Uncut Gems is one of the most talked-about films of the year, featuring some very meme-able scenes and a career-best performance from Adam Sandler.

It has launched directors Josh and Benny Safdie into the spotlight, but it's not the New York brothers' first movie.

The talented duo have a number of low-budget feature films and documentaries under their belt, including 2017's Good Time starring Robert Pattinson, the stress-inducing story of two brothers on the run from the law.

But it's their earlier film Heaven Knows What that has the most disturbing backstory of all.

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The 2014 film revolves around a 19-year-old homeless heroin addict in New York City named Harley, but the actress playing her didn't have to do much research into the role – because she was literally a homeless heroin addict.

Arielle Holmes was first spotted by Josh Safdie at a subway station in Manhattan's Diamond District, who assumed she was a well-dressed Russian immigrant. When he learned she was a native New Yorker, he asked to meet up later so they could talk about putting her in his next film.

But when Arielle showed up at the meeting, she was "looking like a punk". She revealed that she was homeless, and on the day they met she'd washed her hair in a public bathroom and was wearing a dress she'd spent all her money on.

She mostly slept in Central Park or on the steps of churches. By day she worked at an "apprenticeship" with a jeweller who had spotted her sketching on the street. And after work she'd go to her local methadone clinic for a dose of opioids to keep her heroin addiction at bay.

At night she worked as a dominatrix at a local nightclub.

Josh was so fascinated by her story he paid her to write it all down and then turned it into a screenplay which became Heaven Knows What. Arielle was cast as Harley, a fictionalised version of herself, and a number of her friends were hired to play themselves.

The film centres around the passionate, unhealthy romance between Harley and her boyfriend Ilya, a fellow homeless drug addict.

It's harrowing from its first scene, in which Harley slashes her wrists in a public park because Ilya won't forgive her for cheating on him. The scene was based on Arielle's real-life experience with her real-life boyfriend, also called Ilya.

The real Ilya wasn't cast in the film because his behaviour was too volatile. In a tragic twist, he was found dead of an overdose in New York's Central Park a month before the film's premiere.

At the time of filming, Arielle was no longer using heroin but was still on methadone, and asked the Safdie brothers for help to get clean. She started using drugs from a very young age after first smoking crack cocaine with her mother at the age of 12.

The Safdies negotiated with a Florida rehab centre which allowed Arielle to undergo treatment for a fraction of the usual cost.

Arielle became something of an indie filmmaking darling after the film was released to critical acclaim. She starred in the well-received 2016 film American Honey, and in 2307: Winter's Dream the following year.

She has also been cast in several music videos and modelled for multiple companies.

Arielle has not appeared in a film in several years but seems to be doing well, and has reportedly stayed clean.

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