“I Don’t Like Cleaning, But I Like Things To Be Clean” Creator Miranda Kwok On “‘The Cleaning Lady’


La Chica Que Limpia first wooed Argentinian audiences and then Mexican television viewers as La Muchacha Que Limpia. Now, writer/producer Miranda Kwok (The 100, Spartacus) relocated the show to Vegas with a Filipino/Cambodian twist and renamed it The Cleaning Lady. Miranda spoke with Creative Screenwriting Magazine about her TV show.

The angle to adapt the show to American audiences was to tell the story of undocumented immigrants,” declared Kwok. It centers on Thony De La Rosa (Élodie Yung), formerly a Cambodian-Filipino medical doctor who came to the United States in search of life-saving treatment for her son Luca (Valentino/Sebastien LaSalle). “The element of the story that most resonated with me was Thony’s struggle with the immigration system in the U.S.” This is in contrast to many illegal immigrant stories which focus on leaving an untenable situation in their homelands in search of a better life.

Since Thony can’t legally work as a doctor in the U.S. due her immigration status, she works as a cleaning lady in Las Vegas. After witnessing a mob murder, Thony is pressured to work for the mob to ironically “clean up” after their hits. This satisfied Kwok’s urge to create a female Breaking Bad.

Creative Screenwriting Magazine

Miranda Kwok

The Argentine show lasted for one season, so Kwok had to add story elements for longevity of The Cleaning Lady into future seasons. “Part of that process was filling out the family elements.” Thony’s character was called Rosa in the Argentine series and she was a single mom looking after her son. Kwok added the character of Fiona (Martha Millan), Thony’s sister-in-law and drew on her own Cambodian family roots. “I wanted to show a boisterous, warm, and loving family that was there to support each other.

The conflict arises from their situation more than from themselves

In adapting the show, Miranda Kwok needed to consider the cultural nuances of the cast. “I discovered that executive producer Shay Mitchell, who found the original format, was half Filipino, so that gave me the idea to make Thony the same.

Miranda Kwok initially developed The Cleaning Lady at Warner Bros. before it was set up at FOX. During that time, there were an unprecedented number of ICE raids in America. These themes diffused into the show. “There was a moment on the first day of school where ICE swooped in on over six hundred people leaving children abandoned and traumatized.” This storyline was initially scheduled for the pilot episode. Instead, Kwok pivoted to present this story later when the audience had invested in the characters of the show and an ICE raid would sting more. “We wanted to tell this story in a meaningful way, not as a C story where the hero saves the immigrants.

Creating A Filipino/Cambodian Family

Kwok also recalled her trip through Hong Kong where she encountered a large Filipino community. There, she saw large families congregated on the streets sitting on cardboard boxes. It was a Sunday, their only day off. Many of these workers don’t have homes and have their family feasts on the streets. Many Filipino live in cleaners didn’t even have their own rooms to sleep in. They sleep on the floor. “I didn’t fully understand what I was looking at. My uncle explained that that’s how society is. It really affected me because these people were treated like second class citizens.

When the writer returned to Hong Kong, the problem had become worse rather than be addressed. This experience compelled Kwok to make The Cleaning Lady about a family from the Philippines.

It was also the remarkable acting skills of Élodie Yung which influenced Kwok’s decision to make her show about a hybrid nationality family. “Élodie has so many layers and nuances which embodied Thony’s character in so many ways. We didn’t want to force her to play a Filipino character, but rather a character consistent with her own background.” (Élodie is half Cambodian and half French).

Creative Screenwriting Magazine

Thony De La Rosa (Élodie Yung) and Luca (Valentino/Sebastien LaSalle) Photo by Jeff Neumann/FOX

Miranda used this cultural mix to create Thony’s backstory. Thony lost her father during the Khmer Rouge regime and was inspired to become a doctor. Many Cambodians flock to the Philippines for medical care due to the superior medical training. Thony went to the Philippines and met her husband and Luca was born.

Thony faces an impossible circumstance in Las Vegas after she’s recruited by the mob. She can’t leave. First and foremost, she needs to save her son’s life. She found a bone marrow match and associated medical services. Thony’s mob boss Arman Morales (Adan Canto) uses his influence to get Luca the treatment he needs. This is more than exploiting her to comply with his demands. “Arman sees her as more than just a cleaning lady. He sees her as a real person. She’s being drawn in by him. There’s a connection between them neither fully understands yet. It brings a different level of humanity and respect to their relationship.” Arman also came from humble beginnings. His mother was also a housekeeper so he treats Thony as a human being were most people don’t. “Neither Arman nor Thony are looking for romance, but they have a connection.”

Thony was a doctor in her home country. “She had agency, independence, and respect. Now she’s pushed into the shadows and told to keep her head down after all of that was stripped from her.

Many undocumented immigrants don’t have a chance to tell their stories for fear of exposing themselves – a key impetus for the show. They experience their struggles alone. “The rules aren’t set up to support you if you’re undocumented, uninsured, and impoverished.

Creative Screenwriting Magazine

Arman Morales (Adan Canto) Photo by Jeff Neumann/FOX

Thony doesn’t want to become a criminal. “It’s what I do, not who I am.” This sentiment parallels Arman’s life. His parents wanted him to pursue an honorable living even if it didn’t pay much. They told him to work hard, but working hard didn’t get him anywhere. Instead, he left his family behind (Arman’s father was Hayak’s gardener) and joined Hayak Barsamian’s (Navid Negahban) drug syndicate. “Thony calls him out on that because he wasn’t forced into that choice.” Both Thony and Arman want more from life, but are hamstrung by their life choices. Despite their commonalities, they have stark differences. Thony doesn’t seek wealth and power. “She makes Robin Hood moves by helping other people even at risk to herself.” This is a big part of her journey as she juggles her altruism with her newly-found power for good to become the caring person that she was.

It’s not a matter of doing something the right way or the wrong way, but anyway you can

Thony’s moral conundrum is her moral high ground and judgment of Arman’s choices. She ironically berates him for being a criminal, when she is also one. They entered under different circumstances and rationalize their choices differently, but end up the same. “Despite becoming further entrenched in the drug underworld, Thony struggles to cling on to her morality and her former self for as long as she can.” At one point, Thony is given an option to help her son and extricate herself from Arman’s world, but she declines. Despite this, there are certain moral lines she won’t cross.

As Thony is pulled deeper into the underworld, her activities began to expand into the illegal organ trade. This storyline was originally pitched for season 2, but FOX suggested they bring it forward. “They wanted these big swings to differentiate The Cleaning Lady from similar shows.


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