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— by Ryan J. Downey

NASSAU, Bahamas — Just off the coast of Nassau, there are two boats. Paul Walker is on one of them, watching a few crew members who are working on the flick "Into the Blue" clown around on jet skis, while Jessica Alba prepares for a heavy-duty stunt sequence off the other side of the island. There are also sharks in the water.

"I think all animals can sense fear, so when I'm in the water with the sharks, I just try to stay as relaxed as possible and control my breathing," explained Walker, running a hand over his closely cropped hair.

"There have been times when my heart has been pounding in my chest," added the actor, who grew up seeing sharks in Southern California. "I know that when people [see the shark scenes] in this movie they are going to think they have to be computer generated. But all these sharks in this movie are real."

 Photos: On The Set

Professional surfer Chris Taloa, who got his acting break when "Into the Blue" director John Stockwell cast him in "Blue Crush," has seen actual shark attacks. But still, when the script called for his bit villain to get in the water with the deadly animals, he didn't complain — even when he ended up getting his foot caught in an eight-foot tiger shark's mouth for a second. "Either I'm dedicated, or I'm a straight moron," he joked.

Why all the underwater danger? "Into the Blue" is an action movie about a pair of treasure hunters (Walker and his "Varsity Blues" co-star Scott Caan) pursued by vicious criminals after they stumble across a sunken plane loaded with cocaine. "I play this guy Jared whose lifelong ambition is to be like Indiana Jones. We come across some treasure with this cocaine [beside it] and it's a race for the treasure and to [escape from the drug dealers]," Walker explained.

Alba plays Jared's girlfriend, Sam, who battles bad guys (and sharks) beside him. The scuba diving wasn't exactly new territory; after all, she was on the TV show "Flipper" when she was 14. "Usually actresses lie about what they can do so they can get a role," Alba said, laughing. "They were showing me what a scuba tank was. I grabbed it and I was like, 'Just tell me what you want me to do.' I was the only one that had been certified. Everyone else had to learn all that stuff for the movie."

Stunt accidents weren't anything new for the 23-year-old "Honey" star either, who dislocated a few ribs and suffered from whiplash during the two years she spent starring on TV's "Dark Angel." And when you're swinging a giant hook around on a shaky vessel, somebody is bound to get bloody.

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Dressed in a skimpy tank top, flip-flops and ratty jeans, with a constant supply of water and fake blood being refreshed all over her, Alba grappled with Taloa for one of the film's many action scenes. Over and over, she pretended to stick him in the shoulder with the hook and drag him across the boat as the second unit director demanded take after take.

Suddenly, Taloa's screams sounded all too real. Genuine blood started pouring out near his arm. A medic patched him up and, after a quick rest, they went at it again.

"When I have a hook in my hand I'm just praying that I don't hurt [anyone]. That's all I'm thinking, that I'm going to get it in his mouth or in his eye and yank it and rip open his face. I'm trying to think happy thoughts while I'm doing it while looking angry at the same time," Alba said afterward. "Mostly I just don't want to hurt anybody."

Shortly before they broke for lunch, Taloa — wildly charismatic with a beard, messy hair and "six-pack" abdominals — put his arm around his co-star and let her know it was no big deal after all. "I'm going to tell people that Jessica Alba gave me this scar," he said with a wide grin.

 Photos: "Into The Blue"

Although he's putting giant hooks in their hands and dropping them in shark-infested waters, Stockwell, who starred in movies like "Top Gun" before he started directing in the mid-'80s, is more concerned with safety off the set than on. "I'm just thinking about what incredible shots we're getting. I have an expert crew of water safety people and shark experts.

"I'm more worried about what these guys are doing at night, when they're driving home from some club at three in the morning."

And what are they doing? Walker bought a boat of his own to do some sport fishing and he kept in constant contact with his daughter via telephone. A lot of kids in the Bahamas know him from "The Fast and the Furious," so he'd talk about cars with people in the streets. "I think a lot of times I catch them off guard, because I really am a gearhead," he said.

"A lot of people recognize me from 'Honey,' so a lot of the sisters are like, 'Yo, can you bust a move' and 'You got to teach me how to dance' and stuff," Alba said. "They are very welcoming and chill down here, you never feel unwanted. I mean, they are so chill that if you're super hungry, don't go to a restaurant, because it takes an hour to get anything."

Nobody knows more about the warm reception in the Bahamas than Tyson Beckford. Though the actor/model's role in "Into the Blue" is little more than bad-guy henchman, he ended up signing the most autographs. He even paid a traffic ticket for one fan.

But despite the sandy beaches, the jet skis and the fans, by the end of the four-month shoot, just about everyone was ready to go home.

"I daydream about my house, my two little pugs, and how cozy my bed is," Alba said.

"I love doing fight scenes — it's second nature — but I'd have to say it'd be nice to be shooting in L.A.," she continued. "I told my makeup artist, 'Wouldn't it be great if all I had to worry about was what color eye shadow I should wear, or whether my hair should be up or down?' I'm swimming with sharks, holding my breath for minutes at a time, fighting somebody with a hook. I have to cut off a guy's hand. A guy gets shot in front of me."

Holding a hand above her eyes to block the sun, she concluded, "It'd be nice to do a romantic comedy."

"Into the Blue" wrapped shooting in February. It's due in theaters next spring.

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