There is an air of kismet presently surrounding American Honey star Sasha Lane, the DFW-native and former Texas State psychology student that has accidentally become the independent film industry’s ingénue du jour. For starters, her biography reads like the stories studio executives in the Golden Age of Hollywood used to make up to sell their starlets (see: Lana Turner). A beautiful free spirit spends her spring break at the beach, where she’s spotted by a successful director, who offers her the lead role in a new film opposite a bona fide movie star. Though the young woman has no prior acting experience, she takes the to the craft. The camera loves her, and so, it turns out, do the critics. A star is born.
In Lane’s case, the beach was Panama City, Florida, the co-star was Shia LaBeouf, and the director was Andrea Arnold, a prolific auteur who has won the Cannes Jury Prize every year she has submitted a film, including this year with American Honey, which comes out in most major cities September 30 (though it won’t be showing in Texas theaters until next week).
American Honey is about a young woman, Star, who leaves her abusive, impoverished home to join a group of runaways and dropouts who travel cross-country selling magazines door to door. Arnold’s film was largely inspired by a 2007 New York Times article that detailed the grim lives of these “mag crews,” whose employees often survive on less than $10 a day in food money and are subjected to beatings or forced to fight one another if they don’t meet sales quotas. But when Arnold began conducting her own research, she saw not just abuse and squalor, but also community and love. The mag crews provided a stronger sense of family than many of these children have ever known.
Arnold spent a year casting American Honey, searching for unconventional talent in Walmart parking lots across the country. Ultimately, eleven of the fifteen kids in the film’s mag crew had no acting experience, including Sasha Lane. Because Arnold cast kids with backgrounds similar to those recruited by the real-life mag crews, and because she had them live, work, and travel together as a real-life mag crew would, she was able to coerce more authentic and arguably better performances out of her non-actors than another director likely would have. The strongest of those performances is Lane’s.
There are many similarities between Lane and her character, so the actress didn’t have to do much to wrap her head around the role. Of Star, Lane says she only needed to know that she “came from a broken home and took care of her siblings.” She adds, “a lot of her characteristics are very similar to mine. I just knew that I had to turn some parts up or turn some parts down.”
Lane credits much her performance to Arnold’s directing style. “The way that Andrea works,” she says, “you don’t really have a chance to settle with things. You were just kind of in that moment. She gave you enough about your person to figure it out as you go.”
Staying in the moment, spontaneity, and a sense of adventure seem to motivate not only Arnold and Lane, but particularly the character of Star, who has a habit of spontaneously hopping into strangers’ cars based only on a gut feeling that it’s the right move. This starts when she follows Jake (Shia Labeouf, complete with rattail) to the mag crew, but she does it at least three more times throughout the movie. Sometimes these decisions seem regrettable, but Lane says that “even though it seems very impulsive, or very much careless, she had a specific reason” for getting into every car. Star may be naive, says Lane, but her most admirable qualities are her sense of loyalty, and her trust that, even when “the world has been shitting on you constantly,” there are still good people to be found.
Lane also seems pretty trusting, not just of people, but of her own instincts. After all, she agreed to star in a movie, with zero acting experience, after knowing Andrea Arnold for about a week. Fortunately for her, American Honey, a film about a young free spirit with a sense of adventure was the perfect starring vehicle for a young free spirit with a sense of adventure. So far, her gut instinct seems to have been spot on. Lane, a former waitress at a Frisco Tex-Mex restaurant, has not only captured the hearts of the Cannes Jury, but of the mainstream press, and has been written about by the likes of Vogue, Glamour, Dazed, W Magazine, and more. She’s been invited to sit in the front row at Fashion Week, has become BFF’s with a member of Hollywood royalty (American Honey co-star Riley Keough, a.k.a. Elvis’s granddaughter), and has landed the lead in the adaptation of the YA series Hunting Lila. It looks like Sasha Lane’s name can be added to the long list of Texas to Watch.
It will be interesting to see how her performance style changes when she works with directors less freestyle than Andrea Arnold. I personally think she’ll be okay, provided she approaches each role with the same openness and curiosity that she brought to American Honey.