Long considered one of Hollywood's most dependable character actors, the 36-year-old suits up opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in the cop drama ''End of Watch''

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Why he looks familiar

Since his breakout turn as a protective father in 2005’s Oscar-winning Crash, Peña has proved himself equally adept at drama (World Trade Center), action (Battle: Los Angeles), and comedy (Tower Heist).

On-the-job training

To prepare for his role as an LAPD officer who becomes the target of a drug cartel in End of Watch, Peña spent weeks riding along with on-duty L.A. cops, leading to some scarily memorable moments. ”One time there was a Code 3, which means lights and sirens, all vehicles go to one place,” he says. ”There was a guy who was shot up in teh arms and legs. We saw the bullet holes in his body.” Post-traumatic stress

Although he feels a bond with Gyllenhaal, Peña hasn’t spent much time with his costar since the film wrapped. ”It almost felt like we went to war together,” he says. ”It was five months of seeing each other every day and being like brothers. I needed time to decompress. I text him every once in a while, but it was rough, dude.”

One for the kids

Peña, who has a 4-year-old son with artist Brie Shaffer, will lend his voice to Disney/Pixar’s Turbo, about a snail (Ryan Reynolds) who realizes his dream of being a race-car driver. ”I’m the guy who discovers him, sponsors him, and really believes in him,” he says. ”I don’t know if I can tell you any more!”

Dream role

Peña recently wrapped the lead role in a biopic of labor activist Cesar Chavez. ”My parents were farmers from small towns in Mexico. Chavez led the largest nonviolent movement in the history of America, and it’s not really documented.”

The perks of busting perps

Now that he’s played a cop, will Peña try to talk his way out of traffic tickets? ”Ah, that would be amazing,” he says. ”I don’t speed, by the way. Wink, wink.”

End of Watch

  • Movie
  • R
  • 109 minutes
  • David Ayer