"It felt like I had a real body of a real stripper in small town Texas."
Shannyn Sossamon is the queen of indie films. You probably recognize her striking looks and effortless charm from films like A Knight's Tale, 40 Days and 40 Nights, and Wristcutters: A Love Story. Most recently, she has a starring role as Mark Webber's love interest in The End of Love, which premiered at Sundance this year. With the release of her new film tomorrow, Friday, March 1st. we sat down with Shannyn to discuss being "quirky", chemistry, and shooting her first lesbian love scene.
You just starred in The End of Love alongside Mark Webber. Tell me how you got involved in the project.
I had heard through a couple of friends that Mark Webber was doing a movie and we had mutual friends, so I reached out to him and we met for lunch. It was to be an improv picture, so I was really interested in that. I read the synopsis after our first meeting and I really liked it. The whole thing was very easy.
So, had you ever done any improv work before?
You always improv a little bit when you're working. Sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad. But never completely. So the whole thing was not written at all. That was fun. It was a little confusing at times, but not in a bad way. It was a challenge. It reminded me of my purpose almost obsessively.
Your character Lydia plays Mark's love interest and she's a single mom. It's a very naturalistic performance. Did you use any of your own experience for the role?
Not really. The way that I played that kind of single mom was very not like myself. She was incredibly type A. She runs a daycare center. Her whole life is her daughter, they even dress alike. I have two boys now. My parenting style is a lot different. I can relate to being a single parent of just one child. Well, I've been co-parenting the whole time, but for a while I didn't have a boyfriend. So I can relate to that. The romance in the film seems weighed down by the past.
Do you think it's harder to enter relationships as you collect more and more baggage?
Yes. But it shouldn't. It should feel like you get to start fresh and that every moment is an opportunity for a new life. Every moment can be brand new and that's up to you. So I don't think it should. Maybe some people feel that way, burdened by the baggage. I sometimes do.
There's a point in the film where Mark tells you, "I love you" on what is essentially your first date. Was that part improvised?
It was improv, but I think it was generally planned. It might have been in the synopsis. We knew what needed to happen was this rushed projection of love, and that's a really good way to do it—tell someone you love them too soon. A lot of people can relate. My reaction was in the moment. I actually had no idea when he was going to do it.
You often play quirky, off-beat love interests. Is that something you feel typecast into, or do you those certain roles appeal to you more?
If you were to look closer, which might be hard to do because a lot of the films on my resume aren't that watchable, you'd see there's an eclectic group of characters there. It's just that nothing's really hit. Sometimes it feels like nobody knows where to put me. They're not quite sure who I am or what I'm putting forth as far as a relatable persona. I don't think that's quite healthy for actors, but it does help with the human need to identify something or put it in a box.
I think I'm naturally a very quirky person, but you don't even know you're playing quirky roles. I just think they're normal people, and you're trying to tell the truth as much as you can. Then you find out afterwards that everyone has labeled you quirky. What I'd really love to do is comedy. People who know me and are close to me seem to think that's a no-brainer. It just hasn't quite happened yet.
Will we ever get to see your acting chops in a comic role?
I'm working on a web comedy, because why not? Because I can. With some friends. It will be all improv. Just to do it, because I need to make myself laugh. I can't find any other way to do it.
Some of your past work—40 Days and 40 Nights, Rules of Attraction—are extremely sexual films. Do you feel drawn to erotically charged work?
Yeah. I don't think I've done much of it, but now that you said it, huh, it's got me thinking. I like it when it's well done. I think it's a part of life that's really fascinating—only, it's just got to be well done. As a color, it is overused. So it can irritate me, and maybe I kind of downplay it to a fault. I'm drawn in as long as it has something interesting to say alongside it.
One thing I've noticed is that your on screen chemistry with your love interests is always very electric. How do you develop that chemistry? Does it help that you are working beside genuinely gorgeous men—like Josh Hartnett, Heath Ledger, and now Mark?
I know what you're talking about. I think it's really fun to play romances and things where you get that banter, because it's always so easy. A lot of the time it's just people that I'm friends with, so it's not even that real and nobody has developed a romantic interest. But it's fun to play, and because we know we're playing, it kind of sparks up that mischievous thing in you that makes it fun. When you have two people doing that, there's a lot of light.
It's like two kids in a sandbox rather than a premeditated concept?
Oh, for sure. You can't plan to have to have chemistry—that's terrible! The worst movies to see—both could be very talented actors—but you can tell they have no chemistry, so they're having to use technical chemistry. It's one of the most uncomfortable things to watch. You can see the importance of screen tests and casting. Casting really is everything. They say an actor's greatest skill should be to know when they're not right for a role.
Do you ever pass up roles with that in mind?
Yes, and then I've been talked into it even after that. It always felt that my instincts were right. You know when you read something.
Do you have any all time favorite couples from film who you think really nail their onscreen chemistry?
I thought George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight had a lot of chemistry. That just popped up in my head for some reason. It's a really funny one.
I have to ask since you met Tom Waits during Wristcutters…what is Tom Waits really like? Does he tell as good of a story as I imagine?
He is very quiet. When he came to set he was very professional and quiet. We had a lot of fun when they said, "Action!" He was just simple, gentleman-like, present, and quiet.
What's next for you? I hear you are going to be on an ABC show called Mistresses?
That was actually really fun. I played part of a lesbian couple. The girl I get to be in a relationship with and I had such incredible chemistry. We both could not have been more straight, which was making us laugh the whole time. For some reason, we had just the best romantic chemistry.
Did you get to do love scenes with her?
Yeah, we had to do a couple. They didn't feel gratuitous. They felt authentic and sweet, even. It was just what it would be like if you were having a first kiss with a boy. It was great. It wasn't—we were worried about that.
No smoky room and candles?
[Laughs] There's some steam going on. Steamy bathroom action. It was our aim for it to be sweet. It's funny when it's two girls they just expect it to be, like, dramatically hot.
Will we be seeing you in any more films this year?
I also did a new film called The Jesuit with Paz Vega and Tim Roth with a great director named Alfonso Ulloa. Actually, one thing about all these new jobs is that I have a lot more weight on me. I've always been pretty thin and so it was really liberating to be incredibly voluptuous. Not in a way where people say it and you still can't see it and it's in their head. It really was a major difference.
Did your acting change at all now that you had a new body to play with?
Yeah, it was really great for the part in The Jesuit because she was a stripper. It felt like I had a real body of a real girl in small town Texas. It wasn't the greatest body, but you know, most strippers in small towns don't have the greatest bodies. I just let it all hang out. For me, especially, it was huge. As a dancer, I of course had some body issues—not badly or chronically. It was really nice to wipe those all away with, "No, you can't have them," and you see how beautiful you are with some weight. I did stop nursing and it's slowly coming off. I'm going to miss it, actually.
Did you do any on-site research in strip clubs for The Jesuit?
Well, I grew up in Reno, Nevada, so I did research for that part for 17 years. [Laughs]
After taking on the role of a stripper, do you have any limitations on what you just won't do for a film?
It would just depend on the material. It just depends on the story and if the story needs it. That's my only rule.