Few actresses of recent years were as hotly tipped for the top as Shannyn Sossamon. Having been spotted by a casting director, the distinctive performer quickly shot to fame with a breakthrough role in A Knight’s Tale alongside Heath Ledger. But while Ledger went on to star in films including The Dark Knight (which features on our list of “The 25 Best Action Movies On Netflix Right Now”), the Hawaiian-born leading lady has virtually vanished from the public spotlight. So, what happened?
Not every performer aspires to stage or screen from an early age. A good example of someone who never allowed acting aspirations to dominate her path through life is Shannyn Sossamon. While she did ultimately pursue an acting career, her journey began on a different course.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1978, Sossamon’s first big move was a literal one – opting to relocate to Los Angeles immediately after graduating from high school in Reno, Nevada. Once in L.A., she decided to study dance despite an uncertainty about what she wanted to do professionally.
Sossamon told the Los Angeles Times newspaper in 2008, “I never dreamed of being a professional dancer. 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.”
Sossamon continued to study dance whilst working as a DJ. However, it wasn’t long before acting became a viable option for the young upstart, and incredibly, it was during a night spinning records at a birthday party for Gwyneth Paltrow when it all began. She was spotted by a casting director who took a leap of faith by setting up an audition for her.
That audition just happened to be the Heath Ledger-fronted adventure-comedy A Knight’s Tale. Speaking to IGN in 2001, Sossamon explained, “I was always interested in doing it [acting], but I was so content with my life that I didn’t really go after it.”
It turned out to be the right move as Sossamon was cast in the movie and immediately became a hot commodity in Hollywood. Her performance even earned her several award nominations at the Teen Choice Awards and the MTV Movie Awards. In other words, the starlet had arrived, and her career trajectory looked a promising one.
Sossamon’s star continued to rise in 2002 with roles in the likes of 40 Days and 40 Nights and Rules of Attraction – both of which performed well at the box office. In 2003, she once again starred alongside Heath Ledger in The Order. Soon after, however, came her sudden disappearance from the big screen…
So just what happened to Hollywood’s next big thing? Well, shortly after filming for The Order had wrapped up, Sossamon unexpectedly fell pregnant. It marked the start of a two-year hiatus period for the actress after giving birth to her son Audio Science Clayton in 2003.
Sossamon told the Los Angeles Times in 2008, “For some odd reason, I had the pregnancy test, and I just went, ‘OK, I’m having a baby,’” adding, “I didn’t even think twice.” It quickly became clear that her personal life had taken priority over her professional endeavors.
Clearly Sossamon’s goal in life wasn’t solely Hollywood stardom – something which A Knight’s Tale and The Order director Brian Helgeland later confirmed. In the previously-mentioned LA Times piece, he spoke about her ambitions, stating, “She didn’t have some… plan of how she was going to storm Hollywood and make a name for herself.”
Regarding Sossamon’s pregnancy, Helgeland recalled, “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.”
However, that wasn’t the only reason Sossamon left the acting industry for a period of time. Soon after becoming a parent, she began to drum for experimental rock four-piece Warpaint – a musical project which would command her attention for around four years.
Warpaint also afforded Sossamon the chance to team up with her sister Jenny Lee Lindberg, who she generously admits, acquired musical skills very rapidly. Sossamon told Hook and Line magazine in 2011, “I started to learn how to play guitar very seriously – like lessons four days a week. She got on it quicker than I did – I was busy with the kid.”
Sossamon went on, “My sister had just started learning how to play the bass and we wanted to start playing music together and start and band and so we both just kind of got on it.” Once again though, Shannyn’s desire to take the road less traveled led to her departure. In 2008 she made the decision to quit and return to acting.
On top of those reasons, Sossamon has also shied away from the glitz and glamour that usually accompanies the entertainment business. She rarely makes public appearances or attends movie premieres, preferring to stay out of the spotlight. Shannyn summed up her approach succinctly when she told the Daily Mail in 2008, “I like to play by my own rules.”
Still, that doesn’t mean Sossamon hasn’t enjoyed successes in the years since her breakthrough. Despite mostly vanishing from Hollywood since 2003, she has landed parts in movies such as the 2006 romantic comedy The Holiday, the 2008 horror One Missed Call and 2010’s Our Family Wedding.
However, Sossamon has been more prominent within the indie movie circuit, appearing in smaller independent films. Among the most notable were her performances in Wristcutters: A Love Story, Life is Hot in Crackdown and Road to Nowhere. Unexpectedly, though, 2015 saw her make a rare appearance on the big screen…
Sossamon was cast in the horror flick Sinister 2 – the sequel to the terrifying first film in the franchise. Playing the lead role of Courtney Collins, the free-spirited performer found some success with the movie at the box office despite a rather lukewarm reception from most critics.
Yet, Sossamon’s life agenda evidently isn’t defined by anyone but herself. As she told the Daily Mail in 2008, “I wasn’t ready to be a mum. But if you have any desire to be a better person, having a baby kicks it right into gear. Now I’m a better actress and a better mother.” And who could argue with that mentality?