Some actors will do anything for a role and stoop to new depths – literally. Just ask beautiful and risk-taking Blanchard Ryan who, in the undeniably chilling Open Water, does it all: Full frontal nudity, real diving and cavorting with real sharks. Jaws this ain’t and Ryan says that she literally plunged into this film, throwing caution to the wind. “I am sort of a practical person and the sort of actor that works from a very practical perspective”, Ryan explains on the phone.
“The approach to my career doesn’t necessarily balance the really artsy, creative side and to me, so if a film is going to be inconvenient and not going to make me money, I don’t do it. I’m just practical that way. I’ve read a lot of independent scripts and been offered plenty of things like that, but I just turn them down, but for some reason this one completely captured my imagination. When I left the audition I’m thinking why am I even thinking about it? I was annoyed by that because normally I can put these things out of my head and be like: It’s not for me, and move on. But I was thinking about it days and days later and the director said right out that if you come for the callback, you’re familiar with the sharks, you’re taking your clothes off, you’re leaving town for however long it takes us to finish the film and it’s not negotiable, and if you’re not up for any of that stuff we totally understand but don’t take this any further and don’t get us all excited about you if you’re not going to do it. It was an interesting approach because by the time I went back for the callback, all those issues were off the table. It was a done deal and we never really talked about it again, so everyone was saying what kind of negotiations did you go into, and was that a really hard decision to make and oddly the decisions were all made before I even knew I had the part.” Ryan says that even with the nudity and sharks, she genuinely believed in the story. “I thought it was an unbelievable opportunity for me, creatively, and I just said I don’t know why I want to do this crazy thing but I do.”
Open Water starts out deceptively enough, as a young married couple, in enjoying their first vacation in years, go diving off the Florida coast. When their charter boat inadvertently leaves them behind, they brave the elements and sharks, in order to stay alive until help arrives. Unlike Jaws, there are no rubber sharks or stunt people here. In this very atypical Hollywood movie, what you see is what you get, including a unique ending. Without revealing too much about the film, Ryan is unconcerned as to how this unconventional thriller will play to mainstream movie audiences. “Well I feel two ways, on one hand it’s given us an unbelievable launch, we couldn’t be getting better press or be given better opportunities and certainly I feel our visibility is going to help out with the box office. They’ve given us every chance we have of selling some tickets but on the other hand, the way it’s been marketed as this big scary shock thriller, and I do think it has elements of that but I’m afraid that the 16 year old boy that goes to watch people being ripped from stem to stern for an hour and a half is going to be a little disappointed.”
Open Water is very much a psychological thriller that goes against the grain of Hollywood pop culture. Ryan wants it known that Open Water is as much a film about character, as it is about sharks. “Sometimes I think the trailer should show a bit more of the quiet times and maybe more as a suspense thriller than like a gory horror movie. But then again people might think that looks boring and they wouldn’t go and we’d never get a chance to show them what it’s really like. I trust the experts and I have my own apprehensions whereby people are expecting one movie and going to see another one, but I hope that ultimately, if that is the case, that the movie we made is a good one and that they’ll like it anyway, even if it’s different to what they thought it would be like.”
Prior to shooting Open Water, Ryan recalls having had some diving experience, but at the same time was already “a strong swimmer and on the swim team. I’ve always been comfortable in the water, and grew up on the ocean.” But nothing could quite prepare her for the rigorous dive work she endured on this film, not to mention swimming with sharks. “I’ve always been really afraid of sharks, as everyone has and it was quite draining to me, physically, and was just an unbelievably gruelling shoot. We were fighting currents from morning ’til night, we had to be tethered to the boat with fishing line and the currents were just trying to push us over backwards all the time. Obviously we couldn’t shoot the movie lying on our backs and had to be fighting underneath the water with our feet and with our fins to keep upright the entire time. We were supposed to look like we were just bopping there casually in the water but meanwhile we were struggling to stay upright. It was very physically tiring with the sunburn, dehydration and the fatigue. You’re just tired of being wet, you want to go back to the hotel room and dry off. The next morning you’re in your wetsuit, still wet from the night before and you don’t want to put on that cold, clammy wetsuit and get back into the ocean again.” Yet, Ryan adds, she would still do it again. On every other aspect it was a dream come true, because creatively we just had the best time. There was no nonsense. We just did our work. There was no hair, makeup, and wardrobe, no lighting to set up, no crew members to keep happy, no craft service, or anything. We just got up in the morning, put on our stuff and did our job from morning to night. It was just a joy, the physical, strenuous stuff aside.”
As for her character in the film, a woman driven by professional self-obsession, Ryan says she had no trouble relating to her.” She reminded me of me when I was younger, when I was just very much caught up in planning for the future, daydreaming about what it’s all going to be like. You sort of lose sight of the present, which is that you have to live your life, because you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” Blanchard, whose career is likely to take off dramatically with the release of Open Water, says she has learned to less ambitious these days. “The happiest times in my life have been when I’ve struggled. It gets tiring sometimes, with what I’m going through right now, when you think about it, in that this is the most exciting time when you’re striving for something. This movie coming out means the world to me, whereas Tom Hanks has made 40 movies, so I can’t imagine that he’s as excited about his movies as I am about this one. When you’ve done 10 or 15, they’re all the same and it all gets to be old hat, it’s just not the same level of excitement. I’m sure I’m satisfied on other levels but I really am trying to stop and smell the flowers and enjoy this time because so much is changing and so much is new.”
Ryan may not have too much time to smell any flowers if the hype surrounding Open Water is anything to go by. Doors are slowly but surely opening up for the actress. “I really have got some great opportunities, though we haven’t made any decisions about anything, and so I don’t know what I’m going to do next. Obviously the next thing I do is quite critical, in terms of what I choose and the things that were coming from the gate were the horror thriller things again and I don’t think I need to do another one of those. That’s the obvious thing that people would think of: Get that girl, she’s crazy, she’ll do anything,” she says, laughingly, as she recalls one of the more ludicrous scripts on offer. “It was called Snakes on a Plane, and oh my God, I was cracking up. It’s like 50 venomous, poisonous, lethal snakes that get loose in this airplane and everyone’s screaming, climbing on their chair and trying to survive the 50 snakes. So I’m trying to avoid getting into the role of the girl who does all the stupid things in movies. I want something nice, dry and indoors for my next project. I’ve paid my dues, so I don’t need to go through that again. But Snakes on a Plane, I’ve got to say, I’m kind of interested.”