Pat Giguere ’12 had been living in London for a few months when one of his housemates, Kiren Lall, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Meanwhile, his other housemate, Lall’s 9-year-old daughter Elise, bullied Giguere “mercilessly.”
Giguere appraised his situation and came to a conclusion: Sounds like a web series.
Homesick, released on YouTube this week and loosely based on reality, is the story of a hapless American grad student living in London with a woman battling breast cancer and her hilariously menacing daughter. It’s six short episodes of 3-6 minutes each, and all of the YouTube series’ ad revenue will be donated to the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), so the more it’s watched, the better it does.
And everyone plays themselves.
“The little girl is amazing,” Giguere said of his castmates. “Kiren’s really good, and I’m kind of awkward.”
The project came about a few months after Giguere, who has a degree in Writing for Film and Television from Emerson, had started a master’s program in screenwriting at the London Film School. A classmate, Benjamin Dujardin, would come over and marvel at how ruthlessly Elise made fun of Giguere (“She’s like a little British Aubrey Plaza,” Giguere said of Elise, referring to the actress who played the sardonic April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation.).
When Lall was diagnosed with cancer, a different opportunity presented itself.
“We’d been talking about doing a project together, and then Kiren was sick and I talked to her about it, [thinking] we could raise money for cancer research [through the show],” Giguere said.
Lall said she had always wanted to act, but coming from an Indian background, that wasn’t encouraged, so she studied law instead. When Giguere approached her about starring in a comedy about cancer in order to raise money for cancer research, she was all in.
“I agreed to it because I thought it was a fantastic idea and I was buzzing off Pat’s energy,” Lall said in an email. “I’m always keen to get involved in stuff like this. And what a great cause! How could I not?”
But the shoot was not without shadows. One of Lall’s best friends, Penny Edwards, was also staying in the house.
“She had terminal cancer and was getting really quite sick around the time of filming,” Lall said, “so I was worried about the impact ‘silence on set’ would have on her.” Edwards passed away last year. Homesick is dedicated to her.
Lall, undergoing chemotherapy, was juggling acting in scenes and caring for her daughter and her friend, while a crowd of people from 18 different countries milled around the house with cameras and lights. Elise was dealing with her mother being ill while putting in a BAFTA-worthy performance as a bully-with-a-heart.
“I found the whole thing very inspiring, being around them both,” Giguere said.
Filming wrapped in November 2016, and Giguere and Dujardin began editing the series and searching for cancer nonprofits to partner with. They showed Homesick to CRI, which liked it, and is featuring it on its webpage. In addition to the donations from YouTube ads, any direct donation to CRI through the Homesick page before January 1 will be matched.
Giguere and Dujardin have started writing season two of Homesick, and are hoping to “get the gang back together” to do it again.
“I’d definitely do it again,” said Lall, who is in remission and starting her own food business in 2018.
But Giguere, now back in Boston, hasn’t been waiting for season two to reunite with the gang. Lall and Elise flew to Boston in the spring to visit with Giguere, and he’s planning a trip to London this year to visit them.
“It’s a lifelong friendship,” he said.