“People disregard kids like us,” says Sasha Lane. “They disregard other lifestyles, other people’s personalities, and different ways of living in the Midwest.”
The 20-year-old first-time actress is giving her take on American Honey, English auteur Andrea Arnold’s fearless, Cannes-winning feature, which molds reality into a ravishing vision of youth adrift, trading on humble miracles and communal sincerity. With its exuberant vistas of an unseen America, the film follows a group of free-spirited young men and women romping through town after town, selling magazines door to door.
Arnold discovered Dallas native and former Texas State University student Lane sunbathing on a beach; the latter initially suspected that the director was casting porn. Once persuaded to take on the role of protagonist Star, a dramatized version of herself, Lane embarked on a production whose unconventional stylings would infuse her with new purpose. Arnold designed the shoot as a real-life road trip; while she always had the story’s bones in mind, she made sure to shoot in sequence so that being on the road would inform cast and crew’s approach.
“There was nothing about it that was faked, besides the fact that Star is a little more naïve than I am,” Lane says of the shoot. “Everything you see in the movie—that’s how we lived. We lived in those motels. We lived on the road. We went up to meet random strangers. Since I was so connected to Star, it was hard sometimes to differentiate between the movie and myself. There was no separation.”
The youths in revolt—troubled, disenfranchised, hungry—are played by a cast of mostly inexperienced actors (including Arielle Holmes, whose own biographical debut in 2015’s Heaven Knows What reflected her experience of being homeless). “Pretty much everyone was from the street or had experience with it,” says Lane, “so it was as real as we could get.”
Coupled with these non-actors were two more seasoned performers, Riley Keough and Shia LaBeouf (as Star’s beau, Jake). For Keough (of The Girlfriend Experience and Mad Max), who plays the rogue gang’s leader, her collaborators’ freshness was liberating. “If I had it my way, I would work with only non-actors. I love that. It doesn’t allow you to act. You can’t. You can’t not ‘be there;’ you can’t really control things or rehearse. It’s the ultimate experience for an actor.”
The presence of LaBeouf—whose non-cinematic artistic endeavors have been unclassifiable, to say the least—helped keep energies up. “’Predictable’ pretty much means ‘boring,’” Keough says. “Andrea wasn’t trying to put together a group of pussies! She wanted it to be wild. Shia is willing to go wherever he needs to, and everyone else was, too.”
Producer Lars Knudsen, who with Jay Van Hoy runs prolific indie production company Parts & Labor, describes the cast—whom he refers to as “the new America”—in a different way. “Andrea sees the beauty in things that people don’t always see the beauty in. All of these kids that were cast, some people would call them fuck-ups—but what she saw in them was heart and hope.”
None more so than Lane, whose self-actualization inadvertently became public spectacle. She realized this at the film’s Cannes premiere this May. “Since the film was so real, people were about to see my soul, and that was scary. I had never been to Cannes, I’d never done a movie, I’d never seen myself on screen, I’d never shown that much emotion to people.”
The actress found comfort in camaraderie. “We all went [to the festival] together and that helped a lot. It was a cool experience to watch it together, see what we created, and know that all of our lives were changed by it.”
Indeed, for all involved, American Honey verges on a spiritual awakening. “This has been, by far, the most challenging and life-changing experience that I could ever wish for on a movie,” says Knudsen.
Lane contemplates the film’s conclusion. “If people can feel this movie the way that we felt it, and they can walk away with a new understanding, I think that’s really dope. Star has gone through so much, and she is also finding herself. She realizes that what she came from doesn’t have to be her life anymore—she can figure things out. The whole point is that you just never know what’s gonna to happen. That’s life. Anything could happen.” MM
American Honey opens in theaters September 30, 2016, courtesy of A24. This article appears in the Fall 2016 issue of MovieMaker.