Newcomer Sasha Lane On Bringing Truth to American Honey
When Sasha Lane was spending her 2015 Spring Break at Florida’s Panama City Beach, the last thing the young college student ever could have expected was to be approached by Oscar-winning filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) about the possibility of starring in her new film. But that’s exactly what happened, and the next thing the now 20-year-old knew she was hitting the road for a cinematic trip alongside established stars like Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, along with a cavalcade of fellow newcomers, that would change her life forever.
The movie, American Honey, is a sprawling examination of street kids hired by unscrupulous managers to hit the road selling magazine subscriptions, a.k.a. Mag Crews, oftentimes earning less than $10 a day as they crisscross the country as a communal force of nature surviving on booze, drugs and the sense of family during their travels. The story focuses on Star (Lane), a newcomer to a mag crew lead by the tough-as-nails Krystal (Keough) after being recruited to work for the team by the gregarious, charmingly outgoing Jake (LaBeouf).
During her journey, the young woman makes deeply personal friendships with other members of the team while romantic longings for Jake also begin to develop. At the same time, Star refuses to bow to Krystal’s rules, believing she can be successful selling subscriptions if she’s honest with people and doesn’t try to pretend to be something she is not. It’s a stark, brutally honest film, and much like Arnold’s previous work it refuses to pull any punches as it looks at these street kids and their world.
As for Lane, she’s front and center throughout, appearing in just about every minute of the motion picture’s epic 163-minute running time. I had the opportunity to sit down with the exuberant, energetic youngster to speak about what it was like to work on the film. Here are some of the highlights from that conversation:
Sara Michelle Fetters: This has got to be new for you. Not only were you running around the U.S. to make this movie, now you’re running around the world…
Sasha Lane: Yeah. It’s pretty bizarre, right?
Sara Michelle Fetters: …to talk about the movie.
Sasha Lane: Just to be in a different place every other day. You’re just like, whoa. I feel like life’s been a big blessing, and it’s kind of crazy!
Sara Michelle Fetters: It’s like something out of Hollywood of the 1930s or ‘40s, being discovered on a beach by a director who just happened to be there. What was that like? A famous filmmaker comes up to you and says, “Hi, I’m Andrea Arnold.”
Sasha Lane: One, it was obviously like, “What?” But, also, it was amazing because I’ve had such a struggle with people being like, you’ve got dreads, you have tattoos, how you are, it doesn’t fit, you have to go change. She just made me feel so beautiful inside and out. She made me feel seen, as if she saw the light in me that I was trying to think that I had and I was trying to have my family understand that, I’m going to be okay. That there’s something there. That you can’t put me in this box. It was a really nice feeling. I just remember being like, me? Wow.
Sara Michelle Fetters: But did you take it seriously, though, when she said, I’m casting this film, and I want you to maybe be a part of it? Did you realize how certain she was?
Sasha Lane: Kind of. It’s weird, because I think me and Andrea both are…we have gut feelings. We have energies, and we’re all about that. Everything that was leading up, even just having breakfast with her the next morning and hopping in her car, just a sense of, I have a really good feeling about this. It was all like, gosh, I think this is going to happen. It was weird because it’s still all unbelievable, but, I don’t know, we just connected so hard that it seemed like something that was meant to happen even though none of it seemed real. I still didn’t believe that I made a movie until the trailer came out. That connection and the fact that it was meant to be, all of that, it was like, this is why [I’m] here.
Sara Michelle Fetters: When you’re in school, though, did you think about being an actress? Was this something that you were leaning towards or is this now something you feel like you have discovered?
Sasha Lane: Definitely discovered. The idea of portraying certain people, making them feel, always was an interest, but I’m so uncomfortable in my skin sometimes. It’s weird to have that kind of attention, and the idea of Hollywood and all of that was not me at all. So it definitely wasn’t something that I would think about doing or pursuing or whatever. Then I made the movie.
Sara Michelle Fetters: But did you know what you were getting yourself into, though, when you actually got there on the set? When you started on this road trip and realized, “Wait. I’m the main character. I’m in virtually every single scene of this film. And I’m brand new.”
Sasha Lane: I know, right? Crazy! Yeah, even no matter how many times they told me I was going to be in it and this was what it was going to be like, and I had watched Fish Tank so I felt like I was prepared, you don’t really realize it until you’re filming six days a week and everyone else is there maybe once or twice every two weeks. You think, I get a break now because I’m not really in this scene because it’s not from my point of view, and yet then you realize they still need your shoulder in the shot and Andrea wanting me there for the other actors to focus on.
It was a lot of pressure. Definitely. You’re like, okay, I’m carrying this film. But then you’re like, hold up homie, you literally got me off the beach. You’re putting a lot of trust and pressure on me. But it was nice to form such a bond with everyone. I felt very empowered by the time we were done shooting.
Sara Michelle Fetters: The flipside is Andrea that has obviously worked with a lot of new actors, a lot of people that she’s discovered, so there had to be, I would imagine, some comfort level there. And you also spend a lot of time with Shia in this movie, who has gone from being a child star to now being a respected adult actor. I would imagine that combination probably helped you a lot?
Sasha Lane: I don’t know. Maybe. As far as the fact that Andrea chooses a lot of non-actors, it’s still one of those things where you continually ask yourself, are you happy that you chose me? I didn’t want her to be kind like, “I wish I would have looked a little harder.” So that was really hard. I was really insecure about that part. Luckily, she made me feel so comfortable and all of that. She’s amazing.
I had this thing of like, man, I’m actually doing this! How am I doing this? Hopefully, I’m doing this right. This is all I know. So it was one of those feelings again sometimes, where I felt like I had nothing left to lose. I didn’t have anything to base any of it off of. Hopefully, it’s good.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Those insecurities that you’re talking about. That is Stars journey, isn’t it? This is who she is at the beginning, and then you get to the end and you get this strong sense that she has found herself. She’s discovered who she is. So, for you, is this life imitating art imitating life?
Sasha Lane: Definitely. Before Andrea, I was kind of like, this is all I know, this box I had been living in, even though it was horrible I was still in the comfort of that. I knew that. But I met her and as things progressed I was just kind of like, you don’t have to be what you came from. You are more than what people have made you out to be. It was very much like what Star experiences. It’s so cool.
Sara Michelle Fetters: What’s it like? To wake up every morning in a new place, not always knowing what the scene was going to be? What it was you were going to experience?
Sasha Lane: It’s like life. Every morning you wake up you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and you might have a general idea of where the next five minutes might go but that’s about it. That’s such a freeing feeling. You just pack up your suitcase and hop in a van, and you still don’t know where you’re going necessarily. You don’t know what the next day is going to bring or how you’re going to react to something or how this is going to turn out. It is really freeing, but also exciting and frustrating.
Sara Michelle Fetters: You were in school, you talk about all of these different things that were going on in your life, but you were progressing, you were going in what one would hope would be the right direction. How hard is it then to look at where these kids are and what they’re doing? How do you make sure that you’re telling their story in a way that is honest and true, but that can also be hopeful?
Sasha Lane: I know that life, and I know those kids. I was one of those kids. And even though I was in college, and it looks pretty on paper, but mentally? I was not at that point. It wasn’t a progression. I felt like something was missing. I felt very lost. I still was a mess. So as much as portraying that life, it was what I knew, it was how I felt. I knew that there are so many other people who are the same way and that they experience these things and they’re going through these things. Those are my brothers and sisters. They’re my friends. They’re the people I’ve met on the street because we’re all smoking cigarettes thinking on life, man. Life.
It was representing those people and that, if anything, was what kept driving me to keep doing it even when I was feeling, personally, that this was a lot of emotion for me and I don’t maybe want to go there, to be that vulnerable. But I knew that I had to because, not just me, I had to take myself out of it, but that there’s other people there, too, that I have to think about, that I’m representing, that deserved to be shown in a very authentic and beautiful way.
Sara Michelle Fetters: And how important is it to make sure that you’re able to do that? Because the movie can get pretty bleak and it’s uncomfortable for the audience. But I do think you need to showcase that. You have to go there to stay true to the reality of the situation.
Sasha Lane: Definitely. Shit’s uncomfortable. Going through those situations and growing up in poverty or abuse, or having people constantly put you down. You’re uncomfortable and that’s just a part of life. So I definitely wanted to make people uncomfortable, make them have that fear or have that sense of like, where’s the beauty? Where can we find the beauty? Because that’s what you have to do. I’m constantly wearing this big bubble of shit, basically, and I need to go look for some flowers, I need to look for a soul that makes me feel okay. I think it was good to push that energy through the movie.
Sara Michelle Fetters: What do you say to people that look at this film and look at the subject matter and they have that kneejerk reaction of, “Oh, that’s just too much for me. That’s too hard.” How do you convince them that, no, this is a movie you need to see?
Sasha Lane: I’ve never had someone be like, that’s too hard and uncomfortable. If anything, they’re more like, that’s just useless partying. I’m just like, that’s because you know that these type of things exist, you know this part of America exists. You just refuse to look at it and you’ve become ignorant. You’ve turned your eye because you’ve refused to see it. Those people, yeah, there are certain people who aren’t open. They aren’t willing. If you don’t see it, it’s like, you won’t get it. You won’t understand it. I wish you would, I wish you would just let it take you and ride it and feel it because, hello, this does exist. You’re just not looking at it.
But, it was really nice last night, at our screening, an older man asked me, “Does this really happen?” And I told him, yeah, that’s why it’s so personal. That was literally kind of me. And all of these kids, it happens all the time. Every day. He told me that it felt very real. That he thought he understood now why this happens. His mind did open up and he became aware of this part of what America is today. He understood that these are the type of kids that are out there and these are the situations they’re in. I think that’d be amazing if more people could really open up and see that.
Sara Michelle Fetters: How surreal is it to make this kind of movie where you’re digging into these issues and you’re living this life; that you’re out there on the road basically doing this for real and then, suddenly, next thing you know, you’re showing the movie at the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera?
Sasha Lane: I know, right? That’s it exactly; so surreal. To the point where, people are like, “How do you feel right now?” You’re just like, what do you mean? It’s all happening around me and it’s so fast and it’s so overwhelming, but it’s also so beautiful. So bizarre. It was such a giant wow.
Sara Michelle Fetters: You’re getting a lot of talk for this performance, and deservedly so. If people start wanting to hand you awards for this, what will go through your mind? How do you think you’d feel?
Sasha Lane: I don’t know how to take that. I don’t know how to feel. I’m coming to this point where it’s like, Sasha, you worked really hard and you did a lot that not a lot of people had to do. I have such a love and such a sense of – that was my family. It was such a collective thing and something about me, I don’t know how to personally be like, you want to talk about me? Not everyone else? Just me? I don’t know how to react to that.
It’s really weird. I have a weird feeling about that. I don’t know how to take it all in. I’m just like, wow. Thank you. I appreciate it so much. But I don’t always know how to do that.
Sara Michelle Fetters: But you do know this, acting, this is what you want to be doing with your life?
Sasha Lane: Yes. Definitely. It feels like I’m here for a reason. I found that I can do it [acting] in a way that feels right with me. In a way that I think not a lot of people know that they can go about it in that particular way. I think it’s a blessing the way I found this career. If I can continue in this fashion, do it in a way that feels right, then I definitely want to do that.
Sara Michelle Fetters: At the end of the day, now that the film has left the festival circuit and is going into general release, what do you want people to be talking about? What do you want them to take away?
Sasha Lane: I want them to see, this idea of these kids and this world and everything, while it’s so dark, that there’s also so much beauty; that we have to find that beauty. You have to understand it and acknowledge it. There is so much light and so much beauty in people in this world you just have to dig a little deeper and look for it. Stop turning a blind eye and become more open to that freedom of life, open to trying to understand people more. You need to understand that people are complex and life, life man, it is really complex. Overall, just chill out and try to understand. Try to see something else. That’s what I hope they see.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle