“The Cleaning Lady,” the Fox television series based on a 2017 Argentinian show, utilizes the familiar “cloak of invisibility” to spotlight Southeast Asians and to reflect on the struggles of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
The crime drama series, created by Miranda Kwok, was adapted to follow the story of Thony De La Rosa, a Cambodian doctor from the Philippines who comes to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant with her ailing son and eventually finds herself making ends meet as a cleaning lady for organized crime.
Season 2 of “The Cleaning Lady” premiered on Sept. 19, making it Fox’s first live-action scripted renewal for the 2022 to 2023 cycle. The emotionally driven story highlights social issues and the realities surrounding undocumented immigrants, who are often painted as criminals and dehumanized. The suspenseful narrative explores the gray areas of the fictional characters’ moral choices.
“Part of the purpose of this project is to put marginalized voices on screen at the center of the show,” Kwok tells NextShark. “There are so many overseas Filipinos working in different countries as domestic workers who are treated like second-class citizens unfortunately. I wanted to give voice to that and to show the humanity of these people as undocumented workers, as mothers, as doctors.”
“Usually people assume so many things about domestic workers and cleaning ladies — that they’re uneducated, inarticulate and can’t speak English,” she adds. “They don’t even see them, so I really wanted to really emphasize how amazing a character like Thony is. Not only to be a doctor fighting for her son, but also to face all these challenges and powerful forces and that she can go head-to-head and toe-to-toe with them with her intelligence and her resources and find her own power.”
De La Rosa is portrayed by French actor Élodie Yung, whose Cambodian father was a doctor in Cambodia before their family immigrated to France during the Khmer Rouge regime’s rule. Her character’s first name came from one of her father’s cousins who escaped the Cambodian genocide and has been an influential person in her life.
“[‘The Cleaning Lady’] is a gift to me because it’s the first time I got to play someone of my background,” Yung tells NextShark. “I felt very lucky to tap into my roots, to tap into this resilience that I know from my dad. To bring that on screen, you know this is not full front, but it is very much part of Thony and that is constantly with me and with this character.”
Yung is known for many action roles in film and TV shows, including “Gods of Egypt,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” “The Defenders” and “Daredevil.” She believes that her role in “The Cleaning Lady” is similar to that of a superhero.
“We actually really talk about Tony’s character as almost being a super powerful, superhero kind of character,” showrunner Melissa Carter says. “One of the things that was really fun in creating this character post-pilot is that people don’t often look at cleaning people. They move pass them as if they were invisible, so claiming this as one of Thony’s superpowers — this cloak of invisibility — is she can use it to get in and out of the areas in the crime world to work with the FBI and use that cloak of invisibility to slip and in and out where people just don’t look at cleaning people.”
The series is the highest-rated drama premiere on Fox and the most-streamed premiere for Fox on Hulu. The Argentine series “La chica que limpia” was first discovered by co-executive producer Shay Mitchell, who brought it to Warner Bros. Kwok then changed the original story to incorporate a cast of South Asian characters.
The cast also includes Mexican actor Adan Canto, American actor Oliver Hudson and Australian Filipino actor Martha Millan.
Millan portrays Fiona De La Rosa, Thony’s sister-in-law and coworker. According to the showrunners, “The Cleaning Lady” will navigate Fiona’s own struggles as an undocumented mother supporting her two children in the new season.
“The heart of the show, even though it’s a crime show, is the family,” Carter says. “The core love relationship of the show is Thony and Fiona. It’s matriarchal. It’s these two powerful women who love each other and raise their children together.”
“Family is an important aspect specifically of Asian culture. In Season 1, Thony was thrust into this crime world that Fiona was just learning about and getting to understand. In Season 2, Fiona is going to face a lot of tough choices of her own to protect her son,” Kwok states.
“They are going to face tough choices together. They’re not always going to see eye to eye. They’re going to challenge each other about the choices that they make and the life that they’re choosing.” Kwok adds. “I think that no matter what happens with Thony, she always has Fiona as her rock and as her center kind of pulling her back to what matters most, which is family.”
Watch an exclusive clip from Episode 2 of Season 2 of “The Cleaning Lady” below:
“The Cleaning Lady” airs on Mondays at 9:00 p.m. ET on Fox.