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Hollywood's Maori princess: Meet Sasha Lane

The rising star reveals her Kiwi connection.

Sasha Lane

The past three years have been a whirlwind for Sasha Lane. She found overnight success in award-winning drama American Honey, modelled for Louis Vuitton, was linked with hunky actor Shia LaBeouf and appeared on the cover of Teen Vogue, all while battling mental illness.

But it’s a fern tattoo on her back that represents the 21-year-old half-Kiwi’s greatest dream – to visit New Zealand.

“My brother just went and almost didn’t come back,” says the Texas-born-and-raised actress, whose mother is of Maori heritage. “I wish I could experience that. I want to know more about my Maori side. I know they’re strong people, and have a lot of love and loyalty. And I want to take my mum back so bad. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll take her!”

Born in Taumarunui and raised in Hamilton, Sasha’s mother was travelling in the US when she met her future husband, who was African-American. The relationship didn’t last, says Sasha. “She was a single mum raising me and my brother, and she worked really hard. It was a tough life, but she kept a roof over our heads.”

Describing herself as “uncomfortable and anxious”, acting never occurred to Sasha. Instead, she, like her mum, gravitated towards sports.

“She did basketball in New Zealand and would talk about how football [gridiron] was the lame version of rugby! I got my competitive streak from her.”

Sasha stars in the critically acclaimed *American Honey*.
Sasha stars in the critically acclaimed American Honey.

Family difficulties and struggles to find a clear purpose in life triggered mental-health issues during Sasha’s teens. It was a trying time and many people told her she would end up in prison rather than Hollywood.

“Having to deal with it on my own was hard – figuring out life and who you are, as well as what’s going on in your head. It’s a lot to have on your plate,” Sasha reflects.

Mental-health institutions only made her more “angry and low”, yet her fascination with how the mind works led her to study psychology at university. Eventually, she says, “I got to a point where
I went, ‘I don’t like myself, I don’t like how this feels and something has to change.’ It was a life-or-death thing – either I worked on it and figured out how to love myself or that was it for me.”

Turning point

Sasha started reading the work of ancient Persian poet and philosopher Rumi, whose messages of finding light in the darkest places resonated. Then her mother sent her to Florida for a holiday, where Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold stumbled upon the then 19-year-old.

Andrea was mesmerised by dreadlocked Sasha, casting her as the lead – a teenage runaway – in American Honey.

Remembers Sasha, “I met Andrea and just remember feeling like, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting on.’”

She acted alongside Lisa Marie Presley’s daughter Riley Keough and “welcoming and supportive” actor Shia LaBeouf, who advised her, “You’ve found your way of acting – keep at that and embrace it.”

American Honey won the coveted Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and Sasha nabbed Best Actress at the British Independent Film Awards.

The attention, which peaked when she was snapped holding hands with Shia, has been overwhelming for Sasha, who almost quit acting. As for her relationship with the Transfomers leading man, she’s tight-lipped but insists she’s currently single.

Sasha poses with her co-stars (including Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough) at the Cannes Film Festival premiere of *American Honey*. Photo: Getty
Sasha poses with her co-stars (including Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough) at the Cannes Film Festival premiere of American Honey. Photo: Getty

Now based in LA, she’s been working on a book of poetry, recently wrapped on the movie The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which also stars Chloë Grace Moretz, and is set to work alongside Joe Manganiello on the film Shoplifters of the World Unite.

But it was modelling for Louis Vuitton that made Sasha cry with joy. “I came from nothing, so it was a big deal,” she explains. “Growing up, people said negative things about my appearance and my dreads being dirty. But when Louis Vuitton called, it was like someone saying, ‘You are beautiful. Keep being you because this is what happens.’”

While her mental health is an ongoing struggle, Sasha says she’ll survive in showbiz because of what she inherited from her Kiwi mum. “I get that free spirit from my mother, along with that strength within myself.”

And until she makes it to NZ, Sasha holds her heritage close to her heart with the fern tattoo, which she had inked at age 18. She smiles, “Being mixed race is a big deal to me and I wanted my mum to know that I take her side as well as the black side. I want to be a part of it.”

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