On what would otherwise be a slow-rolling California afternoon, Shannyn Sossamon is suffering from a severe case of info-load. Phones kick and scream in their cradles, a fax machine gargles in digitized code, a cell phone is pinging in her pocket, and Lily Tomlin is shrieking on the television as the Incredible Shrinking Woman threatens to shrivel into oblivion.

Her apartment a roiling cacophony of space-age white noise, the 24-year-old DJ-cum-actress teeters on the edge of unraveling—and it's a truly beautiful sight.

"Oh, God," Sossamon moans. "This is so frustrating. I'm feeling very vulnerable about the amount of people that can just call at any time."

Rarely does one get to pick a budding celebrity fresh off the vine—so green and gung-ho. Someday soon, the necessary calluses of fame will form a protective coat over her; the wall between self and public will be built, brick by brick. But for the moment, the flashbulbs are popping in her head. She still gives her phone number out without considering the repercussions. Her desire to "remain normal" overrides her ability to live large. Even now, her mind reels just thinking about how different life was before Gwyneth Paltrow's infamous birthday party—the night things changed forever.

"I was deejaying, I was doing commercials—I was making a pretty good living," Sossamon recalls. "I had a little apartment. I liked my life."

And then a guest at Paltrow's party, so the much-told story goes, spotted Sossamon, who was 20 at the time. Six months later she was auditioning to joust with Aussie It Boy Heath Ledger in the Arthurian pomo classic A Knight's Tale.

"I was very naive," Sossamon recalls. "It was just like, 'Wow! I'm going to Europe.'" Deep down she was still the L.A. gadabout, waiting for her next DJ gig. Then then came 40 Days and 40 Nights. All of a sudden, acting was less a lucrative distraction than a way of life.

"For the first time," Sossamon says, "I began to think I might actually be doing this as my thing. I mean, I've always wanted to be something—I just never knew what it was."

Gasp-inducing performances like her powder-kegrole in The Rules of Attraction should put an end to her soul-searching. In a film freighted with random sex, glamorized drug use, and a sinister James Van Der Beek, Sossamon lays down the ground rules and takes the gross-out cake in the first few minutes. Not only is her character date-raped by a drunken frat boy while unconscious, but the Kennedy wannabe then proceeds to vomit all over her back. Other, more notable actresses were offered the role before Sossamon, but all backed out when they read that portion of the script.

"I can't believe that," she says. "Even [director] Roger [Avary] asked me if it scared me. I don't want to come off sounding like I don't get scared, but for me? I thought the script was amazing."

Her fearless foray into the dark side of the digestive tract earned Sossamon the respect of her Rules castmates. "You never know what you're gonna get with Shannyn," says co-star Ian Somerhalder. "She comes from this place of innocence, which is very endearing. I think that's what makes her kinda kooky."

That slightly skewed mentality will serve her well in her next film, The Sin Eater, yet another Sossamon-Ledger opus. She compares it to such high-tension chillers as The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, flicks she loved while growing up in Reno, Nevada.

"I just enjoy that kind of fear," Sossamon says. "That crazy angst you get while watching it for the first time."

But does that mean she's ready to embrace the crazy angst of stardom? "It's a good question," she says with a crooked grin. "I guess I should start thinking about that."