‘I know my manners, but I might fuck some shit up on the way’ – plucked from obscurity on spring break, Sasha Lane is the American Honey star defining her own journey
Taken from the 25th anniversary issue of Dazed:
“I had a meeting with someone and for the first 40 minutes I wanted to punch him in the face,” says Sasha Lane, stirring her latte. Recently, the budding actress experienced her first bad setup with a Hollywood producer. “He did the whole power shark thing. You know? He put his legs up on the table and I was very much like, ‘Yeah, we get it. It’s your office, dude.’” She rolls her eyes and exhales, steam practically shooting from her ears. “And he started dogging everything that I’m about,” she continues. “He pretty much plainly told me that this is as good as it’s going to get. ‘You won’t be able to live the life that you think. Good things won’t come to you.’ I believe that the universe works how it’s supposed to work. Like, I get that not everything is real, but I’m pretty determined that my life can go how it’s supposed to go, and he was knocking all of that! I was just like… you unhappy motherfucker.”
Lane’s story is the kind we often read about, one that requires a certain suspension of reality to believe: a girl gets plucked from obscurity, given a starring movie role, thrust before mobs of film lovers on the Cannes Croisette, sanctified by Nicolas Ghesquière with red-carpet dresses, and then she’s transplanted to Los Angeles, compassed by a team of new managers and agents, and reading for every casting director in town. At 20 years of age, Lane has the confiding, wide-eyed optimism of a lamb wandering, somehow knowingly, to the slaughter. But to her it’s all just another day at the beach.
“I don’t even exactly remember,” she says, thinking back to the day, last spring, that would alter the course of her life. “Andrea (Arnold) literally came up to me on the beach during spring break in Florida. It was Panama City Beach, it was wild and crazy. She was with her assistant, Amy, who is one of my managers now, and one of the casting agents, Lucy. They said they’d been watching me for a while. She just said, ‘You know, we’re doing this movie. We love your tattoos and your looks and you seem really free. Can we come to your hotel tonight?’ One of my friends started looking them up, and the other one said, ‘Let’s go’ and started walking away. So I was just like, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and I gave her my number. I didn’t think she would actually come. She came to my hotel that night, and the next morning we went to breakfast. I was supposed to leave, but she wanted to make sure she’d found the right person so she asked me to stay the week.”
Having cast the majority of roles in her upcoming film project, American Honey, Arnold had been seeking the last and most crucial piece to the narrative puzzle, the young woman who would anchor the experience for audiences and carry the film as the central character: a young southern girl named Star, who runs away from home and joins a ‘mag crew’, selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. In the week that followed their encounter on the beach, Arnold had Lane doing, as she describes, “just doing. I met a few other girls who were in (the film), who lived in Florida. I just kind of hung out with them. And then with one, QT, she would have me do improv with her. I think I improv’d with some random dude on the street. And then we had conversations, talking about my experiences.” And, like that, Star was born.
“I believe the universe works how it’s supposed to work. I get that not everything is real, but I’m pretty determined that my life can go how it’s supposed to go” — Sasha Lane
The film, which competed for the Palme d’Or and won the Prix du Jury at Cannes this year, tells the story of a squalid but savvy group of teenagers, selling magazine subscriptions across the sunburnt trap-estry of the American Bible belt. A very real phenomenon that has earned controversy in the US over the last decade, mag crews consist of teenagers, often runaways, who contract themselves as sales agents within a pyramid scheme in exchange for the promise of a living wage and an adventure on the open road. It’s a bit like Oliver Twist, with Fagin substituted for the tweezed, tweaked-out and terrifying Krystal (Riley Keough) in cutoff shorts. The Artful Dodger comes in the hurricane form of Shia LaBeouf’s carefree, sexualised crew mascot, Jake. Shot chronologically, the film simultaneously exposes a grim underbelly of American culture as it seduces with a deeply moving portrait of youths gone astray, falling in love, and risking their lives. It’s a highway epic without a map, anchored by the preternatural gravity of Lane’s performance as Star. As the young runaway plunges into the unknown, it’s as if we, the audience, are strapped in beside her, learning the words to “Out the Mud” by Kevin Gates, singing the lyrics to fit in with the Manic Panic-streaked, chain-smoking kids around us. The story is in the spontaneity, and it’s something that made Lane’s first time a very natural one.
“I didn’t know anything,” she recalls of her first days of shooting. “I just knew we were selling magazines and that I fall in love. I’d get the script the day before or the day of (shooting), so you’d learn as you go. Andrea wanted it to be really real. It was a little hard sometimes, but it worked out great. Someone actually ended up hitting me up not too long ago and told me her story about being in a mag crew. And it was like, verbatim, the movie, which was crazy. I was like, ‘No, we lived that.’ All of this happened and it was very much a real situation. These people really didn’t know that we were coming through their door.”
Mixing improvisation with deep character study, Arnold employed a freestyle method of shooting with director of photography Robbie Ryan, having extras sign waivers after participating in what they thought were real magazine sales. All the tension and anxiety you see Lane experience as Star is real. So is her heartbreak.
“It gave me whiplash!” she exclaims. “You know? One minute I’m happy, the next minute (Shia)’s pissing me off. I was just a bit like, ‘Andrea, this is driving me insane.’ I’d be like, ‘Am I going to end up liking this person or not?’ My brain was scrambled. It was like this, ugh… little annoying crush-type thing. It was so back and forth and I just never knew what was going to happen. Jake is Shia in a lot of ways, just like Star is me in a lot of ways as well. I would have to tell myself, ‘OK, just because I’m mad at him in the movie doesn’t mean I can be mad at him in real life. It would stick in my head, I’d be so annoyed at him because I was annoyed at him in the movie and I would have to stare at him. When we were done I’d be like, ‘Wait, sorry… I don’t need to be an asshole to you because you didn’t do anything to me.’ So that was a little hard. I never knew what I was thinking.”
“Jake is Shia in a lot of ways, just like Star is me in a lot of ways as well” — Sasha Lane
Her confrontational scenes with Keough, however, turned out to be pure acting. “Riley and I could not stop laughing every time we filmed together, which is crazy because we had such serious scenes,” she says. “We were cracking up the whole time.”
Star and Jake’s chemistry comes to its inevitable boiling point in a scene late in the film in which we see the full-scaled culmination of LaBeouf and Lane’s immersion into their characters. It’s devastating work and, at times, a little scary. Lane more than holds her own, and it’s arguably in this moment that her stardom begins to transcend the screen. “It breaks my heart to even think about,” says Lane, “because I got to know him as a person. We had a good connection. We do the same things, we listen to certain kinds of music to build this energy up for certain scenes. Knowing him and seeing that, it was just very raw and very real, but of course he was acting along with it. I don’t even know how to describe it. I was just like, ‘You human. You beautiful human.’ You know? I wanted to hug him afterwards. It was definitely a very intense scene. I love people to the point that it’s like, my heart. I know where that stuff comes from. You have to use experiences to create scenes like that. So when you see something like that you’re just like, ‘Yeah man. Good job, you did it.’”
Much like Star, Lane was born and raised in Texas, the product of a broken home. Raised by her mother with her younger brother and her much younger half-siblings, Lane describes her home life as emotionally cold. “It was very, ‘You don’t talk about your feelings,’” she says. “I was alone a lot. I was kind of all by myself. It was me and my brother but then he left to go live with my dad so then it was just me, alone, reading books in the corner of my closet. You just try to get away, out of the house. I liked school because it was my way out. I don’t really have childhood-type memories. I had to grow up very young. I remember there was a point in time when I first got my dreads, and I started getting my tattoos, and reading certain books, and listening to certain music. I was listening to this guy Mod Sun, and he’s just, like, this really hippy, hip hop type of thing, super-good vibes. Like I said, I was raised in a cold household. But after a while it’s exhausting being so guarded. So I was like, ‘I wanna be about love and peace and spread that, and do what makes me happy.’ I had to find a way to be happy here, so I found that on my own. I suffer a lot with mental health and stuff, so I had to find something that was going to make me OK with who I was, and also give me some peace and happiness with being alive. So yeah, I’ve worked hard on myself.”
After diving into a highly emotional two-month film shoot, Lane found it personally devastating to leave behind her newfound tribe. “I felt like I’d lost my family,” she says. “I had just developed this whole free-living thing, so to go home and be back with friends who knew nothing, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I felt like I constantly needed to move. I didn’t want to unpack my bags. I lived out of my suitcases for months because I was like, ‘No.’ I was relieved it was over because it was so exhausting, but it was sad. And I was new to it so I didn’t know how much of a crash it would be to get done with a film. It was hard.”
“I’m hoping I can shed this little hippy light on people... I know my manners, but I might fuck some shit up on the way. It’s OK to be who you are” — Sasha Lane
And, just like an addiction or a decent-sized heartbreak, Lane quickly realised it was time for another dose. “After that I was thinking I would really love to do this again,” she explains. “I love to make people feel things. But it was also kind of terrifying, because if I get passionate about something and really invested, I get excited very easily. So I was like, ‘(Acting) could fuck me up, if I keep doing this.’ I feel like a lot of the stuff I want to do could fuck me up.”
With Cannes came a rapturous reunion for the American Honey cast and more than 40 members of the crew. “It was cool when we found out we’d got in,” Lane recalls. “Especially for Andrea, I was happy for her to know, like, ‘Yeah. You’re badass.’”
And, like any dream come true, it wasn’t long before fashion designers came knocking. “I tried on this black Louis Vuitton dress, and (the Vuitton team) said they were going to show it to Nicolas (Ghesquière), and they ended up loving it. At one point we were getting ready for the (Cannes) ceremony and they came in to help me get dressed and one of the guys was like, ‘I feel like I’m part of the family.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ Because I like that connection. And they were nice to my brother.”
While Lane heads into her second round of promotion – and awaits a possible third, for awards season – she’s already booked her next job, as the title character in the film adaptation of the YA novel Hunting Lila. “Lila can move things with her mind,” she explains. “She finds out she has this power, then finds out there’s a whole unit stalking her to use her for war. It turns out the guy she’s in love with and her brother are working for them, but they don’t know about the powers or about her. I really liked the script because I’m so big into the mind. There’s a love story, but she’s a strong woman too. Then they said it was shooting in South Africa, and I’ve always wanted to go.” Following that, she’s hoping to take on roles that further tackle issues that are important to her. “I want to do things like Girl, Interrupted,” she says. “I want to do a very realistic depiction of mental illness. I’d also like to do something about me being biracial. I’m doing this short (film) that helps a bit with that. But I feel like people don’t understand, because shit’s hard over here too. I’m not black enough for this, or I’m not this enough for that. Something to do with that would be cool. The way people are in this industry, and the way people are viewed, you just need a little light in there, you know? I feel like that’s why I got this, and why I’m in this. I feel like I have a purpose. I can create art and make people feel and also switch things up and add something new to this industry.”
Pressed to put this notion into words, Lane expounds: “I came into this at 19 years old, very much who I am. I come from Texas. We’re a different brand of people. You’re not changing who I am. You’re not going to bullshit me. I can see right through that. And I’m humble and I’m thankful. I’m also just showing people that how I look and how I act is OK, and that’s beautiful. It doesn’t have to look like ‘this’, you don’t have to do movies like ‘this’, you don’t have to act like ‘this’, and you don’t have to sell yourself short for ‘this’… you know? I’m hoping I can shed this little hippy light on people. Fuck it. I smoke weed, all right? But I still get my shit together and I’m a nice person and I was raised properly. I know my manners, but I might fuck some shit up on the way. It’s OK to be who you are. It’s not your fault, necessarily, that a lot of people may be watching.”
American Honey is in cinemas from October 14
Hair Ramsell Martinez at Streeters using Bumble and bumble., make-up Samuel Paul at Forward Artists using Honest Beauty, photographic assistant William Mathieu, fashion assistants Ioana Ivan, Olivia Lugarini, production Rosco Brady, Mike Stacey at Rosco Production, executive talent consultant Greg Krelenstein at Starworks Group, associate talent consultant Alexia Elkaim at Starworks Group, special thanks Mr Turtle