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Beautiful Stranger: Shannyn Sossamon

The first five minutes of The Rules of Attraction, ablissfully unrepentant look at collegiate hedonism from PulpFiction screenwriter Roger Avary, are a barrage of twistedenergy: James Van Der Beek is dealing drugs and seducing nubilefreshmen; Jessica Biel is downing Jack Daniel’s and taking on anentire football team; and a gorgeous loser played by ShannynSossamon is getting raped and vomited on by a townie while anaccomplice videotapes it all. It’s a scene that’s cruel andunnerving–and one that Sossamon wanted to make.

“When I finished reading the script,” says the actress, “I let out a breath and said, ‘Wow, what the hell did I just read?'” Butwhen she was offered a part in the adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel as a coke-sniffing coed, a balls-out role that was rumoredto have scared off the likes of Kirsten Dunst and Katie Holmes, Sossamon, 24, didn’t flinch: “When Roger asked, ‘Did the script scare you?’I told him, ‘No.’ I didn’t even understand why he asked.” For her squeaky-clean costars, the movie clearly represents a do-or-dieattempt to kiss off their WB-friendly images, but for Sossamon, with just two previous films to her name, the stakes are evengreater–it’s an opportunity to define herself before the industry has a chance to typecast her.

Anyone who remembers the ethereal Honolulu-born actress as the love interest in the Heath Ledger vehicle A Knight’s Tale or thelove interest in the Josh Hartnett vehicle 40 Days and 40 Nights may be surprised to find that there’s a darker side to Sossamon inreal life. “I’m not an extroverted girl who says, ‘Look at me!'” she explains. “I’m horrible in bright rooms.” It wasn’t the unwantedattention, though, that made Sossamon flee the scene after bursting onto it so suddenly, but rather the lack of satisfying roles shewas being offered. “People want me to play that formula of young up-and-coming actress, to be ‘nice’ and ‘pretty,'” she says, “but whyshould I follow a formula that’s not working? I don’t think I’m made for big, cake-icing kinds of movies, but I don’t want to be theindie girl, either, because that can set you up, too.”

It may be impossible to pigeonhole Sossamon ever again after The Rules of Attraction, a film that dramatically reintroduces her andthen douses her with fake puke (though the vomit coda may not make the film’s final cut). “We only did two takes,” she recalls, “but Rogerdid the pouring. He was above the camera, saying, ‘Oh, Shannyn, I love you so much. I’m sorry!’ All I could think was, ‘This is beingfilmed. What are we doing?’ Everything after that was easy, as long as I kept reminding myself, ‘I’m drunk.'” More trickery was neededfor scenes in which she and Biel appear to be snorting lines of cocaine. “We used powdered sugar,” Sossamon reveals. “When Jessica andI would bend down out of frame, we’d just shove our noses in it. I hope it looked like we were doing coke. I just hate the fake-y ‘they’renot really doing it’ scenes you always see in movies.”

Sossamon says the pain she had to project through her character’s emotional suffering was acting as well, having never endured anyactual boyfriends quite as abusive or self-involved. “But I guess they’ve all had a little bit of asshole in them,” she adds, laughing.”They’ve all been little fuckers. I’ve never dated guys who bring me flowers every day. That’d be annoying.”