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‘American Honey’ Star Sasha Lane: How One Wild Spring Break Led To Becoming Indie’s Newest It Girl

A chance encounter with filmmaker Andrea Arnold changed Lane's entire life, and now the indie It Girl is moving forward in a big way.

American Honey

“American Honey”

A24

Sasha Lane knew something big was going to happen to her. She couldn’t have predicted the details – being plucked from obscurity by filmmaker Andrea Arnold and chosen to star in her Cannes-acclaimed feature film “American Honey” – but she had an inkling of something special waiting for her.

Lane was still just a teenager when Arnold discovered her on a Miami beach smack in the middle of spring break and cast her in the free-wheeling opus about a hard-partying magazine crew. At the time, Lane was a student at Texas State University in San Marcos, taking classes in psychology and social work, but she felt like something was missing. And she also felt like something was going to change for her once she went to Miami.

“I went on that trip because something felt like it was missing and I was just so lost and kind of hopeless, but I had a feeling,” Lane recently told IndieWire. “I had the strongest feeling that there was something that was going to happen, and I didn’t know what it was, but I was just trying to hold onto that.”

READ MORE: Review: ‘American Honey’ Proves Andrea Arnold is One of the Best Working Filmmakers and Finds a Breakout Star in Sasha Lane

When asked if she considers herself an intuitive person, Lane answered with an emphatic “definitely, definitely yes,” but even she seems struck by the circumstances that led to her involvement with Arnold and the film.

Getting Discovered

“She came up to me and was just, ‘I’m Andrea. I’m doing this movie. I know this sounds weird,’ and the rest is really a blur to me,” Lane remembered. “I was kind of in the midst of like, ‘Yes, yes, okay. Sure, whatever,’ but I told her she could come to my hotel that night, and I didn’t think she’d come.”

Arnold did make it to Lane’s hotel room, and the feelings that their initial meeting and conversation stirred in the soon-to-be-star – Lane remembers feeling as the British filmmaker could really see her “spirit” – only grew stronger.

“We just kind of connected on a lot of things,” Lane said. “She just saw me, she really looked at me. I’m so used to being just like all the other kids, just discarded and seen as not worthy of someone’s time, not worthy of being considered special and beautiful and different. She embraced all of that.”

"America Honey"

“American Honey”

A24

Arnold, who had previously cast another actress in the lead role that would become known as “Star,” was also looking for something special when struck out for Miami: A fresh face who could make the recently vacated role her own. She found that in Lane.

Arnold asked Lane to delay returning to Texas for another week, and the pair spent that extra time running through improv scenarios meant to stretch Lane’s ability to translate emotion and experience to the big screen, basic exercises that often ended up framing up scenes that made the final film (and informing the character of Star).

“I remember being in a Wal-mart parking lot with one of the girls who was also in the film who just danced on a truck, and that was part of my auditioning,” Lane said. “There was another person that came to the side of the car, and she said, ‘Okay, she’s going to ask you to get in the car, and you kind of hold off a bit and then do it,’ but it was just how I would react to certain things, what she’s looking for.”

An Intimate Shoot

By the time the week was over, both Lane and Arnold knew she was the right person for the role.

“I just felt really whole, and it felt like the right decision to make, to say yes,” Lane said. “I think that was what I was looking for, but I didn’t know what exactly it was. It worked out in such a perfect way.”

Mere weeks later, Lane was in production on her first film. Because of the way Arnold crafted her feature – the film was shot over 56 days in a variety of locations, with a cast that was largely “street cast” like Lane – the early feelings that the newbie actress felt for her filmmaker endured well into shooting. The film follows a “mag crew” that zig and zag across the American Midwest, knocking on doors to sell their wares during the day, partying hard at night, and generally bonding in unmistakably pure way.

READ MORE: Cannes: Andrea Arnold on the ‘Difficult Times’ Making ‘American Honey’ on the Road in the U.S.

“It was very intimate,” Lane said of the film’s production. “The energy in the film is very much the energy off-set. It’s a bunch of different people thrown together. We just formed these instant bonds and I think we were all looking for something, so we just kind of attached to each other and attached to that type of living. It was just free.”

For a first-time actress, nothing could have been more appealing or appropriate than a shoot rooted in the kind of intimacy and spirit that proves paramount to the final product. And it may have given Lane the boost to fully pursue her newfound career beyond “American Honey.” Although Lane wasn’t looking to be an actress when Arnold found her, she does admit that the life of a performer had appealed to her before she got her big break.

“As far as the idea of portraying certain characters and making people feel a certain way, I thought it would be cool,” Lane said. “But everything else with it, like the acting school and theater and having to be in front of people and the attention and the way I saw Hollywood, it wasn’t appealing enough for me to want to pursue that type of career.”

Embracing the Unknown

When asked about her perception of Hollywood before “American Honey,” Lane’s response was telling. “It didn’t seem very real or raw,” she said. “It seemed very pretentious and overlooking a lot of things that were really close and personal to me. It just didn’t seem very authentic.”

That’s certainly not how Lane thinks now, and the actress added that her work on the film made her realize that there’s not just authentic work to be made, but authentic people to make it with. There are a few experienced faces in “American Honey,” including Shia LaBeouf, who plays the magnetic Jake, responsible for pulling Star into mag crew life to begin with, and Riley Keough as the mag crew’s iron-fisted and spray-tanned leader, Krystal.

Over the course of shooting the film and embarking on a months-long marketing push, Lane and Keough have grown very close – a glance at both actresses’ social media accounts reveals how much time they spend with each other, and during a recent party thrown in support of the film at TIFF, they gleefully line-danced beside each other while the film’s infectious soundtrack blared across a packed bar. That bond seems to be helping Lane get even more comfortable with the spotlight.

"American Honey"

“American Honey”

“Riley, she’s so grounded and the part of Hollywood that makes me respect it more. It’s good to see people like that,” Lane said. “She’s kind of the only other one who understood, as far as my other friends. They didn’t know what I went through during that film, so we just kind of latched onto each other.”

One experience that really bonded the pair: The Cannes Film Festival, where the film debuted in May, just one year after Lane was cast. The film ultimately picked up the Jury Prize, Arnold’s third such win in the category.

“I think nothing will top Cannes,” Lane said. “That was the first time we all saw the movie. There was so much energy, and I think Cannes also focuses so much on that festival. Everyone has a lot of respect for the director, the writer, the DP, the whole crew. There’s a lot of love and energy.”

The experience was a formative one for Lane, and helped further cement her belief that there is a place in Hollywood for an actress like her who wants to make films like “American Honey.”

READ MORE: Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast: Andrea Arnold on Capturing the Poetic Realism of ‘American Honey’ (Episode 6)

“It was so intense and so emotional, but it felt nice because at the end of it, I just felt really proud to be a part of that experience and to have known those people,” she said. “And to know that, wow, you can do this in a way that still feels good.”

Lane’s focus on doing projects that feel right to her has already started to pay off. She recently wrapped Meryam Jooebeur’s short film “Born in the Maelstrom,” signed on for Stephen Kijak’s music-centric comedy “Shoplifters of the World” and Paul J. Franklin’s sci-fi outing “Hunting Lila,” but the budding actress admits that her energies are still so focused on “American Honey” that it’s hard to look forward all the time.

“I know it’s weird, because I just don’t really focus on that right now, because I guess I’m just day by day,” Lane said. “I don’t know what will happen and how those things will go through, so I don’t really talk about it. Who knows what tomorrow’s going to bring, you know?”

“American Honey” premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize. It will be released in the United States on September 30.

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