(NO SPOILERS CONTAINED!)
Diving into deep end
Primal fears — the new film Open Water explores them, the two lead actors in it had to battle them to get the job done.
The film, opening Friday, depicts a young American couple who go scuba diving in the tropics and find themselves accidentally stranded in the open ocean. As their already-stressed relationship spirals into crisis, they are menaced by grey reef and bull sharks, stung by poisonous jellyfish and terrified by issues of abandonment.
The film was suggested by a real-life incident in Australia, then fictionalized with other incidents inspiring the filmmakers’ research, too. But shark fear is always a factor.
“During those days shooting with the sharks I was in tears sometimes,” actress Blanchard Ryan confessed to The Toronto Sun during a visit to publicize the much-buzzed-about indie film. “I was so scared, SO SCARED!”
Her character, who is named Susan (which is Ryan’s own real first name — Blanchard is her middle name) had enormous appeal to her, but there were problems, too.
There was the mandated nude bedroom scene — brief but graphic. And she and co-star Daniel Travis, who plays her husband, had to spend 30 days treading water, primarily on location 18 miles off the coast of a Bahamian island among a healthy population of wild sharks.
“The role of Susan was why I took the movie,” says Ryan, the daughter of NHL executive Ron Ryan, a Windsor-born hockey professional who is now president of the Philadelphia Flyers. “I took it despite the nudity, despite the sharks, despite all the dangers that were inherent in it … I figured that I couldn’t say no. So I did it — but I was really afraid.”
Unlike Ryan, Travis is a newcomer to film. He had other fears to contend with — swimming with sharks was actually an attraction for this adventurer.
“The shark aspect was exciting to me,” Travis says, remembering many incidents when they literally bumped into him, part of their feeding behaviour before they bite into something.
“I wasn’t scared at all,” Travis says. “She (Ryan) was scared for both of us. I think that my anxieties are placed in a different area. I must have lost the genetic disposition to be afraid of sharks.”
One of Travis’ real fears, however, is a major and important theme. Travis has a fear of being left alone in the open ocean.
“That was actually a much greater fear for me,” he says. The shoot was intimate. There were two actors in the water and only two crew members on board the small boat, writer-director Chris Kentis and his producer wife Laura Lau, with both handling digital cameras. Travis felt vulnerable when the boat would disappear from view in ocean swells.
“There was an instant recognition of our insignificance in the grand scheme of things in the universe,” he says. “When all you can see is water on any side and the only thing left recognizable is the person next to you, that’s intimidating. That was a chilling moment for me in shooting.”
One positive that helped both actors overcome their fears was friendship. While the filmmakers did not know it during the auditions, Ryan and Travis are good friends who already knew and trusted one another. But that also means they are willing now to tattle on one another.
“The most scared that I ever saw Daniel,” Ryan says with a mischievous grin, “was at the opening at Sundance (where Open Water made its impact and sold to Lions Gate Films). When he saw all the people filing into the theatre, I thought he was going to be sick.”
Primal fears — everybody has them.
STARS LEARN TO SWIM WITH ‘LAND SHARKS’
The careers of actors Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis are soaring because they took the plunge in the break-all-the-rules thriller Open Water, which is now creating a buzz in Hollywood.
“It’s sort of the equivalent of being shot out of a catapult,” says Travis, “and right now we are flying through the air, flailing away.” Adds Ryan: “We’re hoping we land in a nice trash pile, as opposed to cement, but we’re ready to go splat on the ground.”
Ryan says she would prefer, continuing the metaphor into whimsy, to land on a soft cloud. “But I figure a trash pile is the best-case scenario. It is Hollywood, after all. There are no cushy landings, I think. But it’s an exciting time.”
As Open Water continues to get them consideration for bigger projects, Ryan says, “Land sharks are much scarier! The ones in the water are innocent!”
It is one of the best films of the year! Easily!!
(NO SPOILERS CONTAINED!)