Sasha Lane by ELLE | ELLE UK

American Honey's Sasha Lane: 'Women can be loving and emotional but that does not mean they're weak'

This time last year, Sasha Lane was serving tables in a Mexican restaurant. Now she's got a Cannes Jury Prize-winning film under her belt. We sat down with the star of American Honey to find out how life can change in a year and being the new girl in Hollywood

'I'm doing everything I can to get the junket people to let me skip the press stuff so we can go watch a show.' Sasha Lane is telling me how she'd like to skip her press obligations for the rest of the day and escape to see London's famous West End. 'I'd see anyone, any show,' she admits, looking desperately at her publicist sitting in the corner of the room.

Far from being rude, you can't help smile at the star's honesty – after all, this is her third interview in London this morning, mere hours after jetting in from Paris after sitting FROW at the Louis Vuitton SS17 fashion show – because the opportunity to travel the world is a pretty new phenomenon for the 21-year-old. Besides, this is a girl who just last year was a freshman studying psychology and social work at college with a part-time job in a local restaurant near Frisco, Texas.

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I'm sitting with Sasha in ELLE HQ's main meeting room, where she's just come from visiting ASOS and managed to nab a few more additions to her now ever-growing wardrobe.

'I got to take this cool red ASOS jacket, but brands aren't really a thing to me. If I dig something, I'll throw it on. I like random stuff you can get at thrift shops,' she says, enthusistically pointing out the details of her outfit for me – ruffling the frayed denim at the bottom of her culottes, flicking the clasps on her oversized safety pin-shaped earrings and twisting the silver ring on her thumb.

honey 🍓 x @lindseybyrnes part 1

A photo posted by Sasha Lane (@sashablane) on

Sitting opposite Sasha, you can't help but feel like you're playing catch up. Throughout our interview she stands to switch the foot she's sitting on, stops mid-sentence lost with words and bursts into laughter, wiggles her fingers when she's making an important point as if trying to perform magic and nods intently when listening to a question. For the Texan, this is just an external manifestation of how her mind works. 'I'm very in tune with everything.'

Such intuition she says helped her carve out her early years knowing she was destined for something bigger than her run-of-the-mill life in Texas.

'Growing up, I definitely felt like my spirit wasn't suppose to sit in a desk office. I felt something was missing, like something amazing was going to happen to do with me fulfilling my purpose. This feeling was at back of my head before American Honey but when I met Andrea, it became very strong.'

She's talking about Andrea Arnold – the British Academy Award-winning director of films such as Red Road, Fish Tank and Wasp – who plucked Lane from obscurity on a beach in Panama City, Florida last year during Spring Break.

It took just one day for Arnold to convince Lane to put her life plans on hold, get in her car and embark on a road-trip that would see her spend eight weeks on a journey across America, sleeping in bug-infested motel rooms with a random group of twentysomethings. I guess the lesson 'Don't get into a stranger's car' you're taught as a kid wasn't exactly a concern for Sasha.

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'It was an energy thing. [Andrea] is so empathetic, she doesn't pick your brain to be nosey – she really wants to understand you, so you can't help but trust her.' Little did Lane know Andrea had uncovered the film's star – quite literally.

In the film Sasha plays Star, a disadvantaged 18-year-old who runs away from her broken family to join a motley crew of teenage runways who hustle to sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door with a little bit of light burglary on the side. However, for someone who was chosen to be in the film because of her look and effervescent energy, it must have been confusing to decipher when she was allowed to be Sasha and meant to act like Star.

'It was a constant back and forth process trying to figure things out. I connected with Star a lot which is why Andrea felt such a strong bond between me and the character but sometimes she'd say, 'Well, Star…' and I'd reply 'Well, Sasha would not be doing that'.

So, where does Sasha end and Star begin? 'We're both free and naive – her maybe more so than me, which is why sometimes I think 'Yo girl get it together'. Star is naïve in the same way that I'm not stupid.'

When you're from such a place of darkness and you see and feel it all around, you have to learn how to find your own beauty in people and your own surroundings otherwise you're constantly going to be brought down.

'Star is strong, even when she gets herself into situations [such as in a gun robbery and moment of prostitution] and when she falls in love, she's still very strong.'

She's right. Star's strength is undoubtedly the linchpin of the film. From scavenging for food in a dumpster for her younger siblings (although their biological relationship is never confirmed) and running away from her abusive step-father to joining a group of ragamuffins who credit their pastimes as having sex in dingy motel rooms and punching the person who brings in the least amount of money from the day's sales, you'd have to be pretty tough to survive life on the road with just just a backpack and a day's earnings to your name.

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'This part of America [in the film] is really dark, the way people judge other people without getting to know them is dark. Some people are money hungry and don't stop to think of who they're affecting and what really matters. There's a lot of ugly. Everyone wants to romanticise it cause they're not in it,' she says. The American dream, this film is not.

Throughout American Honey, the group of teens drive from city to city, visiting affluent neighbourhoods in an attempt to sell worthless magazines with the chance to keep just 20% of the profits – the rest funds the group's accommodation and travel. Their days are spent taking drugs, drinking straight spirits and dancing to rap anthems on full-volume by Juicy J and Rae Sremmurd. Throughout the film, you'd be forgiven you were watching real-life footage of a group of friends on a road trip, not an Academy Award-winning piece of cinematography.

'It was chaotic but that was the beauty of it. Pretty much everything was scripted but sometimes Andrea would ask us to mention something but encourage us to do what we want. The camera would constantly turn on and off. Most of the time we were just chilling in the van,' explains Sasha.

Stuck in a people carrier blaring out the likes of Big Sean's 'I Don't Give A F*ck' and Ciara and Ludacris' 'Ride', passing around a marijuana bong and getting wasted with friends might sound fun for a day or two, but after almost three months of filming, it must have become exhausting.

'You're compacted into a tiny space. You're going to love each other a lot and sometimes you're going to be like, 'Oh my god, this is really intense, I need a breather'. Fortunately the bond between us all was strong enough so you could tell someone: 'Look, you're getting on my nerves right now but I love you.'

At times, the group were free to do whatever they wanted but sometimes I had a purpose in the scene. A lot of the time I wanted to party so bad and have a lollypop but I had to look sad, look out of the window and have a legit conversation.

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Two people who Sasha made the strongest bonds were co-stars Shia LaBeouf (her rumoured boyfriend at the time) Elvis' granddaughter Riley Keough. Unfortunately for Lane, Riley played Krystal – the Oliver Twist Fagin-esque ring leader of the group who manipulates Star's love interest Jake (played by Beouf)– meaning a real-life friendship on set was out of bounds. At least, until filming wrapped.

'We weren't allowed to hang out and be best friends. We already laughed enough anyways. It was weird because you could tell on set we both were thinking, 'I kind of dig you but you sit over there'. It worked for the film.' Their post-filming relationship couldn't be anything different than their on-screen personas.

Since wrapping, the pair have almost been inseparable – bunking together in Cannes the night before the premiere, sitting side-by-side on the FROW at the SS17 Coach show and raving about each other on social media.

'It would suck to be doing it alone. Since she knows the industry as well and is such a grounded person, I tell her when I'm freaking out and she'll help me.' Could a collaboration between the two be on the cards? 'I have a feeling we might do something together in the future.'

We're actually an all girl band but we devoured the other two members according to @ohhoolie ❤️😈

A photo posted by Sasha Lane (@sashablane) on

When Sasha talks of the future, it doesn't seem to be something that overly concerns her. However, it sounds like life straight after American Honey might have been the only time when Lane was left considering, 'what happens next?'.

Once shooting on the film wrapped, Lane moved to LA to live with a friend from Texas and started going to meetings and a few auditions, not quite sure what was going to happen with her career. Other than that, she did a lot of window sitting – like, a lot.

'I sat at my weekend and looked out the window. I would call everyone and wake up my friend in the middle of the night to ask: 'I'm in LA, what am I doing here?''

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Well, whatever she did in the months post-filming she need not have worried because taking a risk on American Honey paid off, big time. This summer, it received the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and a Commendation from the Ecumenical Jury.

'I'm happy people are connecting to the film in the way I hoped they would and having their own experiences.' But, talk of Academy awards isn't really on her radar. 'I don't think about the individual stuff but I'm very passionate about the film.'

Next month, Lane will begin filming Shoplifters Of The World Unite (about the day The Smith's broke up, resulting in a fan taking a gun to a radio station in New York and forcing the DJ to play the band's music all night) alongside Magic Mike's Joe Manganiello, and already has sci-fi movie Hunting Lila in the pipeline.

sauce. 😘@naivashaintl @janicekinjo

A video posted by Sasha Lane (@sashablane) on

As a strong protagonist in American Honey, Lane has had the fortune of portraying a strong female protagonist which is a rarity in Hollywood, let alone so early in an actor's career. It's a subject Arnold spoke up on last month when she told the BBC she was shocked at how few women were making films. 'We've grown up mainly on male stories, and most of the films have been written and directed by men – and that's only half of the human race,' she said.

Lane admits she hasn't personally endured sexism in the industry yet but isn't naïve of its existence. 'I'm not aware as much as Andrea would be and other people. I've been dying for a movie when the woman isn't just rescued.'

Women are so strong and wild and we should embrace every single part of ourselves and not just be a sex object – we can love sex. We're not going to think, 'I need this person to save me so I can feel beautiful'. No, you find beauty in yourself and work hard. You can be loving and emotional but that does not mean you're weak. It's nice to see that onscreen and be a part of that. I wish there was more.

Having already caught the eye of creative director of Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière – who dressed Lane head-to-toe in the brand for Cannes – and being on the cusp of shooting two films before the end of the year, what's next for the break-out star?

'I'll do anything that sparks me. Sometimes I'll want to something random with ballet and then I'll want to be a hippie caterpillar in an animation film. Who knows what will come my way but I'm going to try and put little hints into the universe and hopefully they'll float on by. I want to continue being passionate, creating and floating through life, because apparently it's working for me so far.'

That could quite possibly be the biggest understatement of the year.

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