Sasha Lane: 'I don't need to conform, I got my big break by just being me'
A student plucked from obscurity to star in one of the year's most talked-about indie films, Sasha Lane is certainly an unconventional Hollywood star. She tells Gemma Dunn how she was 'craving freedom' when fate came a-knocking.
UK writer-director Andrea Arnold is known for her ingenious castings, and her latest muse, Sasha Lane, does little to derail her impressive track record.
Plucked from obscurity on a Florida beach in 2014, the 21-year-old's journey, from discontented college freshman to in-demand film star, reads like a blockbuster script.
But it's not the first time Arnold has set industry tongues wagging with her unpolished pickings.
Since scooping an Oscar for her short film, Wasp, in 2005, the London-born film-maker has made her mark with a hat-trick of wins at Cannes, landing the coveted Jury Prize for 2006's Red Road, 2009's Fish Tank (for which she discovered lead Katie Jarvis at a train station) and her latest epic, American Honey.
It's the latter - Arnold's first feature film set and filmed in the US - that's on everyone's radar right now.
Inspired by a 2007 New York Times article (For Youths, A Grim Tour On Magazine Crews, by Ian Urbina), American Honey tells the story of Star (played by Lane), a teenage girl who escapes her troubled home by running away with a travelling door-to-door sales crew, who drive across the American Midwest selling magazine subscriptions.
Finding her feet with her new crew - which includes Jake (Shia LaBeouf) - means getting stuck in with their lifestyle; hard-partying nights, law-bending days, and young love.
It's a coming-of-age story - and for breakout star Lane, one that really struck a chord.
"It's been emotional and overwhelming," she confides when we meet.
"Because, just like her, from start to finish, it's this change of not really having a lot of hope, not really knowing anything outside of what you've grown up in, and finally feeling like, 'Wow, I can take on a different life and I can have opportunities'.
"The connections I've made with everyone involved, it's been truly, truly amazing. It's - oof," she gasps, "it's hitting my heart again."
Admitting to feeling "lost" prior to the life-changing encounter (she was studying psychology and social work and in Florida for a spring break when she was 'spotted'), Lane - who had no previous acting experience - recalls having an inkling that something special was about to happen to her.
"I was craving freedom, I was trying to get out of this box," she explains, making a square shape with her hands. "And now I'm so open."
Although fictional, the story at the heart of American Honey is rooted in reality, and Arnold, determined to do the project justice, was keen to stay true to the subculture - namely how a mag crew would live and travel.
And so, the 56-day shoot - LaBeouf and Riley Keough, who plays Krystal, joined a cast of 'real faces' scouted at county fairs and amid Walmart parking lots - became a real road trip, driving with a minimal crew across the American Midwest.
"It was very exhausting," recalls Lane, hunching down to rest her elbows on her knees as she speaks. "But it was free, you know, and freedom comes in a lot of different variations." She appears coy when I mention the incredibly realistic sex scenes shared with her on-screen (and rumoured to be off-screen at one stage) lover LaBeouf, 30. Did she know this would be required when she signed up?
"Watching it with my brother? Superb. I just sunk in my seat," she admits, recalling watching the X-rated scenes while sat beside her sibling at Cannes. "But I think [Arnold] mentioned there were some sex scenes, yeah."
Dressed casually in a crisp white tee, wide-legged denim culottes and trainers, and wearing minimal make-up, the down-to-earth actress - twizzling her trademark dreadlocks - is a refreshing addition to Hollywood, from her Texan twang to her unconventional looks.
Of all people, she admits she never imagined herself relocating to LA, but it's where she can now pursue her acting career.
So what does she make of the Hollywood lifestyle?
"Erm, it's not bad," she says, pausing for thought. "It's cool, because a couple of my Texas friends are trickling in and my brother might be coming out."
Is it different to how she imagined it?
"Yes and no," she quips with a giggle. "There are parts where I'm like, 'Uh, of course', and there's also this other side, where I've met really, really amazing people who are in this industry and have a lot of passion and heart, and who are really grounded.
"People like Riley [Keough]. So that's a nice surprise."
As for pressure to change - being chosen for who she was in the first place gives her the confidence to stay exactly who she is, she says. "Who I am and how I've stayed is what got me the connections, so why would I want to change that?
"Everything that is in me is very much like a constant grounding thing," she continues, smiling.
"I have an amazing group of people around me who are always like, 'Oh wow, you're doing such amazing things. But don't get a big head', and I'm like, 'Thanks man, appreciate it'. It helps, you know?"
And her star credentials certainly seem to be pulling in more films, including a rumoured title role in the big-screen adaptation of Hunting Lila in the pipeline, and 'one to watch' tags at every turn.
Only time will tell if she settles on the indie route, or succumbs to the lure of a blockbuster...
"I don't want to say no to anything," Lane says honestly. "If I did a blockbuster, it would probably be fun.
"But who knows? Maybe I would connect to something," she adds. "But definitely, indie movies are the ones I register with, for sure.
"And I like that route."
American Honey is at cinemas on Friday.