In her first ever interview, Wonderland meets actor Sasha Lane as she begins life as Hollywood’s golden child.
Sasha Lane didn’t esteem Hollywood actors, not before becoming one. The stars she always looked up to were sky-bound. In Dallas, Texas, where she grew up, and San Marcos,Texas, where she went to school at Texas State University, she says:“You can lay back, look up, and see stars — not so much here.” Pollution masks the stars here in Los Angeles, where Lane now lives.The 20-year-old Libra (born September 29) lives downtown in an old friend’s condo, on the 29th floor of a new high- rise that’s designed like a hotel. An eery collection of purple,teal,and crystal clear humanoid heads greets you in the lobby, followed by the front desk personnel, who’re similarly decorative. If you make it past them, there’s complimentary coffee and tea and a fridge full of round ice, next to more obscure art, and two elevators that ascend so fast my ears pop. Lane says the place “isn’t really her style, but the view—”. She’s got panoramic windows, out of which you can see all the way to Vernon, where the last season of True Detective was set, and Compton, where Kendrick Lamar grew up. LA’s South Side — vast, industrial, and full of cars, like a Hot Wheels dream.That’s how it looks, from this height. At night, Lane says: “it’s beautiful, so lit.” She says she loves to sit on her window sill, “and read, colour, and chill.” She hasn’t had much time to lately, though, as she’s gearing to trip to Cannes, France, where she’ll see screened, next week, for the first time in full, a feature film she stars in. American Honey is its name. In it, Lane plays a young American woman named Star.
It’s Lane’s first acting gig, and the character is based, in part, on her. That’s how English director Andrea Arnold, best known for her 2009 film Fish Tank, wanted to work: she cast non-actors whose
backgrounds were similar to the characters she wanted to portray. Lane calls them, “castaway kids, the ones people discard; they’re from broken homes, or living on the street.” Lane’s Star is, like Sasha Lane, originally from Texas, a change Arnold made because of Lane’s dreadlocks; the director didn’t feel they were believable on a girl from Oklahoma, as Star was first scripted.“As she was meeting everyone,” Lane says,“Andrea would kind of write the script around them.” Since Star is the heart of the film’s plot, she had to be a bit more fictional, to move it along,“but a lot of it was still me— the spirit, the energy, my tattoos, everything.”
Andrea Arnold cast Lane on a beach in Florida during spring break 2015. Arnold was out scouting with her assistant and casting director, and Lane was a little intoxicated. She was with a group of friends when Arnold and co came up and told her they’d been watching her for awhile. “They were like: ‘You’re such a free spirit, you’re so beautiful, we’re doing this movie and want to talk to you.’” One of Lane’s friends dismissed the pick-up as being for porn, a common troll on spring break beaches. Everyone else was curious, though, so they listened, and that night, Andrea Arnold came by Sasha Lane’s hotel to tell her more about the movie. The next morning, Lane was supposed to go back to Texas. Arnold requested that she stay the week, to ensure the casting was right. Lane agreed, though not without some worry. As she was moving her suitcase from a friend’s into Arnold’s car, Lane remembers telling the filmmaker, “If you’re going to kill me, everyone knows where I am.” Sasha says she had “a good vibe” about Andrea (and she’s “very into vibes,” the word is even tattooed on her), but there was a fear — felt expressly by her friends and family — that Sasha may be getting sucked into the very scam Arnold claimed to be making a movie about.
Mag crews. Bands of mostly underprivileged youth who travel the United States selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door in mostly affluent neighbourhoods. It’s an exploitative business, hierarchical and abusive, so much so some consider it human trafficking; there are pending lawsuits, criminal investigations.Youth are recruited off the streets, some from halfway houses. They’re promised money, travel, and food. Party, drugs, and community are bonus, part of the adventuring atmosphere. It’s a real phenomenon. The companies who run mag crews tend to change their names often, to evade fraud charges. It’s tricky to track, as most companies only accept cash, which the hired youth but briefly touch. They hand it off to their superior managers, who are usually former sellers (you work your way up), and who may beat or otherwise punish their underlings if they don’t comply. There are many reported cases of mag crew employees being physically beaten, verbal abused, and/or forced to work excruciating hours until they fulfil their daily sales quotas. That, and there’s the threat of being fired and left stranded in whatever place the crews happens to be in, a serious scare for those without means. It’s the kid’s lack of means — impoverished backgrounds, broken homes, criminal records, substance abuse issues — that these companies exploit.The youth are coached to recount pitiful personal stories to the homeowners they meet, who so buy subscriptions as charity, out of guilt. All this and the youth sometimes never get a paycheck; the companies “hold” their workers earnings, deducting room and board from them. If you don’t sell enough, you can accrue a debt.
“You get sucked into this world,” Lane explains. She says she recognised “the life of not having a lot of money and never knowing what you’re gonna do next.” She grew up poor, in what she calls “the hood.” There was “Beauty in the streets, kids playing all over,” and a “loyal and loving” community. “We all looked out for one another.” But there was also drugs, violence, poverty. Lane says her upbringing accounts for her free spirit,“because when you grow up like that, you kinda just have to go for things. People either get really scared and stay or they find ways to get out.”
Sasha Lane never imagined a movie would be her way out. She was, “always told Hollywood and actors were not something you wanted to be.” In Texas, she says, “we would watch actresses, the glamour, it’s as if they don’t have any problems. I was like, that doesn’t sound like what I want to do with my life.” Since making American Honey (it was a two-month shoot, road-tripping, like mag crews do, across America), Lane is open to more. She’s got an agent, manager, and a set-up in LA. She’s reading scripts and working, with actor Riley Keough, who’s also in American Honey, on a documentary about a Native American population they met whilst on set. Lane says she wants to continue in film for,“the art of it, for craft,” and for people. “I’m really into people,” she says, more luminous than ever. “I think people are the most beautiful, crazy things ever. I get intrigued by them, just watching them interact, freestyle, and talk about their culture, I’m like: ‘Ahh, you’re so beautiful!’”
Photography: Deanna Templeton
Fashion: Maggie Fox
Hair: Amber Duarte using ORIBE
Makeup: Silver Bramham for Art Department using HOURGLASS COSMETICS
Words: Fiona Duncan
Special thanks to Sofie Howard