Sasha Lane on How to Blow Up a Pipeline: ‘I’m just offering some oomph’

‘I’m done feeling guilt’: actor Sasha Lane - Zabulon Laurent/ABACA/Shutterstock
‘I’m done feeling guilt’: actor Sasha Lane - Zabulon Laurent/ABACA/Shutterstock
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Sasha Lane knew just from the title of her new film that she wanted to do it. The American actress went straight from the middle-class dinner party drama of the BBC’s Conversations with Friends (2022) to one of the most subversive movie projects of recent years: How to Blow Up a Pipeline. Daniel Goldhaber’s tense action-thriller is adapted from a non-fiction book by eco-Marxist scholar Andreas Malm that urges violent action against the fossil fuel industry. The fictional drama follows a group of eco-saboteurs as they travel to an oil-refinery in West Texas with a plan to detonate home-made bombs.

For the 27-year-old, who shot to fame in 2016 as the star of Andrea Arnold’s astonishing road movie American Honey, exchanging Dublin for New Mexico was a dramatic contrast, but also a homecoming: “It was nice to get back in the gritty indie world,” she tells me from her home in Texas, “because that’s how I started, and that’s what I’m used to. It’s what I love.”

Lane had enjoyed the comforts of filming the 12-part adaptation of Sally Rooney’s cerebral take on 21st-century love – delivering lines like “monogamy is designed to serve the needs of men” with snarky aplomb – but then she found herself in the desert outside Albuquerque, “in bumping vans and dust storms, and it’s freezing, and then it’s hot, and we’re all covered in dirt. We’re not even allowed to be there. We can’t even say what kind of film we’re making.”

Lane plays Theo, a young woman with leukemia, thought to be caused by pollution from her hometown’s oil refinery. Her close friend Xochitl (played by the film’s co-screenwriter Ariela Barer) has concluded that “by the time any market solution does s---, billions of people will be dead from climate disasters”.
 
Sometimes during shooting, Lane confesses, she would have just loved a shower, but at the same time, “it’s so much easier to be in character, to believe everything around you… that’s what I love about indie films: it’s so raw, there’s no escaping the world that you’re trying to create.”

Goldhaber has described it simply as “a heist movie”, explaining that he’d started out wanting “to make a piece of propaganda and start a movement” but was “quickly dissuaded from that by my collaborators”. It’s not hard, though, to see that How to Blow Up a Pipeline could be taken as a real call to arms. Lane has given this some thought. “It comes with so many risks, not just legally but also affecting people’s lives. Everyone’s like, ‘The FBI is gonna be watching you, and you’ll have people really stoked on [the plot] and you know just how extreme people can be.’ So, a part of me is like, listen, in no way am I telling you to start blowing up pipelines – especially because I live in Texas and I know how people feel about their property. I’m so proud of you guys that you feel the need for deep change, because that’s amazing. But don’t put that on me. I’m just offering some oomph.”

Oomph is something that Lane always brings to the table; rarely has there been an actress more naturally convincing as an outsider. From the cannabis-cultivating inmate of a Christian gay-conversion camp in the 2018 film The Miseducation of Cameron Post to the dangerous Jessica Hyde in Gillian Flynn’s 2020 remake of the British sci-fi show Utopia, Lane’s characters glower with an untameable energy. “I have a very intense way of feeling,” she says. 

Lane has an origin story to compare with any Hollywood dream of the 1930s. In 2014, she was a teenager on the edge, experiencing schizoaffective disorder, and on a spring break with her friends in Florida. They had been thrown out of their hotel and were on Panama City Beach when she was approached by a woman in a cowboy hat and dungarees. It was Arnold, the Academy Award-winning British director of Fish Tank and Red Road, who had noticed her tattoos and dreadlocks and thought she might be perfect for the movie she was soon to shoot about misfits travelling from town to town selling magazine subscriptions. 

Lane was suspicious, thinking “no one gets found on a beach for a real movie”. Yet her decision to step into the unknown answered a deep feeling inside: had it not happened, she tells me, “I don’t think I would have survived. I really was at a very low point… I was at the point where it was just, you have nothing left to lose. So why not try it?”

'I have a very intense way of feeling': Sasha Lane in American Honey - Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
'I have a very intense way of feeling': Sasha Lane in American Honey - Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

She is the heart of American Honey: wary, vulnerable, unpredictable. In person, there is a shy warmth and sensitivity to her, a willingness to show vulnerability. Since she shot the film, her co-star Shia LaBeouf, whom she dated for a time, has been the subject of a lawsuit from the British singer FKA Twigs accusing him of physical violence and emotional and sexual abuse. LaBeouf has denied the charges against him but expressed contrition and admitted: “I have a history of hurting the people closest to me.” 

Did Lane experience any of the things of which LaBeouf is accused during the time they were together? “I don’t want to speak on that,” she says, quietly. “I don’t necessarily want to be overshadowed by someone who doesn’t really have anything to do with what I’m doing right now.”

At first, being in the film industry heightened her mental health issues: “The voices got louder, my moods changed so much quicker; my lows were low and my highs were so high that it was almost dangerous.” Her brother, of whom she feels fiercely protective, was a lifeline. And having her daughter Aster three years ago changed her. “I knew I didn’t want to end up dead in a hotel somewhere. I had to find a way to be able to balance.” Caring for Aster, she tells me, “just makes you say, ‘Tomorrow’s a new day.’ [If] I’m feeling so depressed and then this kid looks at you and she just hugs your cheeks, you’re like, what am I gonna be upset for?”

The imposter syndrome she felt at the start of her career has faded, too. “It’s almost like my body rejected that feeling. It was like, I’m done feeling guilt over how I started… it’s tiring, and it’s not beneficial.” Making her way in the film and television industry, she says, has been like diving into the Irish Sea, “just plunging into the coldest water ever. It shocks your system.” Her metaphor harks back to filming Conversations with Friends. In episode one, Lane and her co-stars Alison Oliver and Jemima Kirke take a freezing dip in the sea just outside Dublin – perhaps not top of the bucket list of someone brought up in and around Dallas, Texas, one of the hottest cities in the US.

'It was a good time': Lane with Alison OIiver in Conversations with Friends - Enda Bowe
'It was a good time': Lane with Alison OIiver in Conversations with Friends - Enda Bowe

She ditched LA to move back there, closer to family and friends she grew up with. “I don’t need billboards, and people who only hang out with you because of one thing, and everyone staring, and the energy being off, and everything being about film, film, film. I just want to talk about barbecue and sit on a porch and chill, and then dip off to work when I need to.”

Growing up, she was aware of how conservative the state is. Her brother is gay, and in the past she has described herself as bisexual, as gay, and capable of loving anyone or anything. “I always felt like I was being suppressed,” she says. “The way I chose to love or not love; the way I wanted to do my hair.” Her mother is from New Zealand and has Maori heritage, while her father is African-American, yet her feelings had less to do with race than the need for self-expression, although she admits: “I struggled as a kid with the thing of like, you’re too white for this or you’re too black for that.”

“There are good people in Texas,” she says, but she finds the belief in the right to bear arms, in defiance of school shootings, very worrying. She was in a car the other day with a friend who got annoyed with the driver about the issue. “I was like, ‘Nope, keep your mouth shut, we’re in this man’s car. And this is how we roll out here.’ Especially being a mom now, it’s terrifying.”

It was another leap in the dark to take on the role of the smart, abrasive Bobbi in Conversations with Friends during the pandemic; Lane moved to Ireland with her daughter and brother for the duration. It brought her into contact with co-star Joe Alwyn’s very famous girlfriend, the pop star Taylor Swift. (They have since reportedly split, after six years together.) Did Swift visit during filming? “Not to the set, but she was there to support him. She’s super sweet. I think she has a great little heart and good energy. She was very sweet with my daughter. It was a good time.”

'It really exposed me but I needed that': with Tom Holland in The Crowded Room - Gotham/GC Images
'It really exposed me but I needed that': with Tom Holland in The Crowded Room - Gotham/GC Images

In the upcoming Apple TV series, The Crowded Room, a psychological thriller starring Tom Holland, she was asked to cut her hair for a role for the first time: “They just yanked my safety blanket out. It really exposed me [but] I needed that.”

After being a track athlete at school, she has no issues with being pushed hard. “I love stunt co-ordinators because they’re pushy a--holes. That coach mentality is what makes me go, ‘I could do better.”’ 

She’s already appeared in action-packed films such as Hellboy (2019) and in Marvel’s Disney+ series Loki (2021). When we speak, though, she has just been offered a stage play in New York. “It’s the most terrifying thing I could ever do,” she says. “I don’t even know how I do this profession, because I hate being the centre of attention. The idea of being on a stage in front of all these people and projecting… I don’t even like my voice to go up that high.” 

Part of her though, “just wants to jump off that cliff. I’ll probably throw up and cry every single day. I’ll get booed and fired, and that’s fine, but I think I should just do it. I think I should just jump.”


How to Blow Up a Pipeline is in cinemas from April 21. The Crowded Room premieres on Apple TV+ on June 9