Sasha Lane on Being Pregnant While Filming Utopia, Empathy for Jessica Hyde and More
"It felt nice to bring a lot of empathy to Jessica Hyde because I understood where she was going and where she was coming from."
Anyone familiar with the career of Utopia star Sasha Lane likely knows this already but it’s such a good story it bears repeating: the actress was discovered laying on a beach during spring break by acclaimed British director Andrea Arnold, who scouted her for her 2016 film American Honey. At the time, acting was “the opposite of what I ever wanted to do,” Lane says over a phone call, but instinct told her to just go for it. “Something in my gut said ‘you have nothing to lose, just do it.'”
Four years later, that gut instinct is still paying off. Lane is making waves on new Amazon Prime sci-fi series Utopia. Written by Gillian Flynn, the show follows a group of comic book fans who believe that a graphic novel called Utopia can predict catastrophic epidemics. Lane plays Jessica Hyde, a character from the comic series who’s in fact a real-life recluse who has been on the run her whole life. We caught up with the actress to find out more about what drew her to the show, its real-world parallels and what utopia looks like for her.
What was it about Jessica Hyde that made you want to play her?
“I think the main thing was the psychology of it and the idea of playing someone who didn’t really grow up with any social norms. She didn’t have a lot of nurturing, she’s kind of always been in survival mode her whole life. She’s someone you want to hate from the jump because there’s a lot of killing and all of that, but I loved the idea of being able to bring some emotion to her. She’s a layered character and there’s reasons why she does the things that she does. I fell in love with that aspect of her—of not really being good or bad but having a purpose. And then she meets this group of people and it kind of starts to crack at her armour a little bit.”
It’s a really challenging role, both physically and emotionally. Was there anything you were nervous or apprehensive about going into it?
“I loved doing all the stunts. The physicality of it was exciting, but also I ended up being pregnant [while filming]. So I was like ‘how do I still push myself and give the character what she needs but be safe at the same time?’ When do I tell myself ‘hey, the stunt double needs to step in because I don’t necessarily have to go that far right now.’ But I still kept the same energy so that at least on my face it appears like maybe I did all that.”
I read in an interview that the script reminded you of your past — a time when you always felt you were in survival mode. Can you tell me more about that?
“Growing up I suffered a lot of mental illness and kept to myself a lot. There was a sense of paranoia and I didn’t really like to socialize. Every day was like ‘okay another day, let’s see if we make it through this one.’ I wasn’t really good with my emotions, I held a lot in. But it’s because I didn’t want to go that far, because when you bring in emotions and feelings you’re vulnerable and I didn’t want to be vulnerable because I felt so fragile inside. That’s why I appreciated the Jessica Hyde character and the fact that you can’t judge her because she doesn’t want to go hug everyone. It felt nice to bring a lot of empathy to her because I understood where she was going and where she was coming from. My job was to bring that out of her and hopefully make people see a bit of that and not just surface level ‘she’s crazy.'”
Jessica’s style on the show is so interesting — what can you tell us about her look and what it’s supposed to communicate about the character?
“I talked a lot to the stylist. Not to shade but when it comes to clothing for female badass characters, it’s tight pants, skinny boots and a tight leather jacket. But how many punches can you throw in that leather jacket? For Jessica, as someone who’s been running since she’s 10 or 11 years old, if you’re going to find clothing you’re going to find things that are thrown away on the street, like an eight-year-old’s sweater or a 45-year-old dude’s big t-shirt. I know Gillian wanted the raggedy skirt really bad, and I wanted things that were rugged and torn apart a bit and didn’t fit right. It’s realistic, and what somebody on the run would be wearing.”
At the centre of this crazy story is a group of young people who want to save the world. And I think that ties in to the wave of activism we’ve been seeing in recent years that’s all been led by young people. What are your thoughts on that?
“Overall that shift is a great thing. I think we’re moving in the right direction. What I love about the show is the different nerds coming together with their own purpose and reason for wanting Utopia but also realizing ‘maybe we have a form of obligation to do something about what we know.’ That ties in with the world now. That one decision that you make could actually lead to so many other decisions or open so many doors, so you may have a different purpose or a different direction or part to play in the overall scheme of things but it’s still important. You’ve got to find out what you can do and what your action is because it’s like a domino effect—it can all lead to the greater good or the downfall.”
Everyone’s been bingeing Utopia lately, but what have you been binge-watching during lockdown?
“Death in Paradise. A lot of true crime documentaries. I like to guess who killed who or try to pick up on things. That’s my favourite stuff to watch. I guess that’s telling… I haven’t read any of Gillian’s books but after seeing the movies and Sharp Objects, I really want to now.”
No one would expect a show called Utopia to be so dark and stressful. What does an actual utopian world look like to you?
“I guess when I first think about it, there’s peace and everyone’s kind of just vibing, and money isn’t really a thing, and there’s no hate crimes. It sounds kind of boring but it’s interesting to think of what that would look like because I don’t think that’s ever existed unless in my mind. So just feeling light and flowy and just good vibes, good people, good energy.”