As the mind behind gritty cop flicks like Training Day and Harsh Times, writer/director David Ayer has brought credibility back to a genre that's been floundering like Vin Diesel's career. His latest flick, Street Kings, stars Keanu Reeves as a cop who takes on the corrupt L.A.P.D. with little more than a 9-millimeter and a bulletproof vest. We talked to the director to find out how he's bringing the drama back to crime dramas.

Street Kings features both Common and The Game. Do executives force you to cast rappers to boost ticket sales or is that your call?

No, that's something I like. It's not just like, "I like your album, here's a role.” It's almost like a football tryout—they have to fight for these parts. They audition. I think Common is an amazing actor. He takes the work very, very seriously and shows up incredibly prepared. And The Game's from Compton. He's from the world. He's got street cred.

With roles in Wanted and the new Terminator flick, it seems like casting directors are desperate to turn Common Sense into a B-list action star.

[Laughs] At the end of the day if you're an actor you work. You take whatever you can get. You don't have any vote in what you're offered—all you can do is develop your skills. Having said that, I think he's got a great future. He's really somebody to watch and I promise you he will be doing some interesting leading roles in the future.

Training Day was famously shot in the heart of L.A.'s gang areas. Did you stomp through the same hoods while filming Street Kings?

Yeah, absolutely. It's not your typical view of L.A. We were down in the real neighborhoods like South Central and East L.A. I love shooting in those areas. I think they're visually interesting and they're kind of new for a lot of viewers. There's great people there.

You grew up in those neighborhoods. Have things changed since your school days?

I think things are getting better. When I was growing up there weren't any chain restaurants. There was no McDonalds, no Burger King, nothing like that. There weren't even grocery stores. Now they're building new schools, there's infrastructure. There's Starbucks in the hood now. It's absolutely changed.

It's been over 15 years since the riots. Has the relationship between the community and L.A.'s finest gotten any better?

There's always going to be areas where you have that tension and those are going to be the most gang-infested areas. The nightmare for gangbangers is a positive relationship between the community and the police, because then they can't operate. You have to wonder who is manipulating the situation. The L.A.P.D. has also gotten really smart about their game. Instead of it being all white guys like it was, it's a diverse police force. They've sort of lowered their profile and they're much less paramilitary. That hard charging thing is going away. And they're much more responsive to community needs. It's evolving. I think the relationship is getting better, but there are holdout areas.

Most of the characters in Street Kings are mad with power. Do you think the police have too much authority?

It's a double bargain in that how can you engineer a system differently? How else would you do it? What is the option? I mean a senior police administrator has an incredible amount of power. And the concept of the movie is that these guys shape reality with a pen, shape perceptions with paperwork. It's how you write up a report that sort of alters everything. That's the question of the film and I don't know if there's' a real answer to that. Ideally, you have to trust the men who hold these positions, but at the end of the day they're just men like you and me.


Street Kings is now on DVD.