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Actor Michael Pena poses for a photo as he promotes the movie "End of Watch" during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012.CP

Michael Peña has been the funniest guy in a scene opposite Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down) and showed off his dramatic chops with smaller roles in back-to-back Oscar winners (Crash, Million Dollar Baby).

Now, with more than a decade of film and television work to his name, the 36-year-old actor is getting the chance to shine in his biggest part yet – as an LAPD officer alongside co-star Jake Gyllenhaal in David Ayer's End of Watch. Peña auditioned for the role – something he still has to do despite a robust résumé that last year alone included two comedies (Tower Heist, 30 Minutes or Less) a drama (The Lincoln Lawyer) and a blockbuster alien-invasion flick (Battle Los Angeles).

"Sometimes you still audition for projects that are really good, and this one was really good," Peña says. It's a role that's helping vault him to the A-list: Next year he'll appear alongside Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin in Gangster Squad, and has a starring role in a biopic of civil-rights activist César Chavez. "I definitely want to do more of these kind of movies. There's a little bit of action, there's a little bit of drama, it's a thriller, there's humour in it. It's not the easiest material," he says.

Even with his experience, Peña still wasn't completely confident he could nail his part in End of Watch. "That's the most dialogue I've ever had to do. I definitely put in as much work as possible to not suck."