"American Honey" star Sasha Lane was a student studying social work and psychology at Texas State University when she caught the attention of British director Andrea Arnold while on Spring Break, laying on a beach in Panama City, Florida. At the time, Lane was feeling directionless and looking to make a change; when she was approached by Arnold, her assistant, and casting director to possibly appear in the film — despite having no prior acting experience — she jumped at the opportunity.
That led to a loose audition process which tested her ability to emote on screen, and eventually she landed the film's lead role as Star, a young woman who gets swept up in the experiences of a freewheeling, hard-partying magazine crew as they travel across the country selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. Lane's performance in the film has been unanimously praised, and her natural ability marks her as a true breakout talent.
CITY spoke to Lane by phone about the whirlwind experience of making the film, premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, and where she goes from here. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CITY: You were sort of famously cast for this movie when Andrea Arnold spotted you on a beach in Florida. Can you talk a bit about how exactly that went down?
Sasha Lane: She literally just kind of ran up to me on the beach with two other women. She talked to me a little bit and said she was making a movie and wanted to come to my hotel that night. So after she showed up, the next day I put my suitcases in her car and ended up staying with her for a week. We did some improv and I met two of the other girls in the film and we had a lot of conversations. Then by the end of that week, she said she wanted me to be in the film.
What made you say yes?
I don't know. I had a really good feeling about it. Something in me was telling me that this was what that feeling I had — that something good was going to happen — and that I should just go for it. And I didn't have anything left to lose at that point. What the movie was about sounded good, and I just trusted my gut instinct.
Did you have any aspirations of being an actress before this role came along?
No, not at all. [Laughs]
What sort of preparations or rehearsals did you do before filming actually began?
I went back to finish school. I actually remember talking with some voice lady, who I guess was trying to help make my voice deeper? I dunno; nothing really stemmed from that, I don't think. But other than that, I didn't really know anything about the script, and I didn't really have any other way of preparing, so I just kind of went into it.
I'd read that the character of Star was rewritten to incorporate more of your personality. What aspects of that character came from you?
I have no idea. That's the thing: I never knew what [Andrea] was changing because of me. I think it was just small details and how I was taking everything in. But I'm not 100 percent sure on that one. But it ended well.
You had been in school for psychology. Do you think that background helped you at all in getting into the headspace of another person?
Definitely. I'm super into the mind. I used kind of my whole love for psychology, and the knowledge I had from it helped me. Like, "OK, you need to come up with this certain headspace," or to feed off this other person, or noticing little things like signs or mannerisms and picking those up. Yeah, I think that was a big part of it.
So much of the film is spent crammed in that van. That must have helped the cast bond fairly quickly. Did those conditions make it easier to form that sort of surrogate family that the group becomes as the film goes on?
Definitely, because you are spending so much time together, you're kind of forced into this kind of environment. It definitely helped make the bond quicker and stronger because you're having to live how they're living in that moment. So you're just constantly in it and building these friendships with everyone.
Had anyone in the group had experience working in a magazine crew before the film?
Yeah, one of the girls, Crystal. She would teach us certain lingo and stuff, and that was cool. She'd previously been in one of those crews. I don't know if anyone else had, but I know she did have that experience.
Like you, most of the crew were also first time actors. Did it help to have others around who were going through a similar experience?
I think so. It was kind of this "no judgment" kind of thing. I wasn't the only one on set who didn't have a clue of how to do anything. I also think it was the authenticity of it. You understood that everyone was in the same position. It was a good feeling to have.
How about Riley [Keough] and Shia [LaBeouf]? They're the most experienced performers of the cast. How did that affect their relationship with the rest of the group? Or did it?
Fortunately, even though we were all mostly non-actors, we didn't feel any pressure from Riley or Shia. We were still all in it together; we're all there for a reason. So that was really nice. It was comfortable.
The first time you got to see the completed film was when it premiered at Cannes Film Festival. What was that like, seeing it for the first time in that setting?
Oh man. It was so intense and really emotional. I mean, all of the crew was back together and we hadn't seen each other in almost a year. And yeah, it was the first time we had seen anything [of the film] and it's such a big place. It was insane. But it was pretty incredible. I'll never forget that.
How has this press tour experience been for you?
It's kind of exhausting — physically and emotionally. Mentally, you have to keep going back to that shoot, and it's just, it's a lot. I didn't expect all this, but it's cool to travel and connect with people after they've watched the film.
Do you think you'll want to continue acting as a career?
Yeah, if I can continue to do it in a way that feels good with me — find a passion and enjoy it — then I definitely want to continue it. I've already gotten so many incredible connections through this, like two of the producers and one of Andrea's assistants are my managers now. And more than that, they're like my family.
I don't know, I just think I've built really amazing connections with really amazing people who I can talk to and they can help me through all this. Who I know are there for me as a person and not just someone I did a film with. I think that's really neat. That's probably my favorite part.
Would you want to work with Andrea again on something else?
I don't think that's the way she goes. She's all about finding new people and doing different things each time. I think that's kind of her thing. With her, it's not something I see in the future but we'll definitely always keep in touch.