08/09/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
Stars often brag about doing their own stunts, but actress Blanchard Ryan, 37, can honestly say she put her life on the 1ine filming Open Water, opening Aug. 6. The indie film—about two scuba-diving vacationers surrounded by sharks when they're left boatless in the Atlantic Ocean—did not include any money for stunt doubles in its nearly $200,000 budget, but director Chris Kentis did achieve his goal: to make the thriller as realistic as possible. "I believed in it 100 percent or I wouldn't have taken on danger," says Ryan, who spent 190 hours in the water with the sharks. "It was every fear and risk I could possibly take." The filmmakers had the actors wear protective chain mail underneath their wet suits for protection, but Ryan did receive a nasty bite from a barracuda. "I thought, "Oh my God, have I lost my hand?'" recalls Ryan, who dived into acting after a political philosophy degree and modeling gigs. Says Ryan, who lives with comic Steve Lemme, 35, in Los Feliz, Calif.: "I learned a lot about myself swimming with the sharks." For example? "I'm brave."