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TORONTO - It may seem like a silly cliche or easy hyperbole for an actor to claim their life has changed because of a role in a movie, but after looking into Jake Gyllenhaal's eyes its hard to dispute his claim. The 31-year-old actor trained more for David Ayer's "End of Watch" than any previous role and what he went learned to play LAPD officer Brian Taylor has clearly stuck with him.
Gyllenhaal has impressed in films such as "Brokeback Mountain" (his lone Oscar nomination so far), "Jarhead," "Donnie Darko" and "Zodiac," but his charismatic and intense turn in "Watch" is absolutely one of his finest performances to date. An original screenplay by Ayer ("Harsh Times"), "Watch" finds Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as two officers with a brotherly bond working the dangerous streets of South Central Los Angeles. That log line sounds may sound like a "been there, done that" exercise, but Ayer has flipped the convention by shockingly letting our heroes remain actual good guys (well, most of the time). He also used hand held video cameras to provide an intimacy to the actor's performances that gives the film more energy than you'd expect. Because the indie film only had 22 days to shoot, Ayers convinced both Gyllenhaal and Pena to train for five months before hand.
"We were in ride-alongs for 2-3 times a week for those five months from 4 in the afternoon until 4 in the morning," Gyllenhaal reveals. "Then we did fight training almost every morning with a dojo in Echo Park with one of Dave's best friends and then we were doing tactical training with Rick Lopez who trained S.W.A.T. with live ammunition."
He continues, "All the guys we ran across, all the partners - there were probably five or six different sets of partners in the Sheriff's Dept. or LAPD that we worked with and yeah, this movie changed my life. I mean, the experience of it. We shot it in 22 days, but we prepared for five months for it. And every step along the way I learned something about myself. And I saw the world in a different way."
That may sound a tad dramatic, but as Gyllenhaal goes into detail his feelings may be a bit easier to understand.
"The first ride I went on I saw someone murdered. It changes your life. You don't come back from something like that and not see the world a different way," Gyllenhaal says. "And subsequently, [watching] everything from domestic violence to stolen cars to you name it. And along with the camaraderie and the friendship and the joking and all of that seeing that for real for five months and shooting for 22 days? and seeing it for real? I won't be the same in many, many good ways."
And, it goes without saying, those experiences helped shape a performance that should get prime consideration from any critics' group, SAG or the Academy. That's this pundit's opinion at least.
To watch the complete interview, check out the video at the top of this post.
"End of Watch" opens nationwide on Friday.