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Shannyn Sossamon on Sex, Strippers, and Her New Film
"It felt like I had a real body of a real stripper in small town Texas."
by kate hakala
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.