They say that blood is thicker than water and that’s certainly the case in Caroline and Jackie. This debut feature from filmmaker Adam Christian Clark will have you on your on toes from the very beginning. Starring Marguerite Moreau, Bitsie Tulloch, David Giuntoli and more, the film follows two sisters, Caroline and Jackie, as they reunite after many years apart for Caroline’s birthday. What starts out as a quite birthday celebration between friends quickly escalates, and the group soon has to make tough decisions about who really is in need of help.

We recently spoke to Marguerite Moreau about the film, the bonds of sisterhood, improvisation and family as a tribe. 

Tribeca: Even though it celebrated its world premiere at last year’s TFF, Caroline and Jackie is still fresh in my mind. It was so vibrant and original. What first attracted you to the project?

Marguerite Moreau: What first attracted me to the project was that I didn’t understand it. And that was enticing, so I wanted to meet the director and hear about the script from his point of view. I got an outline before we met, and I found our conversation really intriguing. We talked about exciting topics like 70’s new wave film making and improve style, in a dramatic context.  I was super excited because that kind of a role doesn’t come along often.

Tribeca: The script has so many twists and turns. How would you classify Caroline and Jackie? Is it a family-based drama or a psychological thriller?

MM: I’m trying to remember what we called it last year when were at the festival. I think I characterized it as a movie about the ties that bind within family.

Tribeca: Do you yourself have a sister? Were you able to draw on some of those experiences although, they probably were not as dramatic?

MM: [laughs] No, not as dramatic at all. I do have a younger sister, and I already had an understanding of a relationship in which two people who love each other but have very different personalities. Both are going through their totally different lives but they are forever connected, and that bond will always be there.

Tribeca: When I first heard the title, Caroline and Jackie, I immediately thought about the Kennedys. What do you think this film says about the nature of families and the bonds of sisterhood?

MM: I think that goes back to what I was saying before; family ties are the ones that bind. When all is said and done, family is blood and creates a bond that is not logical in a lot of ways. You can be so different from the people in your family, but that relationship is so much stronger than friendships or sometimes even romantic relationships. It’s almost tribal. 

I’m always excited about how to tell stories in different ways that audiences can connect with.

Tribeca: Caroline is a role that doesn’t come along everyday. I hate to give away any spoilers, because that’s half of the fun of the movie, but how did you get into the psychology of the character?

MM: I’m just thinking about how to talk about the film without giving it away because I think also that one of the more satisfying parts of Caroline and Jackie is watching the story unfold. I think I took a lot from the title sequence. Those opening images drive the characters’ history.  Instead of trying to figure out medically if there is something wrong with Caroline, I choose to try to see where she’s coming from. I didn’t judge her and tried to understand her.

Tribeca: Is the back story of Caroline and Jackie something you talked about with Adam and Bitsie Tulloch (who played Jackie) before shooting?

MM: We didn’t really talk about it because we didn’t want to decide and make any rules. Family relationships can shift all the time—one minute you hate them, one minute you love them—and all that conflict can live in one person so strongly. Adam didn’t give a definitive answer because he wanted the viewers to take from it whatever they take. He’d rather have the emotional ride of it.

Tribeca: Caroline and Jackie marks writer/director Adam Christian Clark’s feature debut. Can you talk about working with him? As someone who has been in this business since childhood, is it refreshing to work with a first-time director?

MM: I’m always excited about how to tell stories in different ways that audiences can connect with. Adam had a really clear picture of what he wanted the film to be, but also gave us so much freedom. He’d give us a line, and we’d improv it in our own ways. He’d tell us, “these things need to happen in a scene, and however you get there is great.”

So it was totally terrifying but, at the same time, exhilarating because you’re going from that structure and then you sort of jump off the cliff. Sometimes that was scary because you’re like “I don’t know if this is going to work!” Adam’s very collaborative but at the same time knew exactly what he wanted. His confidence was really exciting; you could really feed off of it. So it was a good balance of both.

Tribeca: Was there much rehearsal time before you started shooting?

MM: The other actors were cast before I was. They had about a month of rehearsal, but I was cast at the very last minute. I had about a week during which we could go through scenes, try to refine them, and create a dynamic so that takes would not be so long. And then Bitsie and I did a little work together, and we found that right away we had a really good understanding of sisters.  In one rehearsal, we had to push and shove each other because we wanted to be able to practice so that when we got on set, we wouldn’t have to worry about hurting each other. We just sort of went for it; it wasn’t a really big rehearsal period at all. At least for me it wasn’t.

Tribeca: Given the tricky beats of Caroline and Jackie, did you shoot the film in sequence?

MM: Oh yeah, the director wanted to shoot it all in sequence. I think for the most part we absolutely had to do that, unless there were issues with locations or weather. As long as we didn’t get too behind, we were where we wanted.

Tribeca: Did you have an experience working with a script that had so heavy improvisation, before Caroline and Jackie?

MM: No, never like that. I know when I did the film Douchebag with Drake Doremus, it was different. We started with a whole script, but after a couple of takes of some scenes as written, we changed things up and improvised. So I felt that was good practice coming into Caroline and Jackie. Plus, I think actors always have to think on their feet, which is what I’ve found throughout my career. It was all the preparing for this great project that was exceptional amounts of fun for me.

When all is said and done, family is blood.

Tribeca: I noticed that there are not many cuts in Caroline and Jackie. The film mostly consists of long takes. Do long takes put additional pressure on the actors or do frequent cuts prove more challenging?

MM: I think when you have smaller edits like the project I’m doing right now—which has a lot of green screen and a lot of stunts and a lot of technical requirements that required you do things one line at a time—I think that’s much harder. When you have the luxury of long 20 minutes takes where you’re just in it with fewer people, everything kind of drops away and you’re really able to lose yourself in the scene and the character.

Adam came from a reality TV background, so he was really conscious of the environment on set. He created an atmosphere for us that allowed us to just jump in.  I prefer to have longer, but fewer takes than short, more frequent takes.

Tribeca: One of the most memorable and affecting scenes in the film is Caroline’s dance to Ruth Brown’s ‘Hurry on Down.’ Can you discuss shooting that sequence? How did Adam Christian Clark draw that performance out of you?

MM: That was one that Adam and I got together to discuss that scene. I proposed a couple versions. I wanted to do it before I had the crew there and decide how far I wanted to go within the sequence. I remember, even in that first meeting, when we’re still talking about whether or not I could do the part, I had a lot of questions about that dance. I wanted to be clear on what he wanted or what he was trying to tell. So we had a lot of dissection and physical rehearsal so that we were both on the same page before we arrived on the set with the rest of the cast and the crew.

So when I finally went to shoot it, everyone was pretty excited because they didn’t know what was going to happen. We did do two versions; one that was more kind of based in her head and one that was raw and physical. What ended up happening was the first half of each made for a very complicated scene work during which people are laughing out of their un-comfortableness. Overall, it was really scary, but at the same time, it was one of that reasons that got me really excited to work on the project.

Caroline and Jackie opens tonight at the Quad Cinema. Not playing anywhere near you? It's available via VOD and iTunes too.