Horror is not the most obvious genre for Shannyn Sossamon, an actress who approaches life with so much equanimity and ease that she’d be perfectly at home in a Buddhist monastery.
But through the series of happy accidents that have defined her existence, the 29-year-old free spirit ended up playing the lead in “One Missed Call,” director Eric Valette’s remake of Takashi Miike’s 2003 supernatural thriller, due in theaters this Friday.
Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge for the laid-back Sossamon was to keep up an appropriate level of tension while shooting the film, in which she stars as psychology student Beth Raymond, one of a series of people who receive terrifying cellphone messages predicting and depicting the sounds of their own deaths.
“It all has to come from you, and so you have to constantly make sure that you can relate to that situation or produce this tension,” she says, sipping camomile tea in the lounge of the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “Think about how much that needs to be there without words. [There has to be] a thick feeling in the air that I believe film picks up. It’s hard.”
Like so many things in her life, Sossamon came to acting by chance. She was born to a teenage mother in Honolulu and spent her childhood in Reno before heading to Los Angeles after high school to study dance.
“I never dreamed of being a professional dancer,” she says. “It was more like I just love to do this. It wasn’t clear what I wanted, but I was fine with that. I had never . . . needed a plan. I’m really good at feeling safe in the unknown in the aspect of planning your life.”
She was DJing at a party -- another casual hobby -- when casting director Francine Maisler spotted her and sent her to audition for Brian Helgeland’s “A Knight’s Tale.” After acting in a few more films, including “40 Days and 40 Nights” and “The Rules of Attraction,” Sossamon, at age 24, gave birth to a son named Audio Science Clayton.
“For some odd reason, I had the pregnancy test, and I just went, ‘OK, I’m having a baby,’ ” she recalls. “I didn’t even think twice.” She more or less laid aside acting for the next four years. “The space away from it was mind-blowing, and then, of course, the depth that comes from being a mom . . .”
“It was almost like she was out on a lark, and she found herself in this big circumstance that she hadn’t planned on, which I think made it easier for her to go off and have a baby and stop working,” offers Helgeland, who also cast her in his 2003 film “The Order.” “She didn’t have some . . . plan of how she was going to storm Hollywood and make a name for herself.”
Now that she’s returned to acting full time, though, Sossamon has managed to stay busy with roles in television (CBS’ vampire drama “Moonlight”) and film. It’s a profession well suited to her carefree demeanor -- she’s not bound by any kind of rigidity, enabling her to make refreshingly counterintuitive character choices, according to Valette.
“In a lot of the set pieces where she has basically to go through the horror acting beats that we all know -- you jump, you scream, you run -- she could break the pattern and add some emotional beats, based more on instinct than on technique,” he says.
Although she keeps the terror levels high with her clenched jaw and wide-eyed stare, she also imbues Beth with a more complicated fatigue of the soul. “She’s so numb from all the true horror that she’s gone through in the film, of being scared and seeing her friends die,” she says. “And I like playing stuff like that, where . . . you’re just losing it.”
Sossamon’s belief in what she calls “powerful forces and magic” may have helped her get in the mood. “In every time period, there are wizards and witches,” she says. “Even if they’re a really famous businessman, they’re using some sort of magic for that. I feel like it’s about willpower, you know. I say this, but I’m just learning myself.”
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Where you’ve seen her
Shannyn Sossamon never intended to become an actress, but after being spotted by a casting director, she made a royal debut as Lady Jocelyn in “A Knight’s Tale.” Next came “40 Days and 40 Nights,” “The Rules of Attraction” and “The Order.” Although she took a four-year hiatus after the birth of her son in 2003 -- acting only sporadically in films such as “Wristcutters: A Love Story” -- she now has returned to the game full time and, in addition to “One Missed Call,” can be seen in CBS’ vampire detective series “Moonlight” and the upcoming films “Life Is Hot in Cracktown” and “The Heavy.”