

Chris Vognar, “Michael Peña on ‘End of Watch:’ ‘We did so many damn ride-alongs,’” The Dallas Morning News, September 21, 2012.

Madeleine Marr, “Talking to ‘End of Watch’ star Michael Peña,” The Miami Herald, September 20, 2012.

Exclusive Video Interview: Maria Elena Laas and Ser Anzoategui Talk ‘Vida’

Among the talented actors to be found in the new Starz series “Vida” are Puerto Rican actress Maria Elena Laas and Latinx actor and playwright Ser Anzoategui. The two portray characters caught up in the vibrant and changing area of East Los Angeles, and their lives are suddenly disrupted by the appearance of two estranged sisters who have come back home for their mother’s funeral. Anzoategui plays Eddy, a sensitive and trustworthy person who was married to the sisters’ mother and who proves to be the heart of the community as well as an intimidating presence upon first glance. Laas stars as Cruz, and enigmatic lesbian who was a mentor to one of the sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada), before she left Los Angeles for Chicago. Now that Emma is back in town, she and Cruz will come to terms with the things left unspoken between them for far too long.

Laas has appeared in the movies “The Hot Chick,” “Suffering Man’s Charity” and “Airplane Disasters,” and she has appeared on the television shows “Chicago PD,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and TNT’s “Dallas.”

Anzoategui has had a gained a strong recognition due to her success in the theatre, and this led to Anzoategui being cast as a recurring character on the Hulu show “East Lost High.” In addition, Anzoategui has appeared on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “The Fosters” and “Shameless.”

While talking with Laas and Anzoategui at the “Vida” press day in Los Angeles, they spoke enthusiastically of how lucky they are to be a part of a show which blows away the stereotypes Hollywood has typically had of Latinos.

Please be sure to check out the interview below. “Vida” is now available to watch and stream on Starz, and the show proves to be an excellent case study in authenticity.

Vida cast photo

Exclusive Video Interview: Chelsea Rendon and Carlos Miranda Talk ‘Vida’

While at the press day for the new Starz show “Vida,” I got to talk with two of its stars, Chelsea Rendon and Carlos Miranda. Rendon plays Marisol, a young woman who is passionate about her politics and determined to fight against any and every injustice thrown into her path. Miranda stars as Johnny, a well-meaning guy who is busy running his dad’s auto shop and is on the verge of getting married to his pregnant girlfriend. However, when Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, Lyn (Melissa Barrera), arrives back in town, his plans for being a good husband and dad are challenged to a large degree. Both characters reside in East Los Angeles and in a community filled with pride and passion, and while they are certain of the paths in life they are meant to take, everything gets turned upside down for them.

Rendon began acting at the tender age of six years old, and she has won numerous awards for her role as Cristina on “No Turning Back.” She was featured on the shows “The Bridge,” “Major Crimes” and “Code Black,” and she also has a recurring role on “The Fosters.”

Miranda was born in raised in San Francisco, California, and he has appeared in such movies as “Warrior,” Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and “Grandma” which starred Lily Tomlin. On television, his credits include “Chicago PD,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and on the TNT revival series “Dallas.”

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it debuts on the Starz network on May 6th.

 

Exclusive Video Interview: Tanya Saracho Talks About ‘Vida’

Vida cast photo

She has served as a writer on “How to Get Away with Murder” and on the HBO TV series “Girls” and “Looking.” And now, playwright Tanya Saracho presents us with her very own television series, “Vida.” Set in East Los Angeles, it follows a pair of estranged sisters who reunite for their mother’s funeral. Their hometown is a vibrant area and features a strong Latinx community with residents who find an empowerment in this place they cannot easily find anywhere else. As “Vida” goes on, we discover just how much history this part of Los Angeles contains and of the changes others threaten to make which can erase a past which needs to be preserved.

In addition to her work on television, Saracho has had her plays produced at New York City’s Primary Stages and 2nd Stage, Steppenwolf Theater, The Denver Theatre Center, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She was named one of nine national Latino Luminarios by Café Magazine and was given the first Revolucionario Award in Theater by the National Museum of Mexican Art. In addition, she is the founder of the Alliance of Latino Theatre Artists (ALTA).

I got to speak with Saracho while she was in Los Angeles to promote “Vida.” She talked of how she went about creating such complex characters, how she likes to give her cast only so much information before they receive the next episode’s script, and of how excited she is about filming the show in East Los Angeles. I often say there is always something new to discover about Los Angeles no matter how long you have lived there, and Saracho agreed as she is still learning of how far back the history of this particular community extends.

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it premieres on Starz May 6th.

Exclusive Video Interview: Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada Talk About ‘Vida’

Vida Emma and Lyn photo

Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada play long-estranged sisters, Lyn and Emma, who reunite for their mother’s funeral on the new Starz television series, “Vida.” These two could not be more different than the other, and both are forced to deal with the building their mother, Vidalia, owned and the bar she ran. What they thought would be a short trip turns into a homecoming where they reassess where their lives are at and come to terms with their mother’s sexuality after meeting her wife and now widow, Eddy (Ser Anzoátegui). From there, we come to learn more about Lyn and Emma with each successive episode as both Barrera and Prada create complex characters who are not all they appear to be on the surface.

Barrera plays Lyn, a care-free party girl who has taken her good lucks and used them to her advantage to get a wealthy boyfriend and live a fabulous life in San Francisco. Barrera previously appeared in the third season of Netflix’s “Club de Cuervos,” and she has acted on popular telenovelas back in Mexico including “Siempre Tuya Acapulco” and “Tanto Amor.” Having trained in musical theater at New York University, she has starred in the musicals “Spring Awakening” and “Young Frankenstein.”

Prada portrays Emma, a smart and very driven woman who has created a strong career for herself in Chicago. She starred as Gabi in the AMC short form series “Fear the Walking Dead: Passage” and is one of the founding members of Damarosa, a female art collective which celebrates the significant role of women have played in art, literature, and politics.

It was a real treat to speak with Barrera and Prada while they were in Los Angeles for the “Vida” press day held at the Four Seasons Hotel. Both described how wonderfully flawed and complex their characters are on the show, how rare it is to find roles like these, and of the joy they had in filming these episodes on the streets of East LA.

Please check out the interview below and be sure to watch “Vida” when it debuts on the Starz network on May 6.