“Open Water” actress Blanchard Ryan talks about what it was like to swim with actual hungry sharks for a movie about swimming with hungry sharks. No CGI here. Just two actors, bloody chum and scary sharks. The tiny non-union movie became a huge hit at Sundance and Ryan’s life is changed. Blanchard talks about her life changing from a working actress to a struggling movie star and back to a working actress. Ryan and I discuss her getting hit on by Paul Servino on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” being banned from Leno for choosing Conan and watching her nude scene with her parents.
I’ve been friends with Blanchard (Her real first name is Susan) for almost 15 years. She’s a very smart actress who figured out how to work the system of auditions and booked a ton of commercials. Ryan explains her strategy on the podcast. She was always a working actress way before the little shark movie took on “Blair Witch Project” momentum at Sundance. But like “BWP”, the movie “Open Water” was the star. Susan… I mean Blanchard talks frankly about the entire experience.
From IMDB about “Open Water:”
This film is inspired by a true story about an American couple, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who in 1998 went with a scuba group (Outer Edge Dive Company) to an area off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. They were accidentally left behind due to a faulty head count taken by the dive boat crew. There were 26 other divers and 5 crew members who failed to notice that the couple was not on the boat. It was not until two days later on January 27, 1998, that the pair was found to be missing after a bag containing their passports and belongings was found in the dive boat. A massive air and sea search took place over the following three days, but failed to find them. The couple was never found.
Overwatered What was the big success. We went to Sundance.
Yeah. It started out. We got into the Hamptons Film Festival which is an amazing film festival if anyone ever gets a chance to go is beautiful.
And they were great to us. And but it was a rough cut of the film and variety. We found out that a variety had sent center review.
And we thought we were dead because the music wasn’t really done and the ending was a little funky. And our director was like this is going to sink us like this is going to be the end of us.
But there was nothing we could do it was like an hour before the screening and it and it happened and the review when she after she wrote it was one of the most glorious reviews I’ve ever seen in variety. We were stunned. She just loved it and I think half of it.
Well and I give credit to the wonderful Hamptons the festival and the people there were so warm and they were so good. The reception was so great. The screening was amazing they clapped for five minutes they asked all these wonderful questions it was just a really nice atmosphere and the woman couldn’t have been better to us in her review and Sundance had rejected us.
And then when they saw the Variety review they were like oh wait we forgot to tell you.
Actually you’re coming to see.
So we were thrilled. How did the movie come about.
I’m just auditioned for it. It’s interesting because of my weird name. My agent had worked with Chris Countess the director on a previous project of his.
And when he came to her to cast this she said I’ve got the perfect girl for you and he said No I’ve already cast the girl.
I just I’m looking for guys and she was like I really really want you to meet her. He was just like there’s no point it’s a waste of her time. We’re you know in a hurry.
Thanks but no thanks. So she put me on the list anyway because she was hoping he wouldn’t notice that blades are dry.
You know she would he would think I was a man and not a woman. And he didn’t notice and I went in for the audition and then he was like oh jesus Now what am I going to do.
And he had to fire the other girl and whatever so that was unfortunate.
The other girl. Yes. And it’s fascinating because she’s this fragile little like delicate like a Winona Ryder type white skin and black hair she’s adorable but she’s so I’m like this big blond you know strong kind of outdoorsy looking creature and she is so she was so delicate in sort of urban.
And like she would have burnt to a crisp like you would have been an entirely different movie with that casting.
And I actually literally would worry about how she would have made it through physically like she was just she was like a little ballerina like a delicate little you know china doll. And it was pretty strenuous out there. I don’t know. Well anyway I guess we’ll never know. But is a people haven’t seen it. What’s the story behind the movie where the premise was basically a yuppie couple who are sort of growing half are married and happy enough but have grown apart and they decide to take a vacation to spend some time alone reconnect and they go out on their dive boat and the dive goes fine. But when they come up afterward the boat has left and they’re just left out in the middle of the water the rest of the movie really good hour of it is just sort of slowly realizing that they’re actually in trouble and how they deal with it.
First we just we sort of are just angry you know. The boats left and we are like we have tennis lessons this afternoon and this is inconvenient. We paid a lot for this trip and we’re like typical.
Obnoxious Americans we’re just.
We’re just mad because things aren’t going our way and we see three or four boats in the distance and we figure oh we can all you know we’re not going to get left out in the middle of the ocean. It’s this isn’t this isn’t a horror movie.
And then as the sun starts to go down and the other boats start to pull away we realize how far away we are from everything and dehydration sunburn jellyfish. There’s a barracuda.
And then of course the inevitable sharks come up once the sun goes down so there’s a lot of things out there you don’t really want to be dealing with.
So there are cruel sharks and you got shot the movie.
So we did two two days of shark diving with the sharks. We called those the union sharks. There were other sharks that came up during the shoot that we were uninvited guest.
And the two directors they really co-directed it Laura allow and Chris contest. They both had cameras on the boat and they had a better perspective of looking down into the water. It’s hard when you’re in the water to see through the top of the ocean because it sometimes it’s reflective like class when the sun hits it a certain way but they can see down past us our feet.
So all of us can be like let’s just have you guys swim around the back here and come up the ladder and I’m like oh my god what’s done. What do you see. What is that you know they’re trying to keep us calm and I’m freaking out.
But anyway back to the actual union jerks we had two full days of swimming with them and we did all the coverage we needed of us with the sharks and we had to.
We had to stay very calm when they were around for hobbyist reasons that we didn’t want them to think we were wounded prey.
But it’s interesting the way Chris cut it together because we’ll have a you know yelling crying. Oh my God where is the church.
All that stuff was shot weeks afterward with the actual shots with the sharks in them. We’re very still very calm.
And I look like five shades paler way not very happy.
They had real short are coming at you. Oh they were 60 or 70 of them all over the place and they were they were lovely.
Yeah they threw chum and they would throw chum so that they liked to do they they really got a good kick out of when the sharks would swipe like in front of our faces so they would throw the chum. You know so.
And I’m like you know it’s a little close like the chum is like bouncing off my shoulder and like could you could work on your aim a little bit you know other thing just swipe my nose off.
Yeah they’re bumping into your legs and they they don’t take a wide.
Path around you. And sharks swim by you they basically rub up against you like a kitten. And you feel it and you feel them hit your legs and they’re these big powerful creatures. I was just I was exhausted by the end of the day. I was a nervous wreck for eight hours a day or two. The movie comes out and becomes a huge hit. And what is it like because you’re a working actors anywhere you do tons of commercials and tons of stuff. Yeah it was interesting. I never had wanted that kind of commercial success. I like to think you like working working.
Yeah I like to have at Adam and I have been joking but I love doing commercials because you work for a day and get paid for a year and nobody knows who you are. And I had a very normal life working and with my friends and just a really nice lifestyle and enjoyed what I did. But it was just very calm and peaceful and happy.
And then when I opened water hit I had to move to L.A. which was very difficult for me because I’m an East Coast person.
And I was actually doing a lot of work for which I wasn’t getting paid like they be like. But you get to be in whatever magazine I’m like well but are they paying me they’re like No it’s GQ.
Why am I doing it.
Well you’re doing it to promote the movie it’s like what I’m not going to get paid for the movie because the movie was non-union and you know that was our contract so it it’s very strange for me. I didn’t really kind of understood the whole process. I loved Chris and Laura so much the filmmakers and I was happy to support the film but that whole promoting the movie process was like six months. Oh yeah. Yeah. You know we’ve traveled all over the world and it was just I kind of got kidnapped out of my life that I loved. And as I did my best and I worked really hard at doing a good job for them but it was difficult also because the filmmakers wanted the movie portrayed accurately as it was it just was. It was a suspenseful movie but our lives were not in danger and it was very professional responsible people and Lionsgate of course wanted us to talk about how our lives were at risk from morning till night and how we almost died on a daily basis and how the insanity of the filming conditions and everything and I felt like that was throwing Laura and Chris under the bus but at the same time I wanted to make Lionsgate happy because they were they had bought our film and were sending us all over the world and treating us great it was it was very much a no win situation. But also you’re an actress and you want people to know you’re in are right. You’re not somebody off the street.
No I don’t really need them to know that.
No no I mean like deserted with a blur like you Mike Williams and those guys they’re all actors and they were told to pretend that they were not right.
Ours was not like that. Ours was just a regular straightforward scripted movie. We weren’t we weren’t trying to pretend like it was found footage or it was a it.
You want to play it on your reporters.
No no not at all. I think they what they were trying to do is the behind the scenes thing like here was this actor and this actress who took these great physical risks while filming this you know a scripted movie. No they didn’t.
It wasn’t like we were supposed to pretend we actually got left behind by a boat but they just wanted to make it. They wanted people to say oh my god I want to go see this movie because I want to see that girl almost got eaten by a shark in real life.
They wanted to make it seem like our lives are in danger. It was good publicity and I don’t disagree with that. I’m sure people want to see the movie for exactly that reason and they’re good at what they do. That’s their job and the movie did brilliantly.
So I can’t argue with their methods but.
For me it just wasn’t true. And at the same time it made Chris and Laura look really irresponsible which they weren’t. They were absolutely wonderful to us so it’s sort of like being torn between two masters. I I I felt like in actually the case was no matter what I said somebody was disappointed in it. So that was not ideal when you’re moving because I hated Sundance.
Do you hold the bully the bullied you in growing up with your girl.
You are in some bands and I’m going to talk of the town I work for.
What does this mean.
I was just I don’t I don’t know I started acting really late in life. I have so few I had so few goals. I’ve never wanted any of that. I never fathom the million years that I have a movie at Sundance. I mean I was so thrilled I got such a huge kick out of it but I mean I just didn’t care that much and I was like once I’ve done it once is plenty. Like I didn’t mean to do it that I get like is a pain in the neck. Really. I mean I didn’t do well at the altitudes at Sundance and you know you have to join clubs to just go get a drink and a little thing. It was work because years ago commercial actors.
Did you have to stop doing commercials. Yeah. Well this is something else that that was it was a strange sort of cognitive dissonance during that time was that.
Yeah I end up losing basically kind of lost my job because my job was in New York doing commercials and once I took all my clothes off in open water of course I wasn’t really very appealing to the Procter and Gamble.
You know marketing campaigns of all the toothpastes and the and the you know floor waxes that I used to do.
And also my new agents my fancy new representation of Los Angeles was trying to position me as a movie star and didn’t want me doing commercials because that was now beneath me.
So I ended up not making any money that year when I lost my health insurance for the first time in 15 years and never happened to me before. You don’t have to make that much money to be covered by sag I mean it’s wonderful coverage and it’s we’re so lucky in this state that we have medical coverage at all.
But I never gave it all that much thought and I was working in busy.
And I remember when I went to the doctor that next year you know and just said What’s my co-pay and they really don’t have insurance. I was talking about.
And that was the year open water came out but open water wasn’t sag and I had all the other things I did like Jimmy Kimmel which we’ll talk about and all the other shows we’re all after.
And I didn’t do any sag work and lost my insurance. So it was just so strange because people kept saying like oh congratulations on all your success. And like had the worst year of my career.
You were in that movie you couldn’t even get health insurance. Exactly. Yeah and I was. It was I was so proud of that movie. I still am and you are a survivor of. Yeah. Well no and it has nothing to do with the movie it was just I was naive about. I should have looked out for myself. I just should have said no I’m going to stay in New York and keep doing what I’m doing and I probably should have been a little more you know looked out for myself a little bit more instead of trying to do what everyone else seemed to protect these are pretty well. I mean I was starting to learn like you had them pay for certain things in your career but do you know you don’t know you never been through this before.
So I had to learn as I go and I was so afraid to come off as you know a brat like they would say like here’s this wonderful opportunity like they want to go to Australia for three weeks.
And it’s like but it’s a free trip. Julia like I know but I got to work. I have bills to pay. And I didn’t want to be that girl. I wish I had had 100 grand in the bank so I could have just done it all but I had to think about my life. You know what do you think. With all the actors who promote movies like yours with Jamie Foxx going around the world is good. He got paid for the movie. He’s getting paid for this movie yes. And that’s the thing. And I understand people say now they say you know you do the movie free and the money is really for the publicity it’s the movies a lot more fun to do you know to do that.
Yeah. Well you like you when you’re glad you’re getting paid the most is when you’re doing the publicity because that’s the really that’s what can I say about it it’s not it’s not fun I the commercials.
Do you want to take roll your trick for getting commercials. Oh like everything went wrong.
When you watch all the converse all you know I was very I was very. Other side of the brain about my approach to my commercial career I used to watch I should do it now too lazy actress. Now I used to watch all the commercials and flip channels back and forth and back for just to find the commercials and keep a list of every product known to man ever came on for months and months and so then when I would get an audition I would know exactly the type of person that they were looking for like was she the prettiest girl in your high school was she like this glamorous movie star looking person and how old were they and what did they wear and how did they do their hair. And I would show up to the auditions looking just like the girl they cast in the last commercial and I count every two or so.
You know you were on Jimmy Kimmel. Yes. You’re welcome.
No what I remember when you were reading Sundance when you you’re in the movie was getting sold and everything.
I kept writing when you got a book my friend you got to be my friend. You know it’s going to be huge. Totally. So Adam was there was a little blurb by a friend of mine who worked for Entertainment Weekly and he heard about swimming with the sharks and we were shooting it and he wrote a little like a tiny little paragraph an Entertainment Weekly saying upcoming movie Open Water with Blanchard right or whatever it was like hey I know her and he told everybody at Kimmel like we should get this girl on.
And they said Now whatever. And then there was at least I think a good two years later by the time the movie was finally released and then added It’s like I’ve been telling you about this for years.
Right the way they were you know over the phone. It was it was fun to be on the show but so much more with the other guest was.
Yes. Well I remember.
Oh my God. Yeah he wanted to paint my portrait. What was his name.
As Paul Urbino was the lead I guess is promoting the rerelease three really really some good fellows and you will not leave your dressing room. He had a little case of the black and.
He was so charming.
But yeah he wanted me to come over to his house so he could paint my portrait my eye.
I wasn’t able to prioritize that then it didn’t happen but I would be lucky to have him paint my portrait of me to play. It was really creepy thing was it was just that it was.
That wasn’t Carole King right with.
Oh the singer yeah whatever that was.
Carole King Oh that was an amazing experience.
A couple of things you know you as I’m sitting here I’m don’t mean to complain but sometimes you’re going through these things and all of a sudden you stop and say oh my god I’m sitting on the stage and Carole King is playing the piano and singing five feet away from me it’s like no this is worth any sleepless night or any long interview. Oh my God I’m sitting on the stage and this old guy is trying to get my balls up looking down the back of my dress.
But no he was very you could say the guy well you’re right in your dressing very friendly in the dressing room.
He came right in and it was your boyfriend.
Every other day.
That was really awkward.
He’s like Steve like I love this actor.
Is he hitting on my girlfriend.
He’s pretty good sport about that guy. He was like I don’t care as long as I get to talk to him about Goodfellas.
He’s not the jealous type.
So what do you think it did for you or anything. Absolutely. I mean I think you know being very positive now I again I love that movie thank God. I mean I can’t imagine the people who left it to promote a movie they don’t like. That must be a very very different experience because I I love it.
I know how hard we worked on this and I am so proud of filmmakers and Daniel and everyone it was it was a pleasure to do and to talk about still is but it made me I mean I was like his absolute Z-list nobody before him and I was basically doing commercials and occasional little indie here and there.
And now I’m like oh that girl in shock.
So they’re trying to cast up a little part in a studio movie or something and there’s somebody with a couple lines they’d rather have me as opposed to you know I’m on my wireless instead of the Z-list And so that’s a good place to be. I like the girls in that school.
So next thing we do do a movie like that do me a favor.
Let me know if you’re going to be completely naked so you don’t bring my girlfriend and say oh this is my movie.
And the jaw drops and the audience was like oh my God. And I was horrified that was worse than the short. I mean you don’t have right roommate your friend was sitting between my mom and dad at the screening like it was a situation where your parents would have felt like this.
Oh I didn’t see that my dad was a really good sport about it. He comes from a sports background and has like a locker room mentality is like oh whatever I change your diapers who cares. Like he was OK with it. My mother was horrified like my little girl. She’s like a WASPy Boston lady. She was like look at what it’s come to she’s selling herself for taking her clothes off. So luckily the rest of the movie was scary enough that she forgot about it. Was it scary for you.
Well I’m not sure why my father and I were actually laughing about how she really didn’t care about me swimming with the sharks he was just worried about me taking my clothes off. My father thought the more important thing was that my life was at risk.
But she’s a Boston was was you know did you know about that nude scene. Yeah yeah.
And I agreed with it. I mean they say like oh did you think it was a gratuitous move. Of course it was gratuitous nudity is gratuitous and but the beginning of the movie was boring. And we needed something to wake people up if we tried. We tried to cut it shorter and that didn’t work either then you didn’t know enough about the characters so I think it was completely necessary I think it performed its It’s you know what it was supposed to do and I know from what. I’ve seen over water too well I didn’t but I’m sure it was a fine fine film.
It’s the reason that.
He’s adorable I’ve never met him I heard he’s a really nice guy is a really nice guy I’m going to mention his brothers and probably them.
You can read Susan Blanchard Ryan.
Ryan and your Twitter.
Yes my Twitter is SBIR to one too several names being hard to contain.
Here’s my middle name. And I’m Susan Blanchard Ryan and two one two is the area code Nixey.
Over on Twitter and we’re at present.
All right thanks Alison.
A quick note right after that interview Susan with a shark who was hiding out there for her for about eight years.
That was awkward. But you get the last interview with her.
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I read Blanchard.
Adam that. You.
Were the a