What makes American Honey so effective is the cast of mostly unknown, amateur stars, including the film’s magnetic lead, Sasha Lane. Despite having no acting experience, Lane comes off like a pro; her chemistry with co-star Shia LaBeouf feels tangible, and there’s an effortless quality to the way she conveys emotion without saying anything at all. I spoke with Lane in Austin ahead of the film’s premiere at Fantastic Fest, where she was just as lovely in person as she is onscreen.

Lane’s lack of experience is actually perfect for American Honey, a poetic and poignant odyssey through the Midwest with a pack of disenfranchised kids selling magazine subscriptions. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lane and her character, Star, are one in the same — but while Lane has a unique empathy for her fictional counterpart and they are about the same age, the similarities end there. After spending a few minutes with Lane, you can see why director Andrea Arnold felt drawn to this young woman she discovered dancing on a beach during Spring Break. She’s nothing short of wonderful.

I saw the movie last week and loved it. And it’s the first movie you’ve ever been in, which makes it even more astonishing.

It’s so bizarre. But it’s so cool because I’ve watched movies where I’ve been so about the person in it, ugh, like I hope you do well or I get so sad, and to hear people [say] I’m feeling for you or I was scared for you, or I was this. That’s super cool. Thanks, man.

I thought I was prepared but I wasn’t expecting for it to have such a profound emotional impact — especially that scene in the oil field…

Oil workers or whatever we were doing, it’s cool that people are actually like, I wanted your life to be protected. I’m like, thanks.

I almost feel guilty that I felt protective of you in the movie.

Oh yeah? Why?

I started to wonder if I was undervaluing you as much as everyone else. Star can take care of herself. 

That’s the thing too, I even felt bad because in certain situations I’m like, are you sure this is going to go well, because it seems really sketch. But that’s kind of what it is, you just have to put your faith in people sometimes. You never know what people will look the scariest or if their situation is the most sketch. They can be the kindest people or people who are just like, I’m just trying to help you out and also have a good time. It’s weird, but they’re just kinda like, meh, or meanwhile — even with the oilfield worker, of course it was a real dirty, weird situation but it’s also like, yeah, I’m not doing it because there’s this…I guess there’s this undertone of what I’m used to. Like, OK, I know this type of life and I know how to get money like this, but my whole reasoning is for something else and I’m like, look, let’s get this done. Let’s go out. I can get the money, whatever. I got it. I have a reason for it, you don’t have to feel that bad but also, we have to have faith in people, but I know it’s scary and it’s kind of like, what are you doing?

It takes a very complex approach to showing the difference between being taken advantage of and giving someone permission to use you because there’s some benefit in it for you.

Yeah! Because usually, like with the dad, I was taken advantage of in that situation. But here I am putting myself [there] and being like, this is okay to demean me in this way because I have a purpose and I’m gonna get what I want or need out of that. It’s complicated because it’s life, and people are all very complicated.

You have a very interesting story about being discovered on a beach.

Which is crazy because it’s a big beach and it’s Spring Break and there’s so many people. You know, I’ve been told I stand out, but usually it’s like, Sasha, you kind of look crazy, or what are you doing? Like I always felt really uncomfortable standing out because it was not always for the best reasons, or at least personally I took it that way, but to have Andrea [Arnold] think I stood out in such a beautiful way, in such a, you know, your looks and who you are personally, it just sits we me every time and I’m just like, ahh. When I get around her I’m always kind of emotional when we talk about it because I’m just like, I appreciate you, I really do.

What were you doing before all of this happened?

I was in college studying psychology and social work, kind of like “What is life?” Yeah, so it’s a big change.

I think that’s where everyone is at that age.

Yeah. And there’s just so many other factors, like I struggle with mental illness, plus being at that point in life and just so many afferent things that were such a jumbled mess. And I also was like, something’s missing, but I had a feeling that something was going to happen. So it was a really, like, I’m exhausted but there’s something that keeps telling me to hold on because there’s something there. So, thankfully I kept on truckin’.

So there you are with your friends at Spring Break and someone asks you to be in a movie. What was your reaction to that?

That’s such a weird thing, because one, I’m very terrified of attention on me. I’m very terrified of the camera. I’m very not into the whole Hollywood thing, but something about Andrea and the little snippet she gave me of the movie, I was like, okay. And also I think it’s just where I was in life. I had nothing left to lose. I had nothing to be like, no. So I kind of was just like, go for it, I guess. I mean, it’s still pretty bizarre. I don’t think until the trailer came out [was] when I was like “Oh, we actually made a movie.” Like, we legit made a movie, okay. Even after I saw it I was l like, “Nah. It’s weird.”

Aside from Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough, you’re acting with a bunch of kids who have never acted before — except for Arielle Holmes, who is incredible.

Yeah, yeah. I’m obsessed with people, that’s why I was in psychology, and I was so drawn to her the whole time. She’s just such an interesting person and such, like, her soul is so beautiful and so mysterious, and I think it’s cool.

Have you had a chance to see her movie, Heaven Knows What?

I did! And especially living with her for two months, doing this movie, and then I watched her movie, and we’d been hearing about it, and we got close, and then to watch that, my heart was like ahh. Dude, and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, to have known you.” But I’m so glad that she did that movie and did this one. I think it’s such a beautiful thing. People like her need to be seen.

I think that’s why some people might struggle with Heaven Knows What or American Honey. They both explore a part of our society that isn’t just unseen, people don’t want to see it. 

They turn it off. It’s not like they don’t see it, it’s like they become ignorant because they don’t want to dive into that, they don’t want to go there, they don’t want to dig deeper. They want to be like “That is very dark,” or “That is just wild people.” But people are so complicated and life is so complicated, and when you mix the two there’s just so much more. So, like, yeah you look at that and you get sad but you’re also just like “Wow, you beautiful person.” It gets me every time.

One of my favorite moments features something else we don’t see often, which is when Star removes her tampon to have sex with Jake. It’s so great and so real. 

Exactly, I was so stoked for it, and it’s become funny. We were going to tape it in the underwear — just, we were gonna tape it in the thing and then we were just like, “no, we’ve got to go for it,” and it’s like, okay, we’re going for it. And I think it’s dope because yeah, you don’t see that, but I’m just like, I’m sorry, but women one, have periods, and two, are very sexual beings. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to express that even when dealing with something like that. And I think it’s dope as a man to be like, “Oh, okay, whatever, I get it, life.” So, yeah.

Jake reminds me of a lot of boys I knew and tried to date when I was younger, which made my heart cringe a little.

I understand that, but I also think about Jake as — there’s a lot of cruelty and all that, you know, some meanness, but I also think that he’s a person as well, and so it’s kind of like there’s some complication, there’s clearly some stuff in there that makes you like, “I want to give you a chance but you really suck, but you’re also a human, and I can’t knock a human, so, okay.”

Like your characters, you guys became a makeshift family during this experience. Has it been hard for you to leave it behind?

Yeah, definitely a family. That’s my people and I refuse — it’s kind of hard that every stop that we do for this tour, I’m like, that means I'm leaving them a little bit and it sucks. But we keep in touch, so it’s good.

American Honey hits theaters in New York and L.A. on September 30. It expands to additional theaters nationwide in the coming weeks. 

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