Arielle Holmes’s Road to Discovery

The actress speaks to her unusual screen debut.

Photography by Kenneth Willardt Styled by Samantha Traina

Two years ago, Arielle Holmes, wearing a polka-dot dress and sheer black stockings, went to catch the subway at 47th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. The directors Josh and Benny Safdie happened to spot her and thought she might be perfect for a movie they were making that was set in the city’s Diamond District. What the Safdies soon learned was that Holmes was addicted to heroin and living on the streets. “They were intrigued,” Holmes, 22, explained, calling from her new home, in Los Angeles. “And they encouraged me to start keeping a diary.” Those autobiographical entries became the basis for Heaven Knows What, a startling, powerful near-documentary about Holmes’s life in New York, directed by the Safdie brothers and starring the actress as herself. After the film’s completion, in 2014, Holmes went through rehab in Florida and is now auditioning for other roles. “Watching Heaven Knows What is very strange for me,” she said. “I tried to kill myself, and that’s in the film. When I see that now, it’s like watching a character.”

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