Sasha Lane Sets Her Own Boundaries — Then She Crosses Them
With a new hit TV series, The Crowded Room, a young daughter, and a huge franchise film on the way, Lane re-evaluates the value of chaos.
A good TV pilot ends with a twist — the advertising playboy actually has a wife and kids; she’s only Aunt Robin; there’s a… smoke monster? The Crowded Room, AppleTV’s new thriller inspired by the 1981 nonfiction novel The Minds of Billy Milligan, handles that deftly at the end of episode one. And episode two. And three.
“I love a bomb drop,” Sasha Lane tells me. That’s probably for the best, as the 27-year-old’s character Ariana sits at the center of the show’s cliffhangers. In the first episode, we’re left wondering, “Who is she?” As we begin to unravel her, it turns to “Why?” and “How?” Played with a skilled balance of raw emotion and reserved mystery, the first three episodes center around the untold story of Ariana. “I was obsessed immediately,” Lane says of The Crowded Room’s script. “I’m into mystery and psychological thrillers and all that stuff, especially when they go hand-in-hand with really character-driven projects. I like when the people are a bit messy, but there's still vulnerability to it and not just chaos.”
Calling from her home in Texas, just a three-hour drive from Oklahoma where she’s currently filming the upcoming Twisters film, Lane is relaxed and dressed casually as we chat, discussing how both the first decade of her career and becoming a mother (the actress welcomed her daughter, Aster, in 2020) have changed her outlook on acting. “Now I get a role and I’m like, ‘Are you doing this just because you need some chaos in your life, or are you doing this because you really feel that you want to be a part of it?’ Or: ‘Is this worth it after what you just filmed, jumping into something so similar, or something that is going to be really taxing and it's the holidays and you'd rather be in a good mood?’ I definitely have to take a bigger step back [and look at] why I do projects, because it's not just affecting me anymore.”
Here, Lane explains why Ariana was the role worth taking, her vision for the future of her career, and how Ring Pops keep her sane.
What made you so excited about the script when you first read it?
I’m into mystery and psychological thrillers and all that stuff, especially when they go hand-in-hand with really character-driven projects. I like when the people are a bit messy, but there's still vulnerability to it and not just chaos.
What was it about Ariana that drew you to the character?
I liked the fact that she's probably one of the more emotional characters, while also having no ability to handle emotions or even deal with her own emotions. She had this kind of beautiful bond with Danny while also being just a tad toxic and turbulent. I like when you can't plain black-and-white something. You can't say anything about her that's one way or about her actions. There's always the gray area with it.
For the first three episodes, she’s certainly driving the mystery — especially as we try to figure out who she is and why she acts the way she does. How do you play a character that’s still very much undecipherable to the audience?
I think one, it's just the way it's written and edited, which obviously gives more space for that [mystery] and allows it. But in terms of character, it's always holding something back. If I was thinking something, then the way I would say it or the words I would say would be different, or the eye contact is different. I’m calm, but inside I knew she is raging. So you're always just a tad bit confused, and I'm a bit confused, and I'm like, yeah, it works.
How would you say you're most and least similar to her?
I think the similar and dissimilar parts are the same. I feel like now I can emotionally connect better with people, but at times in my life I [wasn’t there]. Now there's not such stiff walls, so I'd say that's a pretty good thing. That comes with just healing and trusting. I especially remember the past couple years, I'd say a big chunk of pre-child, of being like, “You’re confused? I'm confused. I don't know why I reacted that way or I didn't do better? Why I seem so confident to you guys, but on the inside I feel so fragile. What are you guys looking at? What are you seeing about my personality that makes you think that I'm just a go-getter out there?”
You said that this is the most vulnerable role you’ve ever had to play. How did that affect you in finding the character?
I knew I had to actively make a decision of, “You chose to do this, but you have responsibilities to yourself and to your family, to your friends, to not put yourself in a position that you find dangerous or makes the work not worth it because there is that balance.” I think a lot of people forget with acting — even actors themselves — that there’s this idea of, “If you don't go fully in and be destroyed by this, then are you really putting in the work?” It takes a lot of strength to be able to really tap in. I would use music or my own experiences and stuff to dive into that character and in that mood. I ate a lot of Ring Pops because I have this thing in my head where it's like... it's really hard to be sad and depressed when you’re eating a Ring Pop.
Wow, that’s honestly very good advice.
It'd be embarrassing. It's something that is really hard to cry and eat. After a while you're like, "I'm pathetic, what am I doing?" So I'm just like, Ring Pop, switch up the music, and realize that I didn't have as hard a day as she did, and I'm going to go take a walk now.
Did having your daughter affect this, or how deep you’re willing to lose yourself to a role?
I was doing Utopia when I was pregnant and I wanted to quit. I was so ready to be like, “This is going to be my last thing. I'm done, over this. I just want to go live in a tree house.” But something shifted in me to where I was like, I do enjoy this and I also don't want to give up… Before, I think, I was just suffering a bit and I couldn't see myself wanting to keep going if I had to always be so drained.
Were you choosing chaos in terms of roles and projects when you first started?
That is an interest of mine, but it's kind of just what was handed to me, or what was offered to me, and what was being shaped as people's idea of me. With that, it's kind of like, I'm not the one writing the scripts; it's not like I can go write me into a fairy. Everyone's just like, “You have sad eyes, we want you really sad today.” And I'm like, "Ok, I guess so."
How did you see that change in this project?
This was definitely one of the hardest characters and things I had to do, but I just knew that I was in a position to be able to balance it, and also push myself further than I've done before. I knew that I could push myself more in terms of acting as well as prove to myself that I can find a way to do both and feel really good and happy with what I delivered, as well as go home and chill.
Almost a decade into your career, do you consider what genres or types of roles you’ve done in the past before accepting new ones?
I'm definitely aware of certain circumstances or if it's starting to look too similar to what I've been doing. There's just so many times where script after script after script, the logline looks pretty much the same. It's also stemming from three of my other films and I'm like, "Do I really want to go to that zone?" So, I'm actually getting excited to jump at things that terrify me, or are completely different than what I would even think I could do just for the f*ck of it.
Was that part of your decision for joining Loki, which was a giant franchise moment you hadn’t done before? Were you cautious entering that world?
I didn't want to enter it unless it felt like I could have my kind of version. I needed a little bit of some grit or underground situation. I f*ck with Marvel. I just have never been like, “This is how I should go in.” But Loki was such a cool way for me to stick my feet in there. Give me something a little dark.
Would you ever write your own script?
I had been kind of working on something, but it's still one of those things where you freak out a little bit because it’s like reading my journal. I'm not prepared for people to read that. The way I write and stuff,, I'm going to give you a feeling and colors and all that. I can't interior design one and I don't care about it. I don't care about telling what the room is like and how we enter it.
How has shooting the new Twister film been going?
This role is so different compared to The Crowded Room. I really just get to have fun and just tinker with new things. I've been learning so much about weather. I'm such a weather nerd now. It's so fascinating to me.
In what sense?
How they kind of can predict a tornado and what you need for that to exist in the air and all the lingo. I have a whole encyclopedia of all this stuff and I just go around looking at clouds. We're just a bunch of nerds. We're all just like, “Yo, you see that cloud?” It’s ironic being in Oklahoma, like, look at us filming tornadoes in Oklahoma during tornado season.
Have you had any yet?
There's been a few tornadoes, but we have a weather guy. We're all mini fake experts now, so we're like, "I don't know, she's looking deep,"
Have any of them impacted filming? That would be pretty ironic.
Kind of. It’s really funny because usually if you have bad weather, that's messing up your filming and you have to wait it out, blah, blah, blah. Us, it's kind of like, “Damn, it's too sunny out. If we could just make it a little bit moodier.”