A taste of ‘Honey’

Film fes­ti­val dar­ling ‘Amer­i­can Honey’ comes to Philly in Oc­to­ber

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By Amy Longs­dorf For Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

Even af­ter spend­ing seven weeks on the road, criss­cross­ing the Mid­west film­ing “Amer­i­can Honey,” direc­tor An­drea Arnold still feels as if she has plenty of fuel left in the tank.

“I’m ac­tu­ally miss­ing it a bit, be­ing on a road trip,” she says. “I want to go. I’m feel­ing the need. I’m in the mood for it right now, ac­tu­ally.”

A Jury Prize win­ner at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, “Amer­i­can Honey” is the saga of Star (Sasha Lane), an im­pov­er­ished teenager who leaves her small Mid­west town be­hind to join “a mag crew,” or a gang of itin­er­ants who ped­dle pub­li­ca­tions door-to-door.

Star in­stantly be­comes en­am­ored of one of the crew mem­bers named Jake (Shia LaBeouf) even as she runs afoul of the hard­boiled man­ager Krys­tal (Ri­ley Keough).

As they travel all over the United States, the gang of mis­fits be­comes a sur­ro­gate fam­ily to Star, of­fer­ing hope, love and the free­dom that comes from a life on the road. “Amer­i­can Honey” is sched­uled to open in Philadel­phia in early Oc­to­ber.

It was af­ter Arnold di­rected the ac­claimed fea­tures “Fish Tank” and “Wuther­ing Heights” in her na­tive Eng­land that she stum­bled upon a New York Times fea­ture about “mag crews,” and be­came de­ter­mined to tell the story of these hard-work­ing, hard-par­ty­ing kids.

As she be­gan re­search­ing the in­ner work­ings of the or­ga­ni­za­tions, Arnold be­gan a se­ries of solo jaunts all over the United States.

“I didn’t re­ally know the United States in­ti­mately,” she told IndieWire. “I did a whole lot of road trips by my­self be­cause I needed to get to know it and make a con­nec­tion with it. I haven’t done ev­ery sin­gle state, but I’ve done across the South, down the East, and down the mid­dle.

“When I talked to the [real] crews, they told me that ev­ery­where they went was re­ally flat, so then I started do­ing the East and Texas. It’s quite in­ter­est­ing when you’re trav­el­ing by your­self through those places. It does have an im­pact on how you feel.

“I had some quite dif­fi­cult times by my­self trav­el­ing and be­ing in all that open wilder­ness. It did make me think about what it was like to be on these crews where you go door to door. They

would say that they spent so much time in the van look­ing out at these empty [land­scapes].”

An Os­car win­ner for her short film “Wasp,” Arnold re­mem­bers be­ing struck by the in­come dis­par­ity she wit­nessed in the United States.

“I got quite up­set about some of the towns I went to,” she re­calls. “It seemed re­ally dif­fer­ent to me than in the U.K. [In the U.S.], when peo­ple don’t have money, they can’t get health­care and they can’t do things like go to the den­tist, and those kinds of things re­ally shocked me.”

One of the el­e­ments of “Amer­i­can Honey” which makes it so spe­cial is that the film fea­tures a mix­ture of pro­fes­sional ac­tors and new­bies who’ve never per­formed be­fore.

Among the bet­ter known thes­pi­ans is Keough, who is the grand­daugh­ter of Elvis Pres­ley and starred in the Steven Soder­bergh se­ries “The Girl­friend Ex­pe­ri­ence.” When the project was in the early stages, the ac­tress sent Arnold a se­ries of tapes in hopes of be­ing cast in the movie.

“We met and from the first mo­ment I met Ri­ley, I just re­ally loved her,” says Arnold, 55. “Then I met her again in New York. And she was so kind to the other ac­tors. We had a cast­ing ses­sion in New York and we had some peo­ple there who hadn’t acted be­fore and we were try­ing them out with her, and she was just so gen­er­ous and un­der­stand­ing. I just love that about her.

“She also had this feel­ing like an ex-mag crew kid who had done well and had been made a man­ager. She felt com­pletely right ... as if she’d come from the same place as ev­ery­one else. I just com­pletely loved her from the mo­ment I met her.”

Arnold never thought of any­one else to play Jake af­ter run­ning into LaBeouf in Lon­don. “All of my cast­ing is usu­ally about meet­ing peo­ple and not re­ally look­ing at show reels much. I like to meet peo­ple and just feel how that goes.

“Cast­ing Shia was about that. He had a lot of the qual­i­ties I thought Jake had, and I could see he could bring that [to the movie]. We had a very en­er­getic kind of chat and from that mo­ment on, I just thought, ‘Yeah, I can see him play­ing Jake, easy.’

Find­ing a lead­ing lady for “Amer­i­can Honey” proved a bit more prob­lem­atic for Arnold. The film­maker was, in fact, in the midst of au­di­tion­ing ac­tresses when she hap­pened upon Sasha Lane on the beach dur­ing Spring Break.

“Sasha was with her mates and they were mess­ing around,” re­calls Arnold. “She just stood out. I re­mem­ber she walked off as we were dis­cussing [her] and we were say­ing, ‘Oh yeah, she looks great.’

“Sasha then dis­ap­peared be­hind some deck chair or some­thing. I can’t re­mem­ber what it was, but she dis­ap­peared, and then we all legged it around to try and catch her, be­cause it’s very easy to lose peo­ple on that beach.”

When Arnold fi­nally caught up with Lane, she ex­plained “Amer­i­can Honey” to the young woman and asked her to try out for the star­ring role.

“We did some im­pro­vi­sa­tion that evening, with her friends,” re­calls Arnold. “She was go­ing home the next day so we did some danc­ing in the park­ing lot with [some other cast mem­bers] and I could see that she could do this thing, and was game and would try things.”

Arnold even asked Lane and com­pany to try to sell mag­a­zines door-to-door, just as their char­ac­ters do in the film.

“When I was send­ing them im­pro­vis­ing, I said they could keep any money they made,” says Arnold. “They got chased away by dogs once and some­one was go­ing to call the cops on them.”

While film­ing the movie, Arnold es­ti­mates she trav­elled more than 10,000 miles with her cast and crew mem­bers. Not sur­pris­ingly, the ex­pe­ri­ence made the en­tire com­pany feel like an ex­tended fam­ily.

“Ev­ery­one got re­ally close be­cause we went on a real trip from be­gin­ning to end and we stayed at the same mo­tels and we all trav­eled to­gether, and no­body came and went,” says Arnold.

“We all went to­gether, did the whole thing to­gether and we’re all mak­ing some­thing to­gether, this big project that we’re work­ing on, and we’re also liv­ing to­gether. So I think the com­bi­na­tion of all those things, spend­ing all that time and also try­ing to achieve this very chal­leng­ing thing, made us all grow very close.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY A24

Ri­ley Keough and Shia LaBeouf in “Amer­i­can Honey.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY A24

Sasha Lane and Shia LeBeouf “Amer­i­can Honey.”

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