The Cleaning Lady’s Martha Millan Discusses Fiona & Thony’s Relationship and Filipino Representation

Australian-Filipino actress Martha Millan stars in the main cast of FOX’s new series The Cleaning Lady.

The Cleaning Lady follows Cambodian doctor Thony (Elodie Yung), who comes to the U.S. for a donor to save her ailing son. When the system fails and pushes her into hiding, she refuses to give up. Instead, she becomes a cleaning lady for organized crime, using her intelligence to forge her path in the criminal world.

Millan plays Fiona De La Rosa, Thony’s sister-in-law. Fiona struggles to deal with the hardships of being undocumented while helping Thony in her journey to save her ailing son.

Millan describes her character as “a fun, emotionally volatile and chaotic hot mess, but her journey throughout the series is one of empowerment and strength while helping Thony save her son’s life.

TV Fanatic chatted with Millan about the character of Fiona, the relationship between the sisters-in-law, and Filipino representation.

So, can you tell me what enticed you to play Fiona in Fox’s The Cleaning Lady?

So many elements. First of all, Fiona is a full-spirited, passionate hot mess, and complicated character. Many issues that she deals with, in terms of the challenges of being undocumented and being a mother was highly appealing as an actor.

The writing was also highly compelling. At the same time, I was shocked that they were moving forward with production, especially during the pre-vaccine season during covid.

Fiona and her kids - The Cleaning Lady Season 1 Episode 2

What was the audition process like?

The audition process was in my bathroom. It was a self-tape, and many of the casting offices were closed. So all actors had to send in tapes, and at that time, I was based in New York. So there’s a lot of noise outside of my apartment.

During the taping, I just moved in and moved to my bathroom, which is the quietest in my apartment, to shoot the audition tape. It is all about being creative. There were downsides with covid.

As an actor, we’ve dealt with this and learned how to be creative, and I think it’s improved many of my performances somehow.

Well, they must have liked your tape. So how far in the process did you meet Elodie and chem test with her?

Thony & Fiona - The Cleaning Lady Season 1 Episode 1

It was after the callback. I got with Michael Offer, and we had met, and it was during the chemistry read, and I think by the third audition, I was finally able to move out into my living room and tape that.

It was incredible for me to meet Elodie. I was a little concerned about how we would connect, primarily via zoom, and how our connection would transcend. Still, immediately, there was definite chemistry, and our humor is so similar.

We’re on the page because she’s French Cambodian. I’m Australian Philippino, and I think those roots have a connection and sensibility with each other. We had a lot of fun during our chemistry read — many laughs.

That’s great. So tell me a bit about Thony and Fiona’s relationship. Is it common in the Filipino world for women to live together, raise their children, and help each other? I was curious why her husband didn’t move to America to help with their son.

Cleaning Lady Family Banner - The Cleaning Lady

That’s a great question. It is common for Filipinos in terms of allowing their siblings. She’s my sister-in-law, so her husband is my brother, and she was a doctor in the Philippines. She went to America hoping for a transplant for her child, but inadvertently, she became undocumented at that time.

But yes, it is very common for Filipinos to live with each other. When my mother had petitioned them to Australia, I remember that my auntie’s growing up lived with us. It’s all about allowing them to get their footing, to get a foundation so that they can build their lives here in Australia. So, that’s a common situation in our culture.

I’ve only seen the premiere so far, but I do like their relationship, and they seem very feisty and empowering already.

I’m so happy you said that. I think it’s essential to show all facets of what it’s like being a woman and being passionate and spirited. Thony is so stoic and very determined, and just seeing the yin and yang of the two characters lends for an effective relationship within a story. Offset, we’re very close.

We have a similar relationship in terms of our familiarity and humor, and sometimes the directors have to get us to calm down before we shoot.

Luca's Special Day - The Cleaning Lady Season 1 Episode 1

I think our love for the craft and our work is a huge connection between us because when we’re present, we are very connected, and I think that’s so important between two characters when they’re doing a scene. There’s so much fire in both the women.

Absolutely. I saw that you got to work with Lou Diamond Phillips. What was that experience like?

Oh my God, Laura. I was star-struck. Lou Diamond Phillips. La Bamba was the first movie my family ever saw in the theaters. So it was hard for me to get my first line out to be in the same room with him and then act with him.

I remember even Elodie had to pick up a fork with food, and I saw her handshake, and she was star-struck too. We enjoyed the process but were star-struck, but working with Lou Diamond Phillips was a dream. He is such an open and creative person to collaborate with and just fun.

Martha Millan bio pic  - The Cleaning Lady

He sings a lot on set, and I was slightly intimidated. I really couldn’t talk to him unless we were doing our scenes, but it was fun that it allowed you to produce great performances with each other. His daughter played his daughter. So it was such a family-oriented episode.

I bet that was wonderful. And how important was it for you to be part of a series that delved into real issues, like immigration and DACA and family issues?

For me, the show is groundbreaking in all aspects. We have diverse representation. To be part of this today, especially when a very sophisticated audience wants more content that they’re familiar with because they’re constantly exposed to such cultures through social media.

I think it’s a great way to move forward in how we allow the marginalized voice to be seen, not only in a two-dimensional form but in a way that we can all be relatable to each other. I think the issues that Tony Fiona and Arman are all dealing with are family issues.

Another Martha Millan Press Pic - The Cleaning Lady

If you remove all the labels of being undocumented, a mobster, etc., we all want to do the best we can for our families.

With the issues of immigration and being undocumented, nobody ever wants to be in that situation, but it’s just the reasons why and what happens that may allow for conversations.

Hopefully, if the characters are believable enough and relatable enough, that you’d be willing to walk in their shoes and possibly understand The reasons why people are compelled to make such challenging decisions.

Absolutely. I don’t think we’ve had many TV shows about immigration and DACA. I can only think of one recently, the reboot of Party of Five on Freeform. It was about two years ago. It focused on the parents being immigrants and undocumented and being separated from their kids, and the kids had to raise themselves.

Fiona as a cleaning lady - The Cleaning Lady

I’ll have to watch that because I was also trying to think of something. It’s strange because that’s at the forefront of so many countries. We are such a global society right now that you ignore those issues.

It’s a disadvantage, and we’re condoning any point of view, which is to explore the situation and what are the things we could change to evolve with it would be a great opportunity.

I think this show allows the cleverly interwoven issues of family and relatability to explore that in a way that people can kind of put themselves in these characters’ shoes.

So hopefully, yeah, fingers crossed it. That’s something that people would be open to, but not only that, you know, the show lends itself to action and drama and stuff. So there are those elements that are appealing as well.

What advice would you give your fellow Filipino actors in the acting world?

Martha Millan press pic - The Cleaning Lady

For me, it’s about knowing who you are as a Filipino and going there with your choices as an individual and an actor. It’s not about being Filipino in there. It’s about just what you bring to the table, committing to your choices, and at the same time trusting your instincts.

I think acting removes many of the labels of who you are because you have to step into someone else’s shoes. So if you commit to your instincts and trust that you are a great actress or an actor, people will see that. That’s something that I only discovered in the last couple of years.

And how would you describe the Cleaning Lady in three words?

Action, Drama, Relevant

You can catch Martha Millan on The Cleaning Lady Season 1, which premieres Monday, January 3rd at 9/8 c on FOX.

Laura Nowak is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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