What grinds SHANNYN SOSSAMON’S teeth? It’s not like she’s suffering from the effects of some designer pill. But since laughter is the best medicine, Shannyn doesn’t mind increasing its dosage in her life. Side effects include being able to create movies like her latest flick, Road to Nowhere.
Anybody whom I could share a genuine laughter with could be my friend, so when Shannyn Sossamon made me laugh, I knew that the girl’s a keeper. Accustomed with my generation’s taste brandished by nineties bubblegum pop sensibilities and chicks with dicks stereotypes, I can’t help but ask what every girl, at some point in their lives, had wanted to ask: What changed since the 90s, and how was it like working with 90s teenybopper heartthrobs Josh Hartnett (40 Days and 40 Nights), Heath Ledger (A Knight’s Tale), and James Van Der Beek (The Rules of Attraction)?
On goat milk yogurt with wild blueberries, she munches, “This question is really funny to me. Let’s see.” She’s on her way to a desert to prepare for her best friend’s wedding. “I have changed a great amount. I used to be very careless—a careless decade overall, I think—and not present at all in the 90s and even the early 00s. So there’s a big part of me that doesn’t even remember enough about that time. I do miss the wide-eyed innocence and excited states of all the newness I was experiencing. I’d like to get some of that back.”
As if she’s suffering from lack of excitement. She’s, in fact, the opposite of vapidity and is somehow hoisted with a newfangled energy. As part of the movie adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis cult favorite, The Rules of Attraction, where she portrayed Lauren Hynde, a virgin who conquers her sexual urges by indulging in photos of people with venereal disease, she shares her own poison. “I deal with the indulgence that is emotionalism. And it’s a funny one, it is. Exercise, meditation, love, friends, children…it all helps.” She adds, “I have been making little movies myself, at home with friends. That never stops being fun. And it’s great practice as an actress and [as] a director.”
But what’s quite comic to me is how Shannyn, at one moment, plays a human-guised vampire in the critically bashed Moonlight then suddenly becomes this Romanekian muse in Mick Jagger’s booty-shaking music video for “God Gave Me Everything.” Perhaps, it’s this ability to adapt to any project that makes her stand out; she treats her acting as a choose-your-own-adventure gig through which one can hitchhike to go places. “For the last two years, I’ve tried to only do things that I feel are a great fit. Nothing has been paying very much, so that’s been difficult. Before that, I would choose based on personal taste and desire, or sometimes, it would be for money or because an agent or manager talked me into it. Now, I don’t listen to anyone but myself. You are either moved or you’re not moved when you read a piece of material. You relate or you don’t relate. It’s very simple,” Shannyn clarifies.
That’s why she’s hyped about her new movies. “I am very excited about Road to Nowhere by Monte Hellman. This comes out in US at the end of May. It is out in France now. There are two others: The Day by Doug Aarniokoski and the still untitled Mark Webber project [where she co-stars with Amanda Seyfried and Michael Cera]. Both of these films were amazing and challenging to work on. They should each come out next year some time,” she says. “Fingers crossed!”
Apart from acting, Shannyn also dabbles in music. Having worked with Daft Punk, Cher, and The Goo Goo Dolls, she entered the hybrid world of Hollywood and MTV when she got discovered in Gwyneth Paltrow’s brother’s party, where she assisted a DJ. Her affinity to music is constant. She directed Warpaint’s (her sister’s band, of which she was formerly a member) music video for “Undertow,” and she works with musicians even if they’re in non-musical roles. There’s Kid Cudi in How to Make It in America and Tom Waits in Wristcutters: A Love Story. But she says, “I rarely call myself a musician because I do not practice or play nearly as much as the great ones do. Most of my days and thoughts are taken up by stories, feelings, and pictures. Music is present in them, too, but always having to do with a picture. When I work with musicians, I actually just see them as actors or performers in general that day. I don’t separate them from the duties they are to perform that day.”
Even Graham Coxon was smitten by Shannyn that he wrote the song “Spectacular” after seeing her online photo. So is she comfortable in always being someone’s muse? “Of course!” she says. But when it comes to having her own musical inspiration, it couldn’t get any more straightforward than her son’s name, Audio Science Clayton. I ask if they ever got a derogatory reaction from this. Instead of being cross about it, she posits with humor, “Oh, my goodness. Yes, people are very upset about this name. We have upset many, many people! I think I have made a bigger impact in the choosing of my son’s name than I have in my work. That is very depressing. I’ll name my next child Sarah Brown so I don’t cause so much distress.”
But I digress from the common reception on his son’s name and her assumption that choosing Audio Science has made more noise than her films. Based from her number one rule of attraction, “Either it’s there or it’s not,” Shannyn marks her presence by attracting a solid fan base for the more discerning cineastes. Maybe it’s because of her outsider appeal that employs the influence of her style icons Björk, Meryl Streep, Marion Cotillard, and Monte Hellman. She’s the type who looks her best when she’s not suffering from too much preening. Even Vogue acknowledges her style favoring the oversized, often shaggy, and seemingly sleep-deprived but still having the grace that a fashion house like Fendi would honor.
She tells Vogue that if she’s stuck in an island, she’ll make herself laugh all day. She explains, “I’d have my son come with me. Or a great man, a mysterious man. We could make a whole new village on the island, start one from scratch. We’d be the queen and king, and the village would be run according to all of our likes and dislikes, and it would be very funny!”
Again, she attempts to create a farce out of a normally lonely situation. In her movie Wristcutters: A Love Story, characters deal with the limbo of life after suicide, the rediscovery of flowers, of love, of happy shiny things, and the deep-seated desire to be alive. Shannyn is no different from them. She likes watching people—not in the fucked up sense of the voyeur but in the essence of being addicted to life. She exults, “I am simply very curious about human behavior. It’s a healthy hobby. Human beings are fascinating. This is crazy, to be human.”
Interview and story by Kristine Dabbay
Photographed by RJ Shaughnessy