It's a Honey Story: Interview with Sasha Lane

Sasha Lane discusses playing the starring role in American Honey, working with Shia LeBeouf, and how an Irish cinematographer helped her shine in her film debut

Had it not been for a chance meeting with Academy Award-winning director Andrea Arnold on a beach in Miami during her spring break, 21-year-old Sasha Lane might never have gotten into acting. Now, following the release of Arnold's road trip epic, American Honey (which won the Prix Du Jury at this year's Cannes Film Festival), the Dallas-born actress has made an indelible impression on the world of American film.

Appropriately for someone who has just played the role of a wandering nomad, Sasha answers questions from Hot Press mid-transit, on a busy train bound for London.

"I've been travelling around Europe for the last while," she tells us, "and it's been really cool. I just made my debut at Paris Fashion Week."

Taking questions while travelling is nothing new for Sasha: her schedule has understandably become jam-packed following America Honey's success. "I've come to do a lot of these kinds of interviews on the run because I'm constantly going from one place to the next," she laughs, as we battle dodgy phone signals and raucous train passengers to shoot the breeze.

An ex-student of Psychology and Social Work at Texas State University, Sasha's thespian ambitions were simmering modestly under the surface.

"I'd always thought that it would be cool to portray certain things and make people feel a certain way, but the whole standing-in-front-of-a-camera thing seemed like something I never wanted to be part of." That all changed when Andrea Arnold cast Sasha in the lead role in her American epic. Did she find it difficult having a camera trained on her so intensely? "Any other time I might have said "yes", but I really connected with our cinematographer Robbie Ryan. He helped me out just as much as Andrea - and both of them gave me so much guidance that the whole idea of there being a giant camera in my face disappeared. Andrea kept us in our own world so that we all felt like kids in the back of a minivan. That's the way she wanted it. So apart from the beginning, it didn't feel awkward or daunting at all. It's part of Andrea's technique to surround you in this world. Then with Robbie's help, it all started to feel natural."

Sharing the camera with co-stars Shia LeBeouf and Riley Keough meant that Sasha had a well of acting advice to draw upon. It helped her to get to grips with the character, Star, a young teenager who comes of age in poverty-crushed Middle America and decides to run away with a team of millennial magazine-salespeople.

"I actually connected with Star right from the very beginning," she says. "It felt very personal and relatable to be playing a character like that. It made me feel very vulnerable too, knowing the mistakes that she was going to make, but at the same time it was exciting, knowing that I didn't necessarily have to deal with the consequences of what she did. So there was this great middle ground of feeling vulnerable from playing this character, but also knowing that it's foreign enough so that you can feel safe. Right from the beginning, Andrea said that the best advice she could give was to just let me do it, let me be the character, so that's what I did." Did Sasha have as much concern for Star as the audience does?

"Oh yeah, definitely!" she responds. "We were only getting the scripts the day before or on the day of filming. That was the way that Andrea chose to do it. She wanted to create that feeling of being in the moment and not knowing what's coming next, because that's what life is. So I'd be filming a scene and then right afterwards I'd be thinking: "Ahhh, what's going to happen next?" So in all those scenes I was worrying about things and anticipating what was going to come next, just as much as the audience! The whole cast didn't know, we were all guessing." The parallels between Sasha and Star are illuminating. Has she drawn wisdom from playing her role?

"Playing the character taught me that you don't have to do or be what you grew up with. You can be what you want. People often think that their opportunities are limited by their grounding. I learned how to feel passionate about the character. So those are the kinds of things I want to look for in an acting role in the future. Something that makes me feel in it. I need to be passionate about it, otherwise it won't work. I can't imagine acting without having that passion there." Sasga confirms that her next step will be to work with American filmmaker Stephen Kijak. However, she also calmly states that nothing is set in stone as far as her acting career goes. "There's definitely stuff in the works," she says. "But I don't like speaking about it because I never know what kind of changes will happen. It's weird for me, but I want to keep things open. If it happens then it happens, but if not then I'll know I'm not holding onto anything. I want to find my purpose - but part of that means going into all this with an open mind."

American Honey is in cinemas from October 14. See hotpress.com for an interview with Kate Plays Christine director Robert Greene, and this issue's Frontlines for our chat about The Flag with Declan Recks.

 

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