The Cleaning Lady’s Martha Millan spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about Fiona revealing to her teenage son Chris that he wasn’t born in the USA and is undocumented.
This Martha Millan interview contains spoilers for ‘The Cleaning Lady’ Episode 2 (“The Lion’s Den”).
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): The scene where you disappoint your son Chris about his real birth place and undocumented status is one of the stronger moments in The Cleaning Lady. How do you reflect on Fiona being the bearer of bad news?
MARTHA MILLAN: For me, it was incredibly hard. That’s my son, I’m playing the mother… To actually break the news that I’d been lying to him for his whole life was extremely emotional for me. But not only that, the fact that it was because of my actions that created the situation for him.
Here I am being undocumented, wanting to give him a life. To ensure my family is given better opportunities than me. And it was because of my actions that have actually led him to a life that has no future… Or at least a future where he has to hide just like his mother.
Bearing that feeling was just incredible to relay and express to my son. When I was working on it at the time, I really just wanted to connect with Sean Lew who plays Chris (De La Rosa). Our authenticity comes from our relationships off the set, we’re all very close like a family.
I’m very close to Elodie [Yung] and Faith Bryant who plays my daughter Jaz (De La Rosa). I think that translates throughout our performances.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Was it the right or wrong decision to let Fiona’s son grow up believing he was a citizen unlike his mother in your opinion? Ignorance was bliss for him after all.
MARTHA MILLAN: I think for me, it was the wrong decision because of the consequences that he’s facing right now. But at that time, I think the decision was to protect her son from what she was going through. To at least keep up the hope or at least give her son the life that she wished to have.
But you know, we all make mistakes in life. They’re lessons, that’s what lends to a compelling story. We all have messy lives and chaotic lives.
I think the decisions we make are more colorful in terms of storytelling… But it’s how we respond to them and how the characters are humanized in these moments. How do you deal with it and how do you move forward from that? It was definitely challenging.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Fiona skirts the line between wanting to be seen as a socialite at rooftop parties and desiring to fall back to the shadows due to her undocumented status. How do you feel about this duality?
MARTHA MILLAN: It’s such a great point because for me, it was always about the struggle that Fiona is hiding at the same time. Fiona wants to have a better life and she’s cut by the freedom that she thought that she could have. So it was always a constant thing, but I had to just break it down to the simple fact that you have to live moment to moment… And each moment you could lose everything.
How do you give your family a better life by giving yourself up as well? That challenge and that struggle causes her unpredictability.
Her impulsiveness. Just her fighting spirit as well and their resilience.
I think the fact that she wants to be seen and wants to be part of this, it lends to her situation.
I’ll give you an example. I never crossed over into the criminal underworld of Arman because all my scenes are with the family. There’s this one moment where I actually am in a scene with Arman and he’s mob, but I’m dressed in my cleaning clothes and I’m in the background. I didn’t even get to interact with them because as an actor, even for me, I was like, oh my God, I get to sit.
I look at them and they’re wearing these $5,000 suits and everything. They look amazing and obviously very sexy and beautiful to look at. And here I am in my cleaning clothes, definitely my vanity got to me.
But if you think about it in real life, that’s how you would feel as well when you’re in the position of the cleaner. Being the servant, I guess, in that sense. Then you have these people around you and envy their life.
I feel that’s the struggle that Fiona deals with in the scene that you’re referring to.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What was it like to shoot the raid scene in which it appears the whole cleaning crew was about to be deported?
MARTHA MILLAN: It was incredible. Reading the script, I already started crying and I didn’t know exactly what the scene or the set was going to look like. It was very real for me.
It wasn’t too hard to connect emotionally to that because when you have physical and tangible settings that you can actually grasp and touch, it’s electric. And emotionally, it impacts me even just talking about it.
It says a lot about what people go through and the lengths they’ll go. And unfortunately the circumstances they put themselves in… You see the resilience and spirit that Fiona and Thony have.
Fiona worrying about her family is a constant nightmare. It was a real roller coaster to shoot that scene.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thony criticizes Fiona for wanting to sell recreational drugs to get ahead as dangerous… Despite her own connection to Arman (Morales) putting all of them under federal spotlight. By hiding what they’re doing from each other, are they really one and the same? Or is one side hypocritical in your opinion?
MARTHA MILLAN: No, I think they both want the same thing in a sense. It’s all about family. Everything they’re doing is all to save Thony’s son life. Any mother would do the same.
I think that’s what the show does, it really asks you, ‘What lengths would you go to if you were in this situation?’
I think that’s the provocative part of the show. For me, it’s all about the extraordinary circumstances of being undocumented. In essence, I think it shows the reasons for somebody who’s undocumented, why they put themselves in that situation.
Most of the time, those reasons for are for better opportunities. Giving your children the best that you can, no matter what. So keeping it from each other, obviously there’s judgment and there’s shame in that… But again, it’s the beginning of wanting freedom.
Fiona and Thony’s experience as the undocumented. Their constant struggle. Do they push past their moral compass to achieve what they can for their family? And is it worth it?
Is there a line to cross where they can no longer come back from what’s been done? Those are the challenges that these characters face. And it’s amazing as an actor to go through.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Do you feel Fiona was ever truly capable of throwing Thony out of the house after their squabble? Were there real feelings there or it was just a family argument?
MARTHA MILLAN: No, I mean, these kind of arguments are common in all families. I know for me, I’ve had very fiery, arguments with my real sister, where we would shout those things and from the bottom of our hearts are in pain.
But family will say things because you care about each other. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be as emotional. I don’t think so anyway.
It says a lot about their relationship for Fiona to tell Thony to get out of the house. Obviously she’s dealing with the fact that she’s going to lose her best friend.
People, sometimes push away the ones we love. And in the end you say, sorry, and it’s like, you know what? I really do love you.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Do you have any staple, every day routines to get into character that you’ve held onto throughout your acting career?
MARTHA MILLAN: Yes, if you ask anyone on set, I jump around a lot! (laughs) I have so much energy. It’s a lot of nervous energy that happens. I think it’s a lot of excitement. It’s obviously nervous because you’re going to be shooting in front of the crew and you want to give the best performance that you can in that moment.
It’s so wonderful to have such a supportive cast and crew. I mean, working with Elodie (Yung) we’re in it right from the get go, but we have a lot of fun in between takes.
But I’m jumping around a lot. I dance around a lot, ask anyone! I do.
I’m constantly doing the running man around just to relax myself and I think to relax to everyone around me so that we can all give our best performances.
In terms of getting ready emotionally, I really just have to trust that what I’ve prepared for is there… Because the moment you second guess yourself, you’ll be completely disconnected. So the way I relax is definitely just jumping around a lot! (laughs)
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What was it like shooting The Cleaning Lady during COVID?
MARTHA MILLAN: It was incredibly unique because everybody was in the mark and there are different zones. Initially, you’re not allowed to come within six feet, but then it’s like, you’re so emotional as actors and artists, you know? You want to hug people and everything, but we couldn’t.
We were constantly tested, like literally I think towards the end, it was every day that we were tested with rapid testing. I think it’s a testament to the producers of the show Miranda Kwok and Melissa Carter, making it their priority to keep us safe as possible.
Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to create such a show. We had to maintain faith to move forward and be able to share this incredible story.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Did you know you were reading the part of Fiona De La Rosa for The Cleaning Lady? I know some shows like The Walking Dead have actors read for parts without knowing it’s for the show.
MARTHA MILLAN: Actually, I knew it was a series regular role written basically for a Filipina woman, centered on a Filipino family & Filipino culture.
That’s what I was more shocked about, there’s not many series regular lead roles that specifically ask for that culture. It was so exciting!
I mean, there are instances where I know with The OA, I had no idea what I was auditioning for and I didn’t know the premise of the show until I watched the series. So, I mean, they were very secretive about it. But for The Cleaning Lady, I was very familiar with the script and I was just as familiar with the original series as well. The Argentinian one.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: During the show’s panel in LA with Elodie Yung, Miranda Kwok, and Melissa Carter, they commented ‘the network believes there is nothing else currently on TV like The Cleaning Lady‘.
That FOX sees The Cleaning Lady as ‘the first of its kind spotlighting these issues and giving the stories a voice on a TV series’. What does it mean to you to be part of what FOX describes as ‘a television first’?
MARTHA MILLAN: Oh my God, it’s incredible! Honestly, to this day still, I am just so amazed and happy. I’m so excited! It’s quite historic, Miranda Kwok adapted the series.
She really fought for all cultures to be represented, but specifically for the Southeast Asian culture and that’s never been done.
The female lead Elodie Yung in the forefront is just phenomenal. Melissa Carter, as the show runner shaping it, creator Miranda Kwok, made sure that representation is on all levels from the writers, to the cast, to the producers, to the crew, you have everybody being represented.
It lends authenticity to what they’re writing and what we’re also portraying as actors. So it’s such a unique and groundbreaking project.
It’s so inspiring because it’s opening so many other doors for everybody else and it’s making people notice. I believe it’s the highest rated series TV premiere on FOX in the last two years. So it’s indicative of the content people are thirsting for.
I think The Cleaning Lady is leading things forward, which is really cool.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks Martha!
MARTHA MILLAN: Thank you!
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– Watch FOX’s The Cleaning Lady right now on-demand and catch up on Thony De La Rosa and Fiona De La Rosa’s journey!
– The Cleaning Lady airs on FOX each Monday night at 9 PM / 8 PM Central. Episode 3 (“Legacy”) will air on Monday, January 24th.
* There will be a replay of the series premiere this coming Monday, January 17th.
– Check out The Natural Aristocrat’s interview with Chef Brynn Gibson on FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen and Chef Gordon Ramsay.
– Read and watch more exclusives with Hollywood talent in the Interviews section!