‘American Honey’ Star Sasha Lane on Road Tripping and Finding Hope in Flyover Country [Fantastic Fest Interview]
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is a remarkable movie and one of the best films of 2016. At the center of this intimate and quietly epic drama is newcomer Sasha Lane as Star, a young woman who escapes her abusive home by joining a “mag crew” of equally disaffected youth. We follow this crew as they travel from state-to-state, peddling magazines, having misadventures, and finding hope and pain in every nook and cranny of the the American heartland.
Lane gives the kind of raw and brutally real performance you do not often find from more polished and experienced actors. The same applies to an interview in a karaoke room at Fantastic Fest – she’s not one to offer a canned answer. Over the course of a too-brief conversation, we spoke about working with a director as empathetic as Andrea Arnold, what it’s like to work with Shia LaBeouf, and how most movies turn away from the subject matter explored in American Honey.
I saw American Honey at 8:00 in the morning and I was worried because it is a very long movie and I was very tired. But I was riveted from the first scene. It flies by.
What was it like when you watched it for the first time? How did you feel?
Dude, I was like…it was so intense. I couldn’t even watch it as a movie and still to this day can’t watch it anymore because there’s so much emotion and it’s so intense. I was just remembering how I felt on that day and how my brother was there and so many different things. But it’s cool. You get into it. The trailer I feel like is a good overall [representation] but the movie hits hard. It hits hard, like when “God’s Whisper” comes on.
The trailer does a good job of selling the more exciting aspects of the movie, but there is a lot of subtlety in it. A lot of unseen emotions.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but [director] Andrea Arnold found you on a beach, right?
So how’d that happen?
It’s just as weird as it sounds. Literally. She picked me out from the beach and we ended up talking and I stayed a week with her. It was the most bizarre, random thing ever, but so organic – “I’m doing a movie, I dig who you are, I want to get to know you more, throw you in some situations.” By the end of it, she’s like “You ready to go? Because I’m ready to go” and I’m like “Yep, let’s go!”
Were you aware of her at all before you met her?
No! But I went and watched Fish Tank after and I really dug the whole aesthetic of it and who she was and how she was describing Star as a strong person. Even if she’s naive and impulsive, she’s free-spirited. She’s a good strong girl. She’s not just the come-save-me type thing.
You’re from Texas, right?
So had you visited many of the areas seen the movie before? Oklahoma and the middle of America?
I hadn’t… Oklahoma is the only place I had been, but knowing the midwest and Texas and knowing the type of life and those kinds of people…it was very familiar, even though I hadn’t been there.
Since movies are so often made on the coasts, I felt like this is one of the few movies to really, truly get this part of the country. Even at its ugliest, it’s familiar.
Yeah! Exactly. People are always like “Did you learn things about America? How was it like road tripping?” And I’m like “No, I know that!” I’m from that. Even if I hadn’t been there, it was very much familiar territory.
And this was filmed as a road trip. You guys did really just drive all around these states as a group. How much of the shoot was carefully structured and how much of it was figuring it out as you went along?
Pretty much all of it was written. The parts in the van were the most…that’s documentary style. Because if anything, [Andrea Arnold] would say “I want you to bring up this, but do as you do.” Sometimes we’d be in the van and they’d randomly turn the camera on. But we’re just chilling. We’re just doing as we do as we talked. That was improv’d, documentary style. The rest was directed, but we were still free to say as we said it and that’s why editing was awful! [Laughs]
The cast really feels like a unit who have been traveling together for a long time. Did you have the chance to hang out before the movie? Did you do a lot of hanging out off set to strengthen your bonds?
We met a week before we started filming and from then on, we were just in it. I had days where I worked without them a lot, but as soon as I was done filming, I’d go hang out with them and go right back to work. We were constantly together. We lived in hotels, so all we had to do was hang out in parking lots. And we were in that van, so we were scrunched up next to each other in a van, so it’s just like…I know you. I know you.
A lot of sing-alongs.
Yeah! Which is cool because it brings people together. That connection was very much inevitable.
Was there a lot of music played on the set? Music is so important in the movie.
We actually had to cheat certain things, because we had each song playing as we were going through it. It was very real, very alive.