Sasha Lane Takes the Wheel of Her Budding Career

The 'American Honey' star stays on the road to success, making moves to thrive in indie and mainstream spaces alike.
American Honey Sasha Lane

Welcome to Filmographiesa column for completists. Every edition brings a working actor’s resumé into focus as we learn about what makes them so compelling. In this entry, we spotlight the filmography of Sasha Lane.

Sasha Lane’s career began with an extraordinary opportunity. Revered auteur Andrea Arnold serendipitously stumbled upon her during spring break one year in an origin story so magical that it has practically passed into Hollywood folklore.

Partly due to Arnold’s prescient vision, Lane rapidly became one of the most vital and powerful voices to emerge from the movie industry in the last decade. But the actress is determined for audiences to look beyond the devastatingly brilliant debut. Lane has proved her mettle with an increasingly impressive resumé that includes deft genre exploration and sublime character work.

Join us as we dive into Lane’s delightful burgeoning filmography, dissecting the many successes of her unique onscreen trajectory:

American Honey (2016)

Captured in an intimate and intoxicating 4:3 aspect ratio and set to a hypnotically trendy soundtrack (for its time), Andrea Arnold’s American Honey tells the explosive coming-of-age odyssey of the fresh-faced actress’s charismatic leading lady, Star. This spontaneous, combative, yet ruminative teenager joins a nomadic magazine-hawking crew in an attempt to escape the dire conditions of her abusive upbringing.

Tasked to translate such complex, treacherous circumstances into raw, reactionary feeling, Sasha Lane immediately ensnares our empathy despite Star’s stubborn tendencies. Lane is subtly purposeful when handling such self-destructiveness. Ensuring that we not only understand Star but actively root for her success.

All at once, she is wide-eyed, soft-hearted, and visibly guarded. Moreover, Lane utilizes naturalistic perceptiveness to veer between Star’s many temperaments.

The character’s chase for freedom is intrinsically tied to every instance of her pain. In turn, Lane’s infectious performance strongly influences the ruinous social commentary at the heart of American Honey. In encapsulating a modern and unbridled sensibility stifled by obsolete societal tenets, she is one of the most enthralling representations of disenfranchised American youth.

Born in a Maelstrom (2017)

Meryam Joobeur’s impressionistic Born in a Maelstrom solidifies Sasha Lane’s status as an asset in open-ended coming-of-age stories. As is the case for American Honey, the meditative short film is more evocative than expository. The bare-bones Born in a Maelstrom contemplates identity — particularly race — through the eyes of Sasha’s biracial protagonist, Rebecca.

The short is freeform to the point of indecipherability at times. We just know that Rebecca struggles with discerning who she is because of the segregated community she lives in. As well as generational trauma stemming from her Black mother’s painful past.

Thankfully, Lane’s magnetic presence is a surefire grounding force that personifies these concepts in recognizable ways. She is ethereal in her contemplations, even though her stream-of-consciousness narration and quiet acumen may not provide precise plot-related explanations to the film’s surreal images. There is a sense of unreadable but tacit delicacy in Lane’s comportment. Ultimately, we are encouraged to relate to Rebecca’s alienation.

Seeing Sasha Lane branch out from the taxing nature of her earlier projects — and have some fun onscreen — is a real treat. First, she makes a brief cameo appearance in Zelda Williams’ hilariously offbeat BDSM-centric short film Shrimp (2018). The actress also steals scenes as one of Maika Monroe’s smart-mouthed true-crime-obsessed roommates in After Everything (2018).

Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

Sasha Lane features in Brett Haley’s lovely musical two-hander Hearts Beat Loud, supplementing this heartwarming father-daughter story headlined by Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons. She plays Rose, the love interest of Clemons’ deuteragonist, Sam.

As adorable as their initial meet-cute is, the two girls find each other at an unfortunately inopportune time. Brooklyn-based Sam is about to move to the West Coast for college. Regardless of the limited time that they have on their hands, a sweet and tentative courtship blossoms.

It’s wonderful to see just how well Lane acclimates to this smaller-scale role. Being curious and beguiling is quickly becoming synonymous with her performances. She transforms these traits into conduits of empathy in total support of Clemons’ more conflicted turn. Furthermore — bolstered by excellent sensible writing — Lane is lovable enough that Rose feels far more authentic than a stock-standard romantic partner. Her charms are on full display. Even audiences are predisposed to falling for her.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

Despite Desiree Akhavan’s unflinching approach to the horrors of conversion therapy and the ex-gay movement in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the confronting drama actually (fortunately) prioritizes a more life-affirming perspective. I would argue that its unusually muted thesis of self-acceptance can be credited, at least in part, to Sasha Lane’s character, Jane. Her silent, persistent rebellion is heartbreakingly genuine.

We traverse the film through its titular protagonist, who is shipped off to a remote “treatment center” after she’s outed. The reticent, confused Cameron meets the comparably assured Jane on her first day at the facility. From the get-go, a sense of playfulness noticeably emanates from the latter.

Everything about Jane, from her moniker — Jane Fonda in full — to her superficial casualness, showcases that she can adeptly trick the system for survival. Although refreshing to a degree, her methods are largely anxiety-inducing, given how they mask an inner turmoil that never abates.

Lane strikes this artful balance in her performance by practicing plenty of restraint. She steers clear from a more stereotypical portrayal of a fiery, headstrong dissenter. Instead, she shrewdly navigates between the truth of Jane’s sexuality and an outward adoption of the facility’s homophobic doctrines. The Miseducation of Cameron Post draws out Lane’s laudable knack for inspiring comfort. This makes her an unconventional beacon of hope in the film.

Daniel Isn’t Real (2019)

Adam Egypt Mortimer’s psychological horror flick Daniel Isn’t Real marks the beginning of Sasha Lane’s journey into niche genre offerings. It focuses on the shy, unadventurous Luke, who inadvertently reunites with his titular childhood imaginary friend, Daniel, in a bid to step out of his comfort zone. Things then go awry when this devilishly charming otherworldly persona reveals a sinister megalomaniacal side.

Lane fills the shoes of Cassie, a feisty non-conformist artist who literally collides into Luke while out and about on her skateboard. Her outgoing carefreeness is a pleasure to behold. To nobody’s surprise, our timid protagonist woos her with the aid of Daniel’s charisma and confidence.

Admittedly, considering its heavy indulgence in storytelling tropes, Lane ends up being the only woman with any real personality in the film. And it would still be a stretch to classify Cassie as a particularly well-drawn female character.

That said, Lane is thoroughly likable and holds her own as the movie’s main dudes hash out their differences. Armed with a biting wit and virtually imperturbable demeanor, she wouldn’t be out of place in a horror headliner of her own.

Hellboy (2019)

Regrettably, some of Sasha Lane’s heftiest projects have flopped through no fault of her own. In the case of Neil Marshall’s ambitious but flawed Hellboy, too many cooks spoiled the broth, leaving the director himself with no creative control over a final product that had so much promise.

Hellboy’s ill fate frustratingly cut short a film franchise that could have ushered in a thrilling, gory, yet emotionally fulfilling counterpoint to the normalized format of comic book adaptations inundating our screens. As a fan of Lane specifically, I’m especially annoyed at the premature axing of her turn as Alice Monaghan. She is a formidable spirit medium with personal ties to David Harbour’s eponymous demon.

Lane effortlessly embodies cool amiability from the moment her character first appears. Besides finding herself delivering a good deal of sass in terrific tandem with Harbour, she also tackles some of the film’s dramatic moments due to Alice’s emotional investment in the dead souls she cannot help but hear.

Alice is just a fun, kick-ass character to have on one’s resumé. But she is both underused and confusingly written in an incongruous patchwork screenplay. What a waste of Lane’s potential.

Amazing Stories (2020)

The Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi anthology Amazing Stories introduces Sasha Lane to the TV world in a mini-movie of sorts. She takes the lead in Episode 4, titled “Signs of Life.”

Lane plays Alia, a resilient, independent eighteen-year-old working at a diner to make ends meet. However, her plans to move to Los Angeles in search of better prospects are suddenly put on hold when her mother rouses from a six-year coma.

Alia, who longs for a connection with a mom she barely knows as an adult, is warm and excitable. Lane garners our compassion in depicting a smart, self-sufficient woman. Then she wholly secures it once her pragmatic shell cracks in favor of wonderment and naivety.

The more fantastical elements of “Signs of Life” involve secret alien assimilation into everyday human life. But they don’t hold a candle to the narrative’s core themes of familial love. Lane singlehandedly carries the episode’s soulfulness in this regard. Tapping into a well of emotional cues to fill any storytelling gaps in Alia’s history.

Utopia (2020)

Sasha Lane should have conquered the small screen with her lead role in Gillian Flynn’s eight-part labor of love Utopia, an Amazon Prime sci-fi show based on the 2013 British series of the same name. Sadly, there was no feasible way to release a pandemic-themed project in 2020 without some criticism of its potential poor taste.

But if there is a solid reason to delve into Utopia’s uncanny and almost phantasmagorical world, that would be the cast. Lane portrays Jessica Hyde, a scraggly, independent young woman of mysterious origin who is on a quest to save her father from an obscure figurehead codenamed Mr. Rabbit.

The events of Jessica’s abnormal life are inexplicably written into an in-universe cult comic that other characters are intent on decrypting. Although a heroine on the illustrated page, Jessica is recklessly impulse-driven and socially stunted in real life. Carrying years of physical, emotional, and psychological baggage on her disheveled slender frame.

Lane expertly handles Jessica’s ephemeral moods and indecipherable cleverness. The character is often vague in emotion but straightforward in intent. An unnerving and fascinating conundrum whose strong presence juxtaposes the deep-seated confusion of her personhood. By Utopia’s second half, Lane exceptionally enhances the show’s plot twists by unfurling Jessica’s hardened outer layers, uncovering a poignant childlike innocence that viewers long to protect and nurture.

Loki (2021)

Disappointingly, one of Sasha Lane’s most high-profile projects feels less consequential than her acting caliber would generally portend. She dons the minor role of Hunter C-20 in Loki, the Marvel Cinematic Universe series following the travails of the titular God of Mischief.

Not all supporting roles are made equal. As mentioned, Lane demonstrates her ability to hold her own when her characters aren’t necessarily front and center.

Still, even in the actress’s sole (somewhat) substantial scene in Episode 3 of Loki, we don’t get much of a sense of who C-20 — a Time Variance Authority agent — is. Rather, we are left to grasp at straws over who this nameless woman is based on Lane’s unpretentious, genuinely enjoyable performance in her three-episode run.

Some part of me wonders if there is any hope — or indeed, point — of bringing C-20 back to the MCU (considering her offscreen fate in Loki). Perhaps Lane is better off pulling a Gemma Chan or Mahershala Ali, if only to elevate her inclusion in this cinematic juggernaut into something more than a glorified cameo.

While Sasha Lane hit her stride early, she absolutely shows zero sign of slowing down. At the time of writing, she is in the thick of filming the highly-anticipated Sally Rooney adaptation Conversations with Friends with director Lenny Abrahamson. Should the series go the way of the mega-successful Normal People, it would only serve to catapult Lane to new heights.

Truthfully, the actress was an extreme example of the quintessential rising movie star. Yet, after consistently turning in engaging performances in a healthy selection of stories, she is making her indelible mark. Lane is wildly talented in a way that only inspires enthusiasm and anticipation in this writer. We can trust her to champion individualism as one of the most promising faces of contemporary Hollywood.

Sheryl Oh: Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)