Filmmakers Joshua and Ben Safdie found the star of their latest movie, “Heaven Knows What,” on the MTA. Her name is Arielle Holmes, and she once was — as she plays in the movie — a heroin addict who lived on the streets with other young addicts, including an on-again-off-again boyfriend named Ilya (played on film by Caleb Landry Jones). Do they often stop random strangers?
“All the time,” Josh, who found her, replies. “I stopped someone on the subway the other day. A little kid — a teenager. Because we need teenagers for the next movie we’re doing.”
Not that it ever gets easier. “You’re breaching a social contract,” says Ben. “It’s ‘No talking, don’t look at me.’ Now you’re acknowledging that you looked at them and you’re talking in front of everybody.”
Josh knows that it sounds “sleazy” to assure them they’re filmmakers, though at least the brothers now, together, have a body of work: nine shorts and, with “Heaven Knows What,” four features. “It’s a little easier now,” Ben adds. “You can say, ‘Look, I’m not a liar. You can look us up.’”
When they found Holmes they convinced her to write her memoirs, which she did, for a good stretch of it, standing up, at the Apple Store on 67th and Broadway. When Josh caught wind of this he gave her a laptop. Her manuscript — “Mad Love in New York City,” not yet published — became the backbone of the film. They chronicle a committed addict, and living the life that comes with it: perpetually on-edge, usually prone to mood swings and outbursts, both in thrall to the drug and her sometimes emotionally abusive boyfriend, Ilya.