A former commercial actress who has since found success on film and television, Blanchard Ryan gained notable exposure in film and television by the time she jumped into shark-infested waters for the highly-publicized 2003 feature Open Water. Though her cinematic career might have prepared the up-and-coming actress for such a physically exhausting role, Ryan's background as a former Club Med aerobics instructor no doubt helped the actress maintain her stamina during endless hours floating in the ocean. The daughter of a hockey coach who would later become the president of the Philadelphia Flyers, Blanchard was born and raised in Boston. Ryan began studying acting and improvisation shortly after earning her B.A. in political philosophy from the University of New Hampshire, and though she aspired to the screen, her cinematic career was still only in its infancy. Early work at Club Med was followed by a handful of commercial roles and the occasional appearance on Late Night With Conan O' Brien, with a feature debut in the 1998 film Remembering Sex, showing a flair for dramatics and offering testament to her compelling screen presence.
A role in the 1999 comedy Big Helium Dog found the emerging actress forming a friendship with the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, and two short years later, she would join the troupe in its 2001 cult hit Super Troopers. For those who were watching her career, her trajectory was obvious with each role offering a little more screen time and becoming ever more demanding. Following a substantial role in the 2001 drama My Sister's Wedding, Ryan appeared in a pair of little-seen short films, and it was only a matter of time until she got her big break. Inspired by the harrowing true-life story of divers Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who were suspected dead after being accidentally left behind by their diving boat in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Open Water gained notable buzz on the festival circuit for its stark realism and intense storytelling. Cast opposite Daniel Travis as one-half of the couple in question, Ryan had to overcome a paralyzing fear of sharks to pull off the daring role (the actors were fitted with chain mesh so they would be safe among the docile but unpredictable sharks); the bravery paid off, however, and the film was soon put into wide release to the terror of audiences nationwide.