Meet Sasha Lane, American Honey’s Dazzling Breakout Star

sasha lane american honey

by Katie Rosseinsky |
Published on

Director Andrea Arnold has a knack for finding stars in the most unlikely of places. The tale of how she chanced upon Sasha Lane, her lead for American Honey, is so fitting that it feels almost apocryphal; a grittier version of the origin stories that Hollywood fixers would fashion for Golden Age actresses.

One of thousands of students partying away their spring break on a Florida beach, a 19-year-old Sasha had something that caught Andrea’s eye. She approached her, asking the teenager to join her film. Sasha agreed, but not because of any long-harboured dreams of acting - a career path the psychology major had never considered. Instead, her decision was a cocktail of intuition, restlessness and ‘good energy.’

‘Joining Andrea was the easiest decision for me to make,’ the now 21-year-old Sasha explains. ‘I knew she had a really good energy, a really good soul. You can’t explain it, it just felt right. I don’t remember the words that were spoken; I just remember the feelings. I’m more of a feelings person.’

sasha lane andrea arnold
Sasha with director Andrea Arnold ©Getty Images

Both women were eventually vindicated in their gamble: American Honey is a riff on the road trip movie that manages to be both sprawling and intimate in scope. At the heart is Sasha’s Star, a young woman who falls in with a gang of itinerant teens; driving from town to town selling magazines, they're revved up on teenage angst, hard spirits and Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love.’ The film went on to win the prestigious Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, an experience which was ‘really intense and really emotional’ for the first-time actress. ‘At the end, I was actually so proud, like aaaaah,' she says, miming excitement and exhaling exaggeratedly, 'to come through all that and for it all to be worth it. I knew [the film] would follow me closely, the way they follow Kate in Fishtank, but I was looking more at the small details, at everyone else, rather than at my performance.’

After discussing her character with Arnold, Sasha ‘connected really hard’ with Star, ‘so it felt natural. I did a couple of improvs, talked a lot, met some of the other girls, ate some ice cream and had conversations.’ Sometimes when watching, it’s easy to wonder where the script stops and real life begins. Like Star at the beginning of the film, Sasha was ‘craving freedom’ and searching for a sense of direction. ‘The idea of not really knowing what was going to happen, driving around – I was super down for that,’ she says, perched cross-legged in a room that couldn’t be further from American Honey’s distinctly sketchy motels. ‘Andrea had Star already, but she also had her own way of changing things to lean more towards me. I didn’t know the script to start off, but I do know that she shifted certain things.’ That’s not to say, though, that the newcomer always felt entirely confident in her new role. ‘I just wanted to please Andrea, so I kept feeling like asking, “Are you sure?”’ she reveals. ‘I was so scared that I was just going to get booted back.’

Aside from Shia LeBeouf and Riley Keough, who play ringleaders Jake and Crystal, the majority of Sasha’s co-stars were discovered by Arnold. The group have an easy, winning camaraderie, fostered by a connection off-screen. ‘I’d been wanting that little family vibe, so I connected with them all pretty instantly,’ she explains. ‘They are all so individual, so completely themselves, that I was just like "Ah! I have such a love for those people."’ Arnold’s method, too, encouraged a natural closeness between her cast. ‘You didn’t go home to your house [after filming] or to some fancy place. We were living in those motels we filmed at, or the ones across the street. They were sh*tty, filled with bed bugs, but I loved it. When you’re in those sorts of towns, it’s not weird for you to be sitting on the kerb, drinking, doing whatever. Everyone’s just cool and free.’

sasha lane american honey
With co-star Riley Keough ©A24

American Honey marks Andrea’s first time filming on US soil, and the director – best known for the harsh realism of Fishtank and her bleak-even-for-Bronte adaptation of Wuthering Heights – shows an America that’s radically different from the one we’re used to seeing on screen. ‘I know that – that’s where I’m from,’ Sasha says. ‘I thought “Finally, people are telling this story.” I was so happy about it. That’s another reason why – without having ever done movies before – I was like, “Wow, I’d like to be a part of that.” And all these people that you wouldn’t immediately think would connect with it, have found it so real. It’s a universal story – it’s just a case of whether or not you’re ready for it.’

Since the film premiered at Cannes, Sasha has signed for lead roles in a young adult thriller, Hunting Lila, and a dramedy about an obsessive Smiths fan, titled (of course) Shoplifters Of The World. After experiencing Arnold’s free-wheeling film-making style, she’s ‘interested and a little nervous’ to take on a more conventional route, but still determined. ‘I know that I will work really hard. I’m always trying to bring to life what that person had in their mind, so no matter what, I will find a way to do that.’

And after that? ‘I want to be really, really open. For now, I’m just saying that I’m floating. I want to connect with things – who knows what. It could be the weirdest thing that I would never have thought of, but if I connect with it, then let’s go. Let’s explore that.’

American Honey arrives in cinemas on October 14th

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