The lead role of the Fox drama series “The Cleaning Lady” — an immigrant medical doctor working as a cleaning lady in the United States — was originally written for a Filipina woman. But when Élodie Yung nabbed the role, the show’s producers and writers had to reconsider their approach to representation and authenticity. Not only did they change the character’s background to match Yung — who is of Cambodian and French descent – but they also asked Yung for her personal input.
“When I landed the part, which was originally for a Filipina woman, they said, ‘Oh, we’d like to embrace your origins,’ so we made Thony, and the name was based on one of my dad’s cousins, so we made her Cambodian which I’m very proud of,” Yung said during the latest installment of TheWrap’s original video series “How I Did It,” sponsored by FOX Entertainment.
“The Cleaning Lady,” which has already been renewed for a second season, follows Thony, formerly a medical doctor in one of Manila’s best hospitals, who now works as a housekeeper in Las Vegas. She’s living on an expired visa due to the fact that her 5-year-old son Luca has a rare and dangerous medical disorder, the treatment for which is only available in Las Vegas.
So Thony makes ends meet, all while keeping her son alive, with the threat of deportation lingering over her at every moment — a plotline that the show’s creators developed after extensive research.
“During the early development of the project was actually when the unprecedented ICE raids were happening across the country,” executive producer Miranda Kwok explained. “And there was a moment in particular when children were ripped from their parents on the first day of school, and it was just so devastating that I had actually pitched that there would be an ICE raid in the piece.”
The producers worked hard to accurately portray the ICE raid in the show, as well as the reality of people held in ICE facilities. “They don’t have any rights,” executive producer and showrunner Melissa Carter said. “They might not get a phone call, they don’t get a lawyer, and the disinformation or the not knowing is terrifying.”
In bringing many different characters from many different backgrounds to the screen, representation was important not only in front of but also behind the camera.
“Representation and authenticity was extremely important to us in this show on every level,” Kwok said. “In the writers room in particular, we wanted to definitely reflect the voices in the room that were the characters in the show.”
Carter added, “We wanted to make sure that we don’t vilify any character and we dimensionalize them, and the only way you can really do that is to have people in front of the camera and behind the camera who represent the stories that you’re trying to tell.”
That extended to Yung, who was thrilled to bring her Cambodian heritage to the screen. “I shared a lot of my knowledge of this side of my culture, the Cambodian culture, and it’s been really heard and embraced,” the actress said. “And I think for every character you guys have done that,” pointing towards Kwok and Carter.
“One of the most important things that I’ve learned, and one of the most rewarding things, is that the messaging matters,” Kwok concluded. “It’s not that so many people have showed up for this show, but so many people have showed up for these stories and for these perspectives, these characters, and these messages.”
Watch the full episode of “How I Did It” on “The Cleaning Lady” in the player above.