well-behaved women rarely make history: meet 2016's breakout star, sasha lane
Sasha Lane’s debut in American Honey is a thing of wonder. The untrained actress instantly captivates in one of the most prescient and important movies of 2016.
You can learn a lot from someone's Twitter bio. JME's, for instance, reads, No Manager, No pa, No stylist, No Instagram, No meat, No dairy, No egg & No Flouride. Hilary Clinton: Wife, mom, grandma, women+kids advocate, FLOTUS, Senator, SecState, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, 2016 presidential candidate. Millie Bobby Brown: Some people call me 'Eleven'. 22-year-old actress Sasha Lane's reads thus: Well-behaved women rarely make history. *vibe*. "I remember seeing those words in my bonus mother's office and they just spoke to me," Sasha says, referring to Andrea Arnold, the British director with whom she worked on this year's Cannes Jury Prize-winning American Honey. "I admire her hard work and fierce way of achieving what she puts her mind to. I think sometimes rules and concepts and outlets need to be turned upside down a bit. No one remembers the girl who sits quietly and properly with no character or soul. I want my energy to move people, and I don't care if that makes people see me as an outsider."
There's no doubting Sasha's luminescence. The star of this year's standout indie made an instant impression in American Honey, her film debut. As soon as she steps onscreen, cigarette tipped in her lips, chipped nails, scavenging for scraps, hitching a lift with her two similarly raggedy siblings, dreads tumbled roughly on top of her head, she is utterly believable as Star, scraping through life, navigating hunger, abuse, and neglect. She's instantly captivating; more than holding her own against Shia Labeouf and Riley Keough, despite having zero experience. "She stood out among a lot of people." Andrea told i-D. "Not just visually but in her spirit. She had a real centre, a real self-possession." Sasha was cast while celebrating spring break in Panama City beach in Florida; Andrea had just lost her lead and headed to the beach where she spotted the then 19-year-old. Sasha may have never acted before, but she was an unsettled student, unsure of her future, and, like Star, looking to escape an unhappy past. The British director offered not only a new experience but a new life, and Sasha grabbed it with both hands. "I went to her hotel room that night and we did some improvisation in the corridor, with her mates," Andrea continues. "She was really great, really open. Protective of herself but really up for things. I remember we were in the Walmart car park and I introduced her to Rae Rae, who plays Shaunte in the film, the little girl with the dog. At spring break, everyone gets out of their cars and twerks in the Walmart carpark. And Rae Rae loves to twerk on her car, so I said to Sasha, 'Go on, go and join her'. She jumped up on the roof and started dancing. I thought, 'Okay, there's my girl'."
The film is an insightful examination that skillfully, subtly, beautifully tackles the stark divisions in contemporary America. Given the recent US election (and our own Brexit), American Honey has proven to be profoundly timely. "It was perfect timing and one of those films that shows middle America in such a raw way," Sasha agrees. "Obviously this is what's going on, but no one was awake to it and next thing you know Trump was elected. So the film is perfectly timed, it's showing you what people have turned their backs on for so many years; a whole generation has been ignored. Even though it's not like some huge box office success, it's one of those movies that really shows you something raw and real and realistic, it's so wonderful that it's out there. A lot of us [in the film] are from those places and it's genuinely who we are, what we know."
Sasha identifies with many of the issues that the film addresses; the distressing levels of poverty that afflict so many people, the precarious positions young women - and children - are often forced into, the decisions people make when they have no choice. But Sasha, like Andrea's Honey, takes a wider view; this isn't about despair and desolation, but about hope and optimism, finding the beauty among the filth and the dirt. "I grew up right in the centre of America, I saw everything; the lack of opportunities, the way people treat you," she says of being raised in Dallas, Texas. "The beautiful thing about that though is when you get a group of people living the same way, they understand that it's about not judging the other. I think we need a lot more love and a lot more empathy and less judgment. Trump is definitely not on that vibe," she adds, archly, "but that's what we need to get back to. On the positive side, people needed something to wake them up. I think a lot of people are now seeing what they could be doing; people are pushing towards activism. I have hope in the world because I'm seeing and meeting a lot of youth with exceptional mindsets, people who are moving in the direction of love and expanding their minds, moving away from norms," she decides. "I think if we start looking at things from all perspectives, stop being so judgemental and show more empathy and light, then the world will start showing their human side again. We need more open-mindedness and less hate."
Not only an activist, but a thinker, Sasha is - to return to her Twitter bio - fiercely feminist. Following American Honey, her next two films are written by, directed by, and starring women. Born In The Maelstrom is directed by Meryam Joobeur and based on a short story by the French-Canadian novelist Marie-Claire Blais. Shot in the Canadian wilderness the film discusses race and identity in the 50s, with Sasha playing the lead. "It was so beautiful and amazing the way they worked. It was the second thing I've done, and it made me realise, 'Yeah, I can do this.'" More notable perhaps, but just as timely given incoming Vice President Mike Pence's predisposition towards 'curing' homosexuality, is another book adaptation, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Starring Sasha and Chloë Grace Moretz and directed by Appropriate Behaviour's Desiree Akhavan, the coming-of-age film is about a young woman (Moretz) forced into gay conversion therapy. Sasha tweeted recently, when talking about the movie, that working with an all-female team is "very precious"; so why is it so crucial for Sasha to tell stories through the female gaze? "It's so important to look at all these women, despite everything that's happening, creating these incredible films, and to see that we're so strong and in charge, I think it's really special," she states. "I haven't worked with any male directors, so I'm not speaking against them, but as far as the women I've worked with, they allow you to be very vulnerable as well as strong. There's no ulterior motives, it's just a trust between you. Women directors have brought layers to characters; no one is just evil or just the hot girl, just the girlfriend, just the bitch, everyone has layers. I think because of how the world sees people, and views women especially, that's pretty powerful."
Although the film is yet to be released, Sasha has already experienced a little backlash after tweeting about working on the film with Moretz. "Why not cast an actual gay actress? Would that not be an idea? Would that not be important?" @Dykes1Tired questioned, to which Sasha replied, "You don't know a single thing about me. relax." Sasha refuses to define herself in heteronormative terms. "People believe they know you and they see all these things. She said she wasn't particularly talking about me, but even so, you don't know my life, or other people's lives, so don't assume. How do you know if someone is straight cos you saw them date one person? That type of judgement is what we don't need right now. You don't know my life, so don't speak on it."
Sasha's first role happened to be with a director who strays far from normal filmmaking methods; Andrea's approach is very up close and personal, the camera following its characters at close proximity. To prepare for the shoot, Andrea took the cast on a real-life road trip, where they road-tested the script, plot, and sublime soundtrack. How then has Sasha found stepping onto a set with directors and actors who have a more traditional approach to filmmaking? "The way I started off makes everything else seem so foreign, but I've enjoyed - and struggled - with finding how I fit into another artist's vision," Sasha reflects. "I think the special thing is that I love to observe people, I love to access all levels of the mind, so once I unlock and pick up on how the person opposite of me works, moves and relays information, then I find myself easing into it and holding a place. I want to help bring someone's vision to life, therefore I seek to see it through their eyes as well as mine."
There's clearly a consistency in the sorts of scripts Sasha is choosing to undertake; what does she want to say with her work? Is it important to the 22-year-old that film is thought-provoking as well as entertaining? "I want to make films that people can relate to, that cause them to open their minds and step back. I think a film like that would always be a perfect fit for me," she states. "I want to be in films that draw you in, because I love to be immersed. I want to be in films that start discussions, films that are important, informative, essential, memorable... But I do think it's important to have films that also just make you feel good," she adds. "Films that make you smile or remember a time in your life." Truth seems to be a recurring theme when talking to Sasha; truth, positivity, community, activism, hope. She may be a newcomer to Hollywood, but you sense if she holds her ideals close, retains her instinct for picking parts, then she will not only survive the system, but thrive. Right now, Sasha stands on the periphery; her new work will reveal itself in the next few months, awards season looms, the red carpet beckons. With all this in mind, all that she's been through, from growing up in working-class America, being plucked from obscurity to star in one of 2016's most magnificent films, looking at a future fizzing with possibility - what has Sasha learnt about herself over these past two quite extraordinary years. "That I'm allowed to believe in myself, and that passion is what I need for a sustainable life," she says. "I also learned to be more open, and to allow life to lead me and confront my fears is the best thing I could've done for myself." A lesson from Sasha we would all be wise to learn from. "I'm really happy and it's great but it's also a lot going on really fast. To come from a place of not a lot of hope, and not having a lot of hope in myself for the future, to 'all this', it's kind of surreal and nerve-wracking," she admits. "I'm very open, I don't have anything planned accordingly, I hope to keep going with my gut and I feel really good about that. I have a lot of faith in the projects that I'm working on but also where our youth is going. All one can do is have some faith and some hope, right?"
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Zoë Ghertner
Styling Julia Sarr-Jamois
Hair Rudi Lewis at LGA Management using Bumble and bumble. Make-up Fara Homidi at Frank Reps using Sunday Riley.
Nail technician Whitney Gibson at Nailing Hollywood. Photography assistance Caleb Adam. Styling assistance Bojana Kozarevic, Sarah Perillo. Producer Meghan Gallagher at Connect The Dots. Production assistance Ben Kilpatrick, Ben Flynn.
Sasha wears all clothing Louis Vuitton spring/summer 17.