American Honey Interview

Andrea Arnold on her mesmerizing party on wheels, American Honey

By Esther Zuckerman

GFT would like to thank The A. V. Club

When The A.V. Club sat down with American Honey director Andrea Arnold in New York after returning from the Toronto International Film Festival, we had to bring up something we had witnessed back in Canada. During a party for the movie at the Rock ’N’ Horse Saloon, we saw Arnold and her cast dance with abandon, setting the tone for a raucous affair. “That was very representative of what we did the whole way through the film,” Arnold later told The A.V. Club. We could have figured as much. Her road flick is laden with spontaneous sing-alongs to recognizable pop, rap, and country songs—Rihanna’s invigorating “We Found Love” factors in prominently.

American Honey follows Star (Sasha Lane), an impoverished teen who leaves her abusive home to join up with a crew of youngsters who travel the country in a van selling magazine subscriptions. Her Virgil is Shia LaBeouf’s Jake, a flirt with a rattail and a volatile personality. Arnold, an English director probably best known for Fish Tank, studied real-life “mag crews” to make her nearly three-hour-long ode to youth and the United States’ many facets.

The A.V. Club: At the party in Toronto, it felt like we were getting a peek of what it must have been like to be on set. How do you create an environment that breeds that?

Andrea Arnold: I don’t know. I think a lot of the people I brought together are party animals. I think if you bring enough people together that are like that, it’s just going to happen. It’s not going to be a question. I always wanted to do a real road trip from the beginning. We had a small crew so that we could do that. So everyone met in Oklahoma, and then we spent a little time there, and we all went together. We were living together, and there were a lot of us. I think all those things made it a very lively atmosphere. The partying was just a natural part of it.

AVC: Music is such a huge part of the film. Were you playing music on set constantly?

AA: I always wanted to be able to use the music as we went along. I felt that was important. I went out with a mag crew a while ago—they were playing music nonstop. I realized it was really important to them. When they were working and they were out on the streets selling, they didn’t have any music. They were out on the streets for very long days, so when they got together in the van, it was like getting back to each other and relaxing and letting it all hang out. Some of them sometimes wouldn’t want to be hearing the thing that everyone had on, so they would have headphones on, going into their own worlds. I wrote a lot of music into the script from the very beginning.

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AVC: What was the order—did the song come first, and then the line from Krystal [Riley Keough] that Star is an “American Honey,” and then the title?

AA: I think the song probably came first. Then it started to take on this feeling of what I was trying to do with the film, which was, for me, mixing in my impressions of America from growing up, and now my new impressions of America from having spent a lot of time going around and looking. The “American Honey” song seemed to start symbolizing something that felt like the bigger picture in the film. So that came first. And then the title from that, and then Krystal saying that. I thought that’d definitely be Krystal’s music, apart from the R&B.

AVC: Why did you cast more well-established stars for Shia and Riley’s characters?

AA: I met [Riley] when I was on the jury in Cannes. We sat and had a chat on the beach. I just really loved her from the beginning. When I first met her, I didn’t know too much about her. And then we met her again in New York, and I just had a very strong feeling about her. Same with Shia. I met him in a cafe in London. He had the kind of energy I imagined Jake to have. I know he can go to wild, and I thought that Jake’s going to be that way. He’s very charming, he’s lively, he’s got a lot of spirit. He’s got a kind of soulfulness that’s under some of the stuff that he presents. He’s complicated. And he was really enthusiastic about how I wanted to work, what it was all about. He liked the idea of working a bit differently.

AVC: What did Sasha have that specifically spoke to you about Star?

AA: When we first started, I already had someone else cast. The script was written for her. She was a different girl to Sasha.

AVC: Was it a more well-established name?

AA: No, she’s a girl from West Virginia and quite vulnerable, but strong. From the country. An amazing girl. But at the last minute, she couldn’t do it. I knew I had to do something. So I got on a plane and went to Panama [City], because it was spring break down there. I thought there were going to be a lot of teenagers down there. We were sitting on the beach for days, and I saw Sasha, and she really stood out. She was being very playful when I first saw her. We went up to chat with her, and she was very open, listened to what we’re saying, and then we went and did some auditioning with her in a hotel room. Then I tried her out with some of the other characters. I sat her down in Denny’s and said, “Look, this is what it’s all about.” I tried to talk to her about everything so she would know what she was getting into. I hadn’t cast her at that point. I was quite serious about her. And over those few days, I sort of got to know her a little bit, and she’s a different girl from the girl I originally cast, and it’s interesting, because I think that my journey with the film kind of changed who Star was. It became more the truth of what she should be. But it wasn’t what it was originally.

This is an edited version of an original interview from The A.V. Club, reprinted with permission. Read the full interview at

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