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'Hearts Beat Loud's' Kiersey Clemons and Sasha Lane can’t be boxed in

Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons in "Hearts Beat Loud."

GUNPOWDER & SKY/TNS

By TRE’VELL ANDERSON | Los Angeles Times | Published: June 14, 2018

Kiersey Clemons remembers the moment she discovered who Sasha Lane was. It was late 2016, and she was walking the New York streets on her way to Whole Foods. In passing a movie theater, she stopped in her tracks, mesmerized by a poster outside. It was of a brown girl with dreadlocks, her hands thrown into the air. She faintly recalls some American flag-like colors on it.

“I was like, ’Who the ... is that? She looks like me. I have to go see that,’” she said.
Clemons went directly into the theater to watch “American Honey,” Lane’s acting debut about a teenager who joins a band of misfits as they trek across the Midwest.

“I was on the edge of my seat watching this movie,” she said, “and my heart was pounding because it was (someone like) me (on screen).” That’s one of the many moments when she realized “representation does . matter.”

Clemons and Lane would meet in person a couple months later and develop an enduring friendship with much in common: They’re both biracial queer women early in their careers interested in doing work that means something to them and others - work that matters.

It’s that purpose that made their collaboration on Brett Haley’s “Hearts Beat Loud,” now playing in limited release, all the more worth it. In it, Clemons plays Sam, a young Brooklyn native who forms a band with her dad (Nick Offerman) the summer before she goes off to college. Lane is Sam’s girlfriend Rose.

In advance of the film’s release, The Times spoke with the pair about working with Haley and co-writer Marc Basch to make their characters more authentic, an industry that tries to force them into boxes and the importance of representation.

Q: What made you say yes to this project?
Clemons:
I was excited to make the movie because I’d be excited to see it. I really enjoy music and singing, and I enjoy musicals. I don’t even know if this is a type of musical . (if) you don’t like them, then it’s not a musical. (laughs) But everyone else was already attached when I came on so I was excited to work with the cast, specifically Sasha because she texted me about it. I knew I wanted to do it before I even read it.
Lane: I just read the script and smiled. It was such a warm script, and then after meeting with Brett, the fact that he was full-on allowing me to be part of the process of casting Sam and working on (dialogue), I thought it’d be a warm movie.

Q: Were your characters written as biracial black girls?
Lane:
Mine was, or rather (Haley) had already attached me so Rose was who I was. Sam was originally supposed to be Asian American, but after a while he wanted (the chemistry) to be right and feel good. We listened to people’s songs, and I played with those other (actors), but none of them felt right. Once we mentioned Kiersey, it felt right and the story was still doing what it was supposed to. And at the end of the day, in the film it’s not like we’re here to throw race in. It’s not mentioned, so it doesn’t really matter. It’s just the person who embodied the character and Kiersey did that.

Q: Did they want someone who could sing?
Clemons:
There are a lot of actors who can sing and singers who can act, but I know for so long I’ve always done both. And they wanted the vocals to be live, so I think doing musical theater helped with that, and being trained vocally probably had something to do with it.
Lane: And not just that .... I heard these other girls sing the songs. It was beautiful. They had very nice voices, but hearing her sing - I had nothing to do with it, but (Brett) just sent me the track - I cried. That’s what you want. She wasn’t just singing. She has something in her spirit that made it important to find the right person. Being able to sing was great, but we needed something else. That’s not just technique. It’s energy.

Q: And you both worked with Haley and Basch on the script, right?
Lane:
I really enjoyed that we got to sit there and go through it and have fun.
Clemons: I’ve told a lot of queer stories, and I think that I’ve had directors and writers that have always worked with me. But this was the first time I felt fully confident in what I was saying. It helped that (Lane) was there.
Lane: Really, and since then, it’s built my confidence. Now when I read a script, I’m like, “I dig it, but it sounds like it was written by a male or someone that doesn’t have a connection to this world.”

Q: Considering you have played both queer and not on screen, when you’re looking for roles what are you looking for?
Lane:
I just want to find if I relate. Can I tap into this character? Do I feel like I have the right to play this, to embody this? Certain things, there’s room for flexibility because we’re actors, but I want to make sure it feels right to me. It has to connect.
Clemons: I’ve never restricted myself in terms of playing straight or queer. On a personal level, I feel like I discovered myself and came to terms with myself while I was growing up and making movies. So, it’s interesting to do work that makes you think about yourself. Like, I never thought about what my mom and I looked like together - me being brown and my mom being white. I’m sure as a kid I did, but I’m 24 now and don’t ever think about that. And then you see yourself on screen or you read stuff and you’re trying to get in character and you’re like, “Oh . this is what I look like to other people.”

Q: At Sundance you were dubbed “the two queer women we need more of in Hollywood” amid this conversation about representation. When was the first time you felt like you saw yourself on screen?
Lane:
Is it really ... sad that maybe “Hearts Beat Loud” was the first time that I actually saw myself? I can choose other things that I’ve done, but I don’t know anything else that I connected with me on every single level.
Clemons: If I’m being honest, I remember having really strong feelings about “That’s So Raven.” As a kid, I moved around so much, and there were times when I’d be the only person who wasn’t white in a classroom. I remember always being so afraid of, when I was 8, responding or acting in a way that was different from what everyone else was doing.
Lane: (Nodding) Or even with your hair being curly and everyone else’s being straight.
Clemons: Yes, and afraid of anyone commenting on anything. If you were “sassy,” you got mocked. But that attitude that Raven-Symone has that you inherently have if you have black aunties, sisters.
Lane: Yeah! Like being goofy and loud .
Clemons: It’s just how you talk to your cousins or the people in your household. It’s just different and it’s part of black culture for some people in America. I remember seeing that on TV. Because before Raven-Symone, I idolized Amanda Bynes. And then we had Raven, and I was like “She’s like Amanda Bynes but looks like me.” I didn’t even know that was allowed to happen.
I have to remind myself that representation is a thing and it does matter. As much as you want to write off the royal wedding . she’s changing the way young girls see fairy tales.

© 2018 Los Angeles Times

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