Meet American Honey's Breakout Star Sasha Lane

Photo: C Flanigan/FilmMagic.
Most young actresses work for years trying to break into Hollywood by way of L.A. casting couches. Sasha Lane was dancing with the sand between her toes, on spring break in Panama Beach, when her big break arrived. In a sea of Solo cups and string bikinis, director Andrea Arnold saw Lane — her expressive doe eyes, her easy verve — and found the star she didn't quite know she was looking for. One year later, Lane was dancing again — this time, on the red carpet at Cannes with her co-stars (Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough) and Arnold at the premiere of their new film, American Honey.
It’s exactly that kind of organic spontaneity — being open to meeting a perfect stranger on a beach — that made Lane the perfect person to lead American Honey, a sprawling, 162-minute cinéma vérité-inspired masterpiece in the guise of a road-trip movie. The film isn't really a coming-of-age tale either, but it has the bittersweet tinge of one. Except its subjects aren't the rich, white suburban kids whose stories we've heard time and time again. They're a motley crew of transient teens and 20-somethings who travel by van selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door by day and party hard by night, and Lane's character, Star, latches on to them. Ambling through the flyover states, we get gritty closeups of the parts of America that Hollywood glosses over — motel rooms, Kmart parking lots, oil fields and truck stops. But we also see scenes of overwhelming beauty that celebrate life. Call it 2016 Americana.
While parts of American Honey will be foreign and unsettling for many, Lane feels right at home in the film's world. “That's why I was so stoked to be a part of it,” she tells me. “Because I want people to see that and see the beauty in these kids and these people and this life. And also the fucked up parts and everything. The whole film rattles with a frenetic, unscripted energy; a sense of immediacy that you rarely see outside of documentaries. That's a result of Arnold’s true-to-life approach to film-making: She tailored the characters to the actors, shot the movie in real time, and shunned a formal script. “It’s very much like she just filmed our summer,” Lane says. “It was chronological, we lived how they lived, we drove in that van to those states, and all of that.”
But the movie’s freewheeling spirit also mirror's Lane’s own — which was uncharacteristically weary during our talk. Lane is worn down from promoting the movie, because she can’t talk about it from a comfortable distance. The character she helped create is really just a version of herself, and that's a vulnerable position to be in. “It’s such an emotional ride for me, and it’s so exhausting mentally and physically, because that’s me, man.”

We talked about her on and off-screen chemistry with co-stars LaBeouf and Keough, industry challenges for women of color, and the advantages of coming into Hollywood as a total outsider.
Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
This was a very personal role for you. How do you identify with Star?
“Pretty much everything. That’s how Andrea works. She changes characters to match you more and goes with it as you’re in it more. I feel like [Star] is more naive than me, and there are certain things that are just turned up or turned down. But other than that, [she's] very much me."

Was watching the movie like watching a video of yourself, your real life?
“Yes! That’s why it’s kind of nerve-racking watching it. But it’s also great when people connect with it so hard because it’s cool that it’s so personal to me. But it’s also like, okay, people are out there to judge my soul. So I’m just like, ‘Oh, wow, man. What do you think of me personally? Because that’s what that is, pretty much.’”

I cried a little at the end and it wasn't even my life, so I can't imagine how emotional it was for you. Did you cry the first time you saw the movie?
“Oh, totally. Every time I even see a snippet or the trailer, it’s just... And that’s why it’s so exhausting to talk about. It’s like ugh. It’s so much and it’s so unexplainable and it’s a lot of just feeling… And I knew that I was representing so many people, so I just got into it and took from things that I knew or I felt and that other people felt. Which is why it’s a really personal thing and just emotionally exhausting.”

Did you know much about Shia LaBeouf beforehand? What was it like to go from knowing him as a celebrity to working with him?
“I don’t know. I’m not that person — I didn’t even think of [him being a celebrity]. It was just as I was meeting Ray Ray [co-star Raymond Coalson]. Like, Cool, am I gonna like you or not? I met him the same way, like, “Hi nice to meet you.” We just became a family. I think Andrea wouldn’t have chosen him if he didn’t have something there that connected us all together. We were all kind of looking for something and we all were just down. So, instantly I knew, there’s clearly a reason he’s here. Just as Riley [Keough] is here, just as Ray Ray’s here, just as everyone’s here.”
Your relationship with Shia’s character is very up-and-down in the film. You get into fights. Did that dynamic linger when the cameras were off?
“I’d get whiplash. I’d just feel like, dude, I have to be happy and then I have to be upset. So I would just kind of be angry at him for no reason. Just in general, I would still have [the feelings] I had from the movie. I had to be like ‘Hi, you didn’t really piss me off. So I’m not going to treat you like that. With Riley [too].”
Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
You had a lot of friction with Riley’s character in the film, but you’re really good friends now. Did you guys click right away?
“Not really, I mean, we weren’t even really allowed to be around each other when we were filming. And I think we both were just kind of like, 'We’re not supposed to like each other anyway.' So I didn’t really get to know her… Then towards the end we were just like, ‘I really do enjoy you. And also, you’re the only other person who understands what we just went through.’ But we’re so close now that it would’ve been awful to do all that, so it was good that we didn’t have a connection really until after.”
Making American Honey was obviously a very different kind of first acting experience. Do you think that experience will inform how you approach other films?
“Yeah definitely. I know it’s different, but I also know how things can be as far as connections and the passion on the film and the dynamic — how things can go. I want to connect with the person who is going to be filming me and the person who is directing me. I think those are really important connections to have. And that ability to have freedom to get into character and do what you will with the words and the scene.”

What’s it like coming on to the scene right now, with all these discussions happening about women and people of color in the industry — #OscarsSoWhite, equal pay, all that?
“I think it’s just amazing in general — the fact that I can do this and be a strong woman and be a strong woman of color. I don't really necessarily know all of the workings of what has been going on. But I know that I just don’t want to be used as a form of, ‘Oh we can get this in here.’ I’m still aware that there’s a lot of posturing. It’s just plopping people in."
Do you see that a lot of that kind of inauthentic posturing where it's like: "Look at how diverse we are!"
“A little bit, yeah. It’s like, ‘Why would you?,' with some of the scripts I’ve read. I’m so used to watching the same types of movies as everyone. So you see the same type of girl, you see the same type of roles, you see the same type of family dynamic. And there’s just so much more there could be. That’s not the only kind of people watching these movies.”

Who are some actresses whose careers you admire?
“I really like Angelina Jolie. She’s just so raw and very much herself too. She’s a very strong woman.”
Do you see an advantage to coming in as an outsider?
“I’m so happy I came into this how I did and as who I am. I’m only going to continue with this is if I can do it in a way that feels right. I mean it sucks sometimes that I don’t know too much and I’m thrown into it, but it’s also amazing that I didn’t grow up in this. It’s very much like, ‘This is how I am, love it or not. And I want to find the people who are down for that, and I love it and it’s great. There’s no changing that.”

So many young actresses today have to kind of lose themselves first or have an identity crisis, to find themselves.
“Yeah, and it sucks to grow up into that. How do you know who you really are without having the chance to figure that out?”

Your first movie has earned you so much praise. Do you see yourself ever having trouble staying grounded?
“It’s really overwhelming, but I think part of what’s so overwhelming about it is because I am who I am. I get really uncomfortable, and I feel things so much. And that — as well as the people around me, and [knowing] what I really believe in — is all very reassuring of me sticking to who I am. So, that helps.”

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