THE new Fox series “The Cleaning Lady” wrapped up its successful first season and now fans are waiting for the good news. The series ended its last episode with a major cliffhanger, one that would definitely set the tone if it gets picked up for Season 2.
The show’s diverse cast is ably led by Elodie Yung and Martha Millan who are both of Southeast Asian descent. Yung is French-Cambodian while Millan is from a Filipino family which migrated to Australia when she was five years old.
We had a chance to interview Yung who was in Europe for a much-deserved break. Like many of us, she hasn’t seen her family and friends for a long time due to COVID-19. She was with her dad in Paris and then they were off to Madrid where her little brother just had a baby.
I started the interview to thank her for doing a show that has become a favorite in Filipino-American households. It’s not every day that we get to watch primetime shows with actors delivering some Filipino phrases – from “Mahal kita, beshie” to a crisp and loud “tarantado.
Yung was effusive with thanks.
“The whole project has been a really nice surprise to me and it felt that it’s a privilege to be part of something like this where it’s the first time on primetime TV that you see a character like this, she’s Asian, and she comes to the US to save her son,” she remarked. “I’m glad to hear the response and with Martha, we wanted to make sure that the words and phrases were said properly. So thank you for appreciating it, then job’s done.”
Like many actors in search of that dream project, Yung went into different auditions, including “The Cleaning Lady.” She got her callback and met with Miranda Kwok, the creator of the show, and Melissa Carter, the showrunner.
She was offered the role of a Cambodian doctor living in the Philippines and married to a Filipino. She goes to the United States to find medical treatment for their son Luca.
Yung said she was not shocked or surprised about the reception because she knows what they’ve done and how much hard work they’ve given to the project.
She shared a story that happened in Los Angeles where she met a man in his 50s.
“He was Hispanic and he just said, ‘Listen, are you the cleaning lady? You’re the cleaning lady? It’s a great show, I’ve been here for 45 years, I just don’t care about any of the celebrities and all of that, but I started watching your show. And I just feel for your character so much. And it’s so great that we see immigrants portrayed on TV,’ and it was genuine. I just love having, you know, people reacting like this, because this is how I felt as well,” she shared.
Yung said she did not feel the pressure to represent. What she felt was excitement peppered with gratitude.
“I was just excited by it and I’m happy that finally…, I felt a real responsibility if you will, and I feel honored to be a little voice for people like me, people of color, or people who know about immigration,” she said.
People behind the scenes are as diverse as the cast, which she describes as “a rich, melting pot”.
With the lead role on a network television series comes a certain responsibility, something that is not lost on her.
“It does feel like a privilege. And, you know, growing up, I never watched a show that would portray people like me,” she recalled. “I come from a very, very poor background. My dad’s an immigrant, my mom worked in a supermarket up until she was retired.”
Yung said the role resonated with her and along with it, memories of their own family’s struggles. They were an immigrant family just trying to get by. With the show, they get to shine a light on the struggles of undocumented immigrants and their families.
“Portraying someone who struggles in any shape or form is a privilege for me as an artist to embody and I feel that this is what I’m doing here,” she said.
Creating Thony dela Rosa
Thony de la Rosa is a badass woman, to say the least. She’s put into heartbreaking and sometimes impossible situations that she has to deal with to save her son or come out unscathed or both.
“She’s a mother, I know what it feels like to be a mother, she is struggling in this new country,” Yung explained. “She carries on, she fights for her family, for her son. I know what it’s like, I can imagine what it’s like, I see what it’s like. There are very organic connections to me and I feel that I’ve met parts of my own humanity portraying Thony.”
Complementing Thony’s character is Martha Millan’s Fiona de la Rosa, the sister of Thony’s husband Marco.
The duo’s characters lit up the screen and the chemistry between them was palpable, whether they are fighting or in casual banter. There was a connection.
Yung shared that the first time she met Millan was through a Zoom meeting. The people behind the show asked Yung to read with the women they had in mind for the role of Fiona.
She recalled there were five women and Millan was the first to read.
“And I was just in awe of her. I just knew it was her. It just felt that she was the one,” Yung said. “So you don’t believe that people could just like fall in love through the internet? Well, I felt like this with Martha. And then we just became friends very, very quickly, instantly.”
The friendship grew deeper as both got to know each other more. Now, they consider each other as family.
“She is someone that I can count on, she knows that she can count on me. And it’s beyond the work. It’s great when you meet great friends like this and is just pure luck,” Yung remarked. “The show would not be this show without Martha. She’s such a unique talent, a unique person, she’s got a big heart. The depth of her talent is just immense, there’s no end to it.”
She insists that she and Martha need to go and visit the Philippines together someday.
“At some point, I was hoping that they would take me there because there was going to be a flashback but they just reproduced the Philippines very nicely, but it was in Albuquerque. So all I’ve seen of the Philippines is Albuquerque and New Mexico.”
An abundance of Filipino talent
A scrutiny of the show’s closing credits would reveal a dream list of Filipino talents who were all able to work together in the show.
Shay Mitchell is listed as one of the executive producers. Ruby Ibarra’s songs figure prominently in the soundtrack. One of the episodes was directed by Marie Jamora and there is an episode entitled “Kabayan” with no less than Lou Diamond Phillips as a special guest star.
Yung said working with Phillips was pure joy and a real privilege and described him as a lovely man and a generous team player.
“It didn’t feel that I had to do anything. You know, when you have a partner that’s so giving? I just remember, it was like the scene where the car breaks and we had this scene together and it was just something very special,” Yung explained. “He brings something very authentic and heartfelt to his heart. And I think it just radiates to other people.”
She describes director Marie Jamora as a really good director who is gentle in her ways as they create the scenes together.
“She’s building for herself a great body of work. She’s very genuine and pays attention to what you have to offer,” she said. “Marie was someone who would take the time, we met before and we discussed where she was coming from. I’m just so happy to be surrounded by so many diverse and very clever women.” n