It’s the stuff of Hollywood lore: in 2015, Andrea Arnold, the auteur behind Fish Tank and Red Road (both winners of the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize), had the lead of her next movie drop out, so she flew to Florida during spring break to cast a new star. She found Sasha Lane. Tipsily hanging out with her friends on the beach, Lane, with her dreadlocks and intense self-possession, was impossible to ignore.
Arnold approached her. The advances were initially met with skepticism— porn producers use similar recruiting tactics—but, after a series of impromptu auditions in hotel rooms and parking lots, Lane went along. A year later, American Honey won Arnold a third Cannes Jury Prize, and most of the buzz surrounding it came from Lane’s unforgettable performance as Star, a young woman who falls in with a crew of mostly abandoned kids, selling magazines door- to-door across the country— sort of a cross between summer camp and human trafficking. An independent, multifaceted soul, she is by turns curious and cagy, strong-willed and submissive. The emotional range Lane displays is as vast as the empty American landscapes Star and her crew pass through.
Much like Star, Sasha Lane wields a fiery independent streak. “I think the reason I was discovered the way I was is that I’m not like everyone else,” she says. When she was growing up in rural, working-class Texas, Hollywood had been less a real place and more of an abstract—not necessarily positive—idea. In her new life, Lane says that she’s much more hopeful. “Now I can express myself and move in the direction I want to move. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” She pauses. “But I have more anxiety, too.” She’s says she’s focused on “clearing out bad shit,” and that her home is a source of comfort and stability: “I have a brother and a dog. What else do you need?”
Lane appears in threefilms that come out in 2018,including a turn alongside Chloë Grace Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s novel about evangelical conversion therapy. Lane plays Jane Fonda—not that Jane Fonda—Cameron’s friend and fellow inmate at God’s Promise, an anti- gay brainwashing camp. Jane is feisty and funny, a consistently bright spot in a morose picture. Lane was attracted to the role because, as a queer woman, she is particularly disturbed by the subject matter. “It’s wrong,” she says, adding that although the movie is set in the ‘90s, “it’s happening now. It’s not something that just happened years ago.”
The Miseducation of Cameron Post comes out in the United States in August, but before that audiences will see Lane in theaters as Rose, the love interest of Sam Fisher (Kiersey Clemons) in Hearts Beat Loud. Comparatively, it’s much more of a feel-good movie, cute and full of music. The story centers on Sam’s father (Nick Offerman), who tries to talk Sam into putting off college to start a band with him; Rose provides inspiration for Sam to write songs, as well as further motivation to stay home. Their scenes together have an easy, natural intimacy, for which Lane credits director Brett Haley, who reached out to her and Clemons for input in developing their characters and relationship. “He understood that he’s a straight white man, and we’re two biracial girls. It was our story, and he allowed us to tell it.”
Lane also has a small role in indie rom-com Shotgun, which screened at SXSW in March. She says she appeared in the movie to support one of the directors, Hannah Marks. “She’s a woman, she’s young. I really admire her.” Finally, early next year, Lane will be in a reboot of the Hellboy series. She learned much about the modern filmmaking craft, she says, as part of a big-budget superhero movie production, with its elaborate costumes and green-screens.
This broad array of roles is no accident. Lane doesn’t want to be in just any movie; she needs to be invested in an artistic project. “I really enjoy acting when I feel connected to my characters, when it says something to me.” Though the world of actors and acting didn’t necessarily call to a young Lane, she always had a sense of empathy for characters. “I could always get really into characters, really invested, put my mind into their mind.”
Lane’s no-bullshit approach is evident not just in her choices of work, but on her Twitter feed—where one might find a cheeky joke about smoking weed alongside a sincere reflection on the pain of being labelled and “put into a box” as a gay person followed by a post that consists entirely of the word “FUCK” repeated 56 times— or on her Instagram, where she’s as likely to post an iPhone lip- syncing video as her latest photoshoot. Even when asked how she likes living in Los Angeles, Lane doesn’t hold back. “The weather is nice… You can find a lot of vegetables… But I miss being around genuine people who I feel like I can trust.” Trusting in herself, then, has become essential. “It’s almost a survival thing. I have to be who I am. I don’t have any interest fitting in with everyone here.”
What great artist has ever fit in? Outsiders can question; outsiders can subvert; outsiders can speak hard truths to a society that wants to ignore them, like American Honey does. One hopes Sasha Lane gets more roles like that. As indispensable as she is to Hearts Beat Loud and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, she’s like a glowing meteor in orbit around those films. But when she herself is the star, her magnetism is inescapable. We shouldn’t have to wait for long. With a talent as singular as hers, it’s only a matter of time.