Sasha Lane and Jayme Lawson Talk Going "Full Force" For Love in "How to Blow Up a Pipeline"

EF Neon
EF Neon

In "How to Blow Up a Pipeline," Sasha Lane's character, Theo, doesn't have too much to lose, making her quest for revenge even more unrelenting. Like the rest of the young activists who come together in the Texan desert to demolish an oil pipeline in the film, Theo has a good reason to want to harm the fossil fuel industry. Diagnosed with terminal cancer after growing up near a chemical plant, "she's like . . . 'might as well go out with a little bang,'" Lane tells POPSUGAR of her character's mentality.

Spearheading the plot is Xochitl (Ariela Barer), who grew up dancing in poison-laced rain with Theo. After her mother dies in a freak heat wave, Xochitl loses patience with her university's divestment movement and decides to wound the oil industry the way it has wounded her.

So she gathers a group of activists, including a Texan who lost his land because the government co-opted it for pipeline infrastructure; a pair of distracted anarchists (Lukas Gage and Kristine Froseth); and an Indigenous man (Forrest Goodluck) who, out of overflowing rage against the oil refinery near his home, started learning how to build bombs.

These characters are all flawed, nuanced, and unique, but all have a personal reason to be angry at the fossil fuel industry and its demon child, climate change. By focusing on stories about the immediate consequences of climate change, "How to Blow Up a Pipeline" does something critical that few mainstream climate stories before it have. It emphasizes that climate change is something that hurts real people, right now, in real ways — low-income people and people of color first and foremost — instead of making it into a vague, apocalyptic threat to polar bears and hypothetical grandchildren.

As wildfires and hurricanes ramp up, the effects on our climate are also getting harder to ignore. When asked about where she sees climate change in her own life, Lane says that she's run into it by "naturally just existing" and "seeing the actual effects." Filming took place in the South, and "even being in Texas and being like, 'OK, all of a sudden the tornado season is kind of switching up a little bit. The size of the hail is getting gnarlier' . . . it makes you stop and think," she says. "It's like, 'Yeah, no, if you ever think that this is a joke,' it's pretty clear that the changes are noticeable."

Even so, climate change is still hard to get people to care about. It's such a vague, abstract concept, and it's difficult to focus on amidst illness, economic crises, and more pressing issues. That's the perspective of Theo's girlfriend, Alicia (Jayme Lawson), who comes along for the ride mostly to support her partner. Alicia constantly reminds her fellow activists that while it might make a statement, destroying a pipeline will mostly wind up hurting working people faced with steeper gas prices.

Like her character, Lawson spent most of her life not feeling too personally connected to climate issues. "Climate change was always an afterthought, specifically where I grew up and in the community in which I grew up," she says. "There were just so many other things that were more prominent and immediate to our circumstances before climate change came into view."

Ultimately, Alicia joins the cause because she wants to support someone she loves, and that's something Lawson can relate to. "Alicia was easy to tap into, because she wasn't so necessarily convinced by the movement," Lawson says. "It was all about how it was affecting someone she loved. That, for me, was something that I could easily understand — how you go completely full force behind something because it is affecting a loved one or someone close to you, and how that can create a sense of urgency in a way that the movement in and of itself might not."

Lawson's words drive home the importance of stories like "How to Blow Up a Pipeline," which is an unmissable, engaging film on its own in addition to being an exceptional climate story. By making richly drawn characters the center of the story, the film emphasizes that fighting fossil fuel corporations isn't about graphs or polar bears. Instead, it's truly centered on the survival of the people we love.

On March 20, the IPCC released a climate report repeating the point the organization has been trying to drive home for decades: we have less than a decade to take action to prevent inconceivable damage. Yet without stories that show what this inconceivable damage really looks like — and without love and community that unites people against our common, faceless enemy — there's no way things will change.

But are stories enough? That's a question at the center of the movie: are violence and destruction needed to put a stop to the profit-driven fossil fuel corporations that are literally making life unlivable? "The fossil fuel industry has one big giant gun to the proverbial head of the world," director Daniel Goldhaber told Atmos. "And I think it is a completely reasonable question to ask, Do we have a right to take it away from them and dismantle it?"

When it comes to whether or not destruction is necessary at such a critical moment in time, Lane and Lawson know their answer. "I don't think it's an or," Lawson says, as Lane nods along. "I think it's and."