Fox’ first primetime drama produced by and starring an Asian woman, The Cleaning Lady, is set to conclude on Monday, March 14th. It is one of the only American television shows to feature a Cambodian main character and largely Southeast Asian cast. Dorkaholics had the opportunity to interview Martha Millan who plays Fiona De La Rosa, sister-in-law and closest friend to the main character, Thony De La Rosa played by Élodie Yung.
By the end of the first episode, it’s clear that the cast and crew have worked hard to tell a story that captures the tenderness of parenthood set against high stakes adrenaline and violent crime that is life and death. The Cleaning Lady’s themes are tied together by the immigrant experience of hard work and sacrifice.
In comparison to similar premises, we’ve seen highly competent killers who naturally need to be capable of cleaning their messes in order to evade authorities, maintain plausible deniability and essentially continue to kill again (anyone else thinking Dexter?). The Cleaning Lady changes this formula by presenting a character morally opposed to killing as a doctor in her home country now forced to clean for a living in America and she seeks medical treatment for her son in need of a bone marrow transplant.
Neil Bui (NB): What has it been like being part of a primetime show like The Cleaning Lady?
Martha Millan (MM): It’s just been awesome, it’s been incredible. The fact that this show is groundbreaking on all levels, having the first historically Southeast Asian lead on a primetime network with Élodie Yung leading this show makes this an honor to be a part of. At the same time, the diversity in representation is at the forefront of this show as well, with the writers, executive producers, all of them. Everyone has been incredible, Miranda Kwok, the developer of the show, and Melissa Carter, the showrunner. Both have really, beautifully shaped this network show in a way that dives into topical issues, but still provides so many entertaining values for the audience.
NB: Which people have you known, or experiences have you had, do you use to drive or base your performance on the show?
MM: That’s such a great question. For me, my mother and my father. I always think about how they would feel if they were under those circumstances. My parents are from the Phillipines and we immigrated to Australia. So I moved there at a very young age and I remember a lot of the transitional challenges that they faced going to a new country being the only Asians in a suburb for many years and the way they handled many things with such grace, really taught me a lot of just how to represent that through the show as well. Obviously the resilience but the fierceness of Fiona, that’s just something on my side that I wanted to amplify. I don’t go around punching people, but I really wanted to embrace her, her passion, her unpredictability. But that also comes and stems from her situation of being undocumented and as a single mother and just her constant fear of losing her family. So, I always think about the people who are going through that after watching the documentary Living Undocumented on Netflix. It’s real. It’s their reality everyday. So, I wanted to honor that throughout the show.
NB: On a related note, what does family mean to you and how does that influence your character on this show?
MM: Family is such a topic. We all love our family. Obviously, we don’t choose them. There’s so many things that we don’t have control over in terms of how we deal with each other because of the closeness and the intimacy that we have. So the way we treat other people is very different from how we treat our own relatives and our families. So there’s always possibilities for intensity between siblings, mothers and daughters, sons. Those are the elements that ground the show because it is so relatable. For all families that have seen the fights between a mother and son, and with Chris and [my character], it just reminds me of how I was when I was a kid and how rebellious and how I never understood the challenges my parents were going through. And then obviously, the sibling love between Thony and Fiona. There’s always that reality of just really caring about each other no matter what. But of course, there’s always that sibling rivalry or challenges with each other. So, I think that’s why a lot of people resonate with that because they see that in their families. Family means a lot to me, it’s just sometimes very challenging.
NB: I agree. Now, with the season finale approaching very soon for The Cleaning Lady, and hopefully without diving too deep into the spoilers, how do you hope audiences will walk away feeling?
MM: Wow. Even me. When I read the final episode, I was just floored. I mean every episode my jaw dropped. But episode 10 was just like no, you can’t leave it like this. So if I as Fiona felt that way, I can only imagine what and how the audience is going to respond, mainly because, at this point, you hopefully think that the audiences have invested themselves in your characters so that they care enough to be as emotionally invested. Without giving any spoilers, there’s definitely going to be a lot of switches in alliances. There’s definitely going to be an explosive end in terms of just the consequences that we’re all facing with being undocumented and Tony’s son almost dying and family relationships. All of that really comes to a head at the end and it’s something that I didn’t expect to. I was just like, what do you mean this is.. No we can’t… I’m just going to tease it like that.
NB: I have to marathon the show one more time this weekend to get myself ready for Monday evening.
MM: I think that’s a really good way. Unless you have the patience to process and watch each week, which is awesome. But some people have different experiences binge watching and it’s almost just like come on, when is the next one. I’ve had people DMing please tell me what happens next. And I’m like I can’t do that, you have to watch. That’s why the show is so good, so that you are actually enticed to watch. Like I said, it branches from really relevant topical issues from immigrant, healthcare, etc, but then you have the beautiful chemistry between Thony and Arman, and the heightened stakes of life or death. It’s all there packed into one show. I’m waiting with bated breath to see how people respond, if they respond the same way I did.
NB: Thank you so much for spending this time with me, Martha. It’s been great speaking with you, I’m super excited for the last episode of The Cleaning Lady. But hopefully not the last last.
MM: Hopefully after the last episode, people will be very disappointed if we can’t continue this story, put it that way. I’m not saying anything, Fox or WBTV, but it was just such a great way to end it that way. I can’t imagine people not wanting to come back to see it.
Catch Martha Millan and the rest of the cast on the finale of The Cleaning Lady on Monday, March 14th on Fox and Hulu.
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