The real thing

Sasha Lane on mental illness, action scenes, choosing roles and Daniel Isn't Real

by Jennie Kermode

Sasha Lane as Cassie in Daniel Isn't Here
Sasha Lane as Cassie in Daniel Isn't Here

Ever since she burst onto the screen with American Honey in 2016, it has been apparent that there’s something special about Sasha Lane, something fresh and different that brings a sense of realism to the films she appears in. That quality is all the more important in a film like Daniel Isn’t Real, which combines fantasy elements with distorted perception and narrative uncertainty. It’s also something she needs alongside co-stars Miles Robbins (the son of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins) and Patrick Schwarzenegger (son of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver), making her presence felt despite the fact that the get the lion’s share of the dialogue.

Patrick Schwarzenegger and Sasha Lane in Daniel Isn't Real
Patrick Schwarzenegger and Sasha Lane in Daniel Isn't Real

The film follows Robbins’ character, Luke, as he copes with the disintegration of his mother’s mental health and the reappearance of his childhood invisible friend Daniel (played by Schwarzenegger), who may in fact be something more sinister. As the young artist who meets Luke at this difficult time, Sasha brings a sense of vitality and possibility to the story. I ask her what first attracted her to the role.

“A big thing with it was a male perspective on dealing with mental illness and having these voices in his head and having to cope with that and figure out who he is while also looking at his mother who is struggling and thinking ‘Am I like her?’ And having to see a bit of a mirror of what you don’t want to be like but you love this person,” she says. “I’m always really big on mental illness and people who deal with that. I thought that was very unique and they had a nice twist to it, you know. I loved Adam [Egypt Mortimer], the director, and his passion behind it.”

Did she think that it approached mental illness more responsibly than some other horror films have done in the past, having struggling characters who are so sympathetic?

“I think so, because there is that factor. It’s not just an entirely made-up world and there’s just all this crazy stuff going on and we’re going to run from it. It’s kind of the opposite in trying not to run from it and to deal with it head on. It is a sensitive subject so I think there was that in the back of everyone’s heads and doing it a bit of justice while also entertaining as well.”

Her character could easily have been just another love interest, yet she does a lot with her and takes up a lot of space within the film.

“Adam had a really big idea of who Cassie was to him and saw her as this artist who was trying to express her own self through her work and even acknowledging the fact that she wasn’t going as deep as she could have and was feeling a bit lost with that and a bit frustrated. We thought of her also as this emotionally evolved person. She was able to truly see Luke for who he was while also acknowledging that there is this energy around him and what s he going to do with it? So I think, yeah, she’s a nice factor to have in there and kind of beyond just the love interest. She’s somebody who’s there to help him through.”

Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger on the set of Daniel Isn't Real
Miles Robbins and Patrick Schwarzenegger on the set of Daniel Isn't Real

Cassie’s artwork ended up being quite personal to her, she explains, and although Adam had a lot of ideas about it to begin with, she got to influence what was eventually seen onscreen.

“For the portrait we actually ended up using a photo of my dad that my cousin had took and so there was something very real about that. That was one of her most honest pieces of work. The history that I’ve had with my father, to look at that did it kind of give it this rawness, and then to destroy all the other pieces of work that she had done, that didn’t feel right... they were very open with that. I even got to take the pictures of Luke that I ended up painting, so I thought that was a nice way to connect with what we were supposed to be going off of. It was a nice touch to it.”

Cassie is also a very physical character who at one point has to fight to defend herself. How did she approach that?

“What was cool about that is that the stunt coordinator Monique [Ganderton] and Adam were talking very much about the fact that, okay, yeah, let’s say she does do boxing on the side, she’s this girl who lives in New York and is a bit small, you know? It’s like, is she going to fight this demonic character who has a ton of energy and is this very strong force – how are we going to make this seem realistic? I’m not all of a sudden going to come out with karate. I think it was very cool in a way to think of her as someone who knows how to defend herself but also is aware of her size. So it was more that she has to be smart – you know, throwing paint cans at him, throwing things in his way and kicking him and all of that.”

It also makes us feel that she’s ready to protect Luke.

“Oh yeah. Definitely. Because you know, she can see her own self in that. She has her own things to deal with. It’s basically how she copes with that, and she’s a bit shaken up by the dark figure that she sees when she’s painting him, kind of ... maybe roughing him up a bit, just saying, like, ‘You really have to deal with this,’ and ‘You can fight this,’ basically by allowing him to acknowledge that it’s there but it doesn’t mean that it’s him.’

She’s had quite a variety of roles since American Honey, including The Miseducation Of Cameron Post, Hearts Beat Loud and Neil Marshall’s take on Hellboy. Was that diversification a deliberate career move?

“I think I’m just very open,” she says. “Usually I just feel like roles kind of come to me at the right time, in the sense that thy always kind of mirror what I am going through or how I feel as a person in that moment. I just try to be open and, you know, I want to resonate with the character, I want to feel like I can actually be a part of it and not feel completely foreign to me. So I think it’s just about being a bit picky.”

Daniel Isn't Real poster
Daniel Isn't Real poster

It must also be a good way to develop as a young actor.

“Definitely. Every experience is a learning experience. Each project is something that you can grow from and kind of tell yourself ‘Okay, if you could do that then who knows what you could do next?’ And just kind of using your past experiences but also not being afraid of doing more.”

So what’s next?

“I just did a show for Amazon called Utopia so I’m waiting for that one to come out,” she says. “That was a big chunk of my past year, so I’m just waiting for that and seeing what’s next. I’m excited for what’s to come.”

Daniel Isn't Real opens in UK cinemas on Friday.

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