Michael Pena spoke exclusively with 24WiredTV about his latest film, End of Watch. Opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in the movie, Pena plays Mike Zavala, an officer patrolling the mean streets of L.A. and thrust into conflict with a Latino gang. Pena opened up about how the movie depicts Latinos, the connection the project has to his childhood in the ghetto, and getting to play his dream role of the legendary Cesar Chavez in a new biopic.
24WiredTV: When you first read the script for End of Watch, how did you feel about how Latino culture was represented?
Michael Pena: I’m actually really cool with it. There’s not too many times where you have a Latin part in a movie that’s written strictly for a Latino. [My character] is a good man. He’s fighting all the fights for the right reasons. He’s depicted as somebody who actually really loves his wife, who thinks real virtues and life are sacred. Little things like that made me want to do this movie so badly. And then the way the gangsters were portrayed, it’s pretty real. I know some people may argue, but sometimes that stuff isn’t necessarily a choice. Where I grew up, that’s the way they grew up, and that’s what they know. I had a really good brother, and I got into a little bit of trouble when I was a kid. And he definitely, definitely helped me out, into not falling into that kind of life. It could have went either way. I played football instead. Also, [to play] someone who’s actually proud of their heritage? Oh my god, it was an amazing experience. I think that‘s why I really wanted to do it. Number one, the script was awesome, but the celebration of letting people know what Mexican culture is like? The quinceanera part–I’m sure if it was a huge studio movie, that probably the first thing that they would cut.
24WiredTV: What was the most challenging part of playing Mike in this film?
Pena: Actually, it as the dialogue. The dialogue was written really, really specifically. I wouldn’t normally speak like that, but I have to do it in a way that seems really natural. Which is every actor’s job. But that was a tough one. “This fool’s got more bling than the old lady’s wedding ring.” I don’t speak like that. It wasn’t even like “ghetto talk.” It was like Mike Zavala: Ghetto Cop. It definitely made it more challenging.
24WiredTV: How did you get involved in End of Watch in the first place?
Pena: Well, it was a basic thing, where I had to audition for it. You know, Jake [Gyllenhaal] was involved, and even Jake read for it. We auditioned, and it was like 20 pages of dialogue. I did an okay job, but this is the kind of role that you really need to do your research on.
Pena: Totally. You see cops, and they have to have a certain amount of control over people. They have to be able to control people. I think whenever that happens, sometimes, you get a resentment. Then you realize what their motives are. They really want to protect the neighborhood, from all the guys who aren’t necessarily the nicest people, or want to make a quick buck selling this or stealing that. If you’re stealing something, you’re getting it for nothing. You’re getting it for free. Somebody else worked really hard for this, you know? I grew up in the ghetto; that’s something that, when you’re a kid, you don’t really understand. There were a lot of friendly cops out there, but I didn’t quite understand that. That they understood that 80% percent of the people, maybe even more, were actually really good people.
24WiredTV: Would you mind talking a bit about your upcoming role as Cesar Chavez?
Pena: I went to Comic-Con a year ago. I forgot who asked me, but somebody said, “What’s your dream role?” And I was like, “I don’t really have any dream roles, because in actually there’s writers that come up with characters that are even better than my dreams.” But there’s one character I’d like, and that’s Cesar Chavez. And the reason is, my parents were farmers. They weren’t getting compensated fairly. Four months [after Comic-Con] Diego Luna gives me a call and says, “Hey man, do you want to have a meeting about this movie?” I was like, “I’m in.” Diego has a really interesting view of the character. That’s another one that was really close to my heart.