About Features Reviews Community Screenings Archives Home
August 2004
Open Water: An Interview with Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis

By Todd Gilchrist

Open Water: An Interview with Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis

"Open Water's grassroots success at this year's Sundance Film Festival was the biggest sensation since 1999's "Blair Witch Project", not the least of which because of its combination of believable scares and "stranger than fiction" inventiveness. In the film, a vacationing couple is stranded out on the open sea after a scuba diving excursion, and the pair struggles to find a way to survive the fearsome undersea world- and its dangerous inhabitants- before it swallows them whole. Without the film's two spectacular actors, Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis, the film's central conceit- based loosely upon a true story- would never have worked; thankfully, the pair recently sat down with blackfilm.com for a discussion of their first major foray into the world of feature films, and revealed just what it took to leap into shark-infested waters in the name of conquering Hollywood.

How did you develop your relationship? I recognized a lot of your interactions in my own relationships.

Travis: "Hopefully you did. We took a big chunk of time before we actually started shooting to talk about background and things like that-"

Ryan: "Daniel and I were friends already-"

Travis: "But one we actually got into the water and started shooting, 98 percent of that was scripted. There may be three or four spots where there's a word or two that is changed, but Chris wrote very well, and her also gave us the freedom to try whatever we wanted, but we always ended up always using what he had envisioned in the first place."

Ryan: "And I think in terms of the development of our relationship, I think in the beginning, they're a very traditional couple. She really likes to be taken care of, and leans on him, and even when she doubts some of his advice, she sticks with it. She's very traditional, and he really enjoys taking care of her and nurturing her and making sure she stays safe, and for both of them to be in a situation where he cannot protect her, and she feels vulnerable, and he can't be there to make it better is really threatening to both of them and threatens sort of the core of their relationship, and I think that's the launching point for so many of the emotions that come in over the course of the film."

Travis: "The loss of control."

Ryan: "Yeah, and the role reversals, and the expectations of each other."

Why did the characters keep their gear on?

Travis: "It keeps you buoyant."

Ryan: "And it makes you bigger. Predators tend to, and Daniel taught me this, but they usually don't attack anything that is their size or bigger. They just know, in the scope of things, even if it's just a couple of inches smaller than they are, they kind of know, so it makes you bigger, so you take up more surface area. And the tank is a big strong metal thing if you ever needed it. I don't think you would get rid of it."

Travis: "It's also your only source of buoyancy."

Ryan: "God forbid they have to submerge, you know, to go hide or something. You'd want to have your air tanks on. So yeah, I don't think there would be any chance."

Blanchard, have you lay in bed with a guy and then decided you weren't interested in sex?

Ryan: "Um, I'll plead the fifth, but these were our characters and not us. I didn't really have to worry about that."

It does come as a surprise to the audience that there is nudity in the film, since all they're expecting is people lost at sea.

Ryan: "Before we got to the callback stage, after the original audition, Chris and Laura sat us down and said 'this is non-negotiable: there's going to be nudity, there's going to be swimming with sharks, there's going to be long days in the water, and not many creature comforts, and if you aren't comfortable with any or all of that, we totally understand that, but don't go forward in the auditioning process, because that's non-negotiable.' So it was odd, you know, I was like 'okay, that's fine' and I hadn't been offered the part or anything yet, and then when I was offered the part, that had already been negotiated. So it was an interesting thing; everyone says 'how did they talk you into that?' but it wasn't."

Why did they tell you it was integral to the film?

Travis: "We differ on our viewpoint about that, but I think it was, and because you spend such a small amount of time with the couple before they actually enter what is a harrowing circumstance, you need to establish that they've been together for a while, and you need to establish that they- Chris and Laura very specifically wanted to portray a realistic aspect of a couple and not the sort of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo separate beds aspect of it, and you had a very short amount of time to be able to feel for these people, or at least get involved with them before they went into the water, and that was sort of one of the aspects or one of the ways that they ended up doing that."

Ryan: "We had to show that they were a little disconnected from each other; they love each other, but just never spend any time together. They're workaholics. My thing about the nudity is that nudity is never 'necessary.' They put it in because guys like to see naked girls or whatever. I don't believe that there's ever 'I did it for artistic reasons.' I don't think that there is an artistic reason for it, but I don't mind it and I think it worked. I think it's a good shock; the beginning sequence can be kind of, 'okay, we're watching, we're with you, but what's going on here?' I think it's sort of an interesting jolt- like you're saying, it is unexpected- and I don't like when couples who have been together for a long time go to bed in their pajamas on a tropical vacation. I mean, the air conditioner's broken, I think it makes total sense. I feel very comfortable with it... I mean, I don't walk around like that, but when you've been with your boyfriend for a long time... I don't think it's necessary, but I don't have a problem with it. I was nervous as all get-out. We drank a bottle of vodka before it, and I have never done that before, and hope I will never have to do it again, but you know, for this film, it is what it is."

Travis: "I think we were more nervous because we were friends."

Ryan: "Yeah. We knew each other."

Travis: "We didn't know that we were both auditioning for the film until we got to the callbacks, and we saw each other there."

Aren't there easier ways to break into Hollywood than to jump into shark-infested waters?

Ryan: "Well, we didn't think we were going to break into Hollywood."

Travis: "That wasn't the intent in the first place, yeah."

Ryan: "We were just making a little movie so we could get some scenes for our reel. We had no idea."

Was the response to the film at Sundance overwhelming?

Travis: "Yes, it was. It was my first time. This is my first film, and it was my first time seeing the film in its entirety on a big screen."

Ryan: "I keep telling him 'they don't all turn out like this.'"

Travis: I come from a stage background; I've been acting on stage for a while, and it's a very different set of circumstances, and to see my first film with a Sundance audience, with those crowds, it's a hell of a way to start the roller coaster ride we're on right now. It's been great."

Ryan: "We can't speak to the result, because we're completely biased, but we can say how hard we worked and how much we all threw ourselves into this and showed 100 percent commitment on every level. We just tried so hard, and you know, there are other films I've done before where, you know, you go into hoping it's going to come out well, but they just don't all turn out the way you hope they will, and this one I think has really exceeded all of our expectations."

When you got back to land at the end of each day of shooting, what did you talk about?

Travis: "We were so exhausted by the end of the day, that this would be Blanchard (lays his head on the table), forcing herself to lift her head up to get a bite, and we would say maybe three or four words to each other and that was it."

Ryan: "And we used to say, because we were this tanned couple who was obviously staying in the same hotel together, eating in the restaurant, not speaking one word to each other, and we always wondered what the people around us were [saying], like-"

Travis: "We're this really morose [couple]."

Ryan: "[They're like,] 'they shouldn't have gotten married, those two. I don't think it's going to work out.'"

Travis: "Also, we were completely tan from the neck up, and completely white all over everywhere else, and I'm sure that people were trying to figure out what we were doing every day."

Ryan: "Because our faces were maroon, his lip was cracked and his nose was like peeling off, and all of our brows and hair were white, and then the rest of us were completely pristine."

How fearsome was actually getting into the water with the sharks?

Travis: "We were told from the beginning that we would be swimming with sharks, and our perspective or our vision of sharks was a little different than we anticipated when , on the first day of shooting, we pulled the boat up, turned off the engine and 45-50 sharks showed up instantly before we put any bait in the water."

Ryan: "We had to alter our expectations."

Travis: "But I had been fascinated and excited about the prospect from the beginning, so I jumped in first with Chris and shot my single shots first because somebody was a little more nervous."

Ryan: "I was so nervous. And they don't get out of your way when you want to get in the water. There are these big, grey shark fins sticking up everywhere, and you're like, 'okay, I guess I'm getting in "here".'"

Did they try to demystify sharks for you before you went into the water so you would be less intimidated?

Ryan: "Well I think in the film it's also [demystified], you know, it's not like you stick your toe in the water and a shark comes up and rips you apart and eats you. That's just not how it happens, and we tried really hard in this movie, even though everyone is going to insist on calling this a 'shark movie,' and that it's a big gory shark movie which I don't think that it is, but we're in the water for hours and hours and hours before a shark even shows any curiosity towards us, and then as time goes by, we really start behaving like a wounded animal, when the panic sets in, until it's dark, when they usually feed, that we're really in any danger at all. Sharks are amazing, beautiful creatures, and if we weren't fascinated by sharks and loved scuba diving, we wouldn't have made this movie. We really tried to portray them in a realistic fashion. They're not out to eat people."

Travis: "Working with the handlers that we did work with, yes, there was an attempt to demystify them to us before we got into the water when we were talking about what was going to be involved. Because these particular shark populations were known to the shark handlers, and yes, they're wild and there was some potential for danger, but it was, uh, the potential for danger was as slight as it could be given the precautions that we took."

The press notes said you spent 120 hours in the ocean?

Ryan: "120 hours of footage, but there was a lot of time we were in the water when we weren't shooting. Thirty days, and then with the shark days, 32. On some days it would rain half the day, or on some days we could get into the water because of whatever things that would go on, and we would have technical problems, but we wouldn't be shooting for portions of those days, so..."

Travis: "We were actually in the water for longer than they were running the cameras because it was so hard to get in and out of the water with all of the equipment on that we would very often just stay in the water."

Were there any close calls at all with the sharks?

Ryan: "Yeah, I got bitten by a barracuda, but that wasn't a 'close call."

Travis: We had jellyfish stings, but no close calls with the sharks."

Those jellyfish seemed awfully close.

Travis: "That was one of those sort of great happenstances in shooting this film is that we were actually preparing to shoot that scene that day, and they showed up."

Ryan: "Chris had said 'I'm going to have to lay them in in post. I don't want to, but we're running out of shooting days.' The whole shoot, we were like, 'if you see any jellyfish, get in,' which of course is contrary to what you would normally do. So finally this day we had it on the schedule, we were like, 'we've got to knock this out,' and all of a sudden mother nature just delivered a whole slew of them."

What does a jellyfish sting feel like?

Travis: "It feels like a bee sting. They were relatively little ones, but it sort of radiates out. It doesn't hurt like a barracuda bite, but..."

Ryan: "Well, mine didn't radiate. It just hurt."

Are you eager to return to the ocean after this experience?

Travis: "I am. I am completely. I would do this again in a heartbeat."

Ryan: "I sort of prefer a swimming pool at this point, but I do love the ocean, but I love to dive, and I don't ever go off the beach, because I know that's where sharks bite- in like four to eight feet of water

What's next for you?

Ryan: "Our representative seems to think that whatever we do next is going to be really important decision, so we're taking our time with it."

The sharks you worked with are milder than many, right?

Travis: "Gray Reef and Bull sharks have had some shark attacks. Bull sharks are pretty aggressive."

Ryan: "Gray reefs are listed on the discovery channel as number five out of the top ten most dangerous sharks."

How many days with the sharks on the shoot?

Ryan: "Two days. That was pretty much half of the budget of the film, those two days, because they hired the very, very best people that they could to make sure that we were as safe as we could be."

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy