You likely know Elodie Yung as the Queen of Hell’s Kitchen, in the Netflix Marvel show, Daredevil and its spin-off series, The Defenders. With her British accent on the show, you wouldn’t even know that Yung is in fact, French Cambodian. Trading her Twin Sai for cleaning gloves, Yung is currently starring as Thony De La Rosa in the Fox series, The Cleaning Lady—a complete transformation from the comic book assassin that she’s most known for. But Yung’s new role is breaking barriers and doing what other shows haven’t really done—having a Cambodian lead character on screen.
The mob drama series follows Cambodian doctor Thony De La Rosa, formerly based in the Philippines who travels to the US hoping for a life-saving treatment for her son, Luca, who has an immunodeficiency disorder. However, Thony runs into some visa issues and ends up living illegally in the country. To make ends meet while she waits for her son’s treatment, she works as a cleaning lady and lives with her Filipino sister-in-law who is also living there on an expired visa. During one of her cleaning gigs, Thony witnesses a murder and becomes entangled in a criminal organisation.
While Yung’s character was originally written as a Filipino woman, it was changed to reflect her Cambodian heritage while still keeping her ties to the Philippines. For instance, Thony was a doctor in the Philippines, married to a Filipino, her son is half-Filipino and her sister-in-law is Filipino. The Cleaning Lady is groundbreaking for both Cambodian and Filipino representation with Yung headlining the drama and Filipino American actress, Martha Millan also at the forefront.
With the show currently underway, Tatler catches up with Yung in this exclusive interview to talk about her role and how the show is championing Southeast Asian representation—and why that matters.
Your character, Thony De La Rosa was originally Filipino but it was changed to reflect your Cambodian background. How did you feel when you were cast for the role and when your background was specifically reflected?
I was in shock at first because it never happened before! I could not believe they wanted to make the lead character of the series Cambodian. It felt incredible.
Were you able to give your own input in shaping the character? How similar would you say you are to Thony?
From the moment I auditioned, I gave my input to the character. I don’t think there’s any other way for what we do so I would definitely say that Thony and I share the same heart. I like to think that we share the same resilience although I haven’t been tested in my personal life the way Thony has been. And she is probably way more calm and courageous than I would be in certain situations.
How did you prepare for your role? Did you draw from your own experiences? Did you watch the original Argentina series beforehand?
I think that as actors, we suffer from enough comparisons so I try to avoid [watching the original] in my art as much as I could and consciously choose not to watch the series so I could be freer in my creative process.
I wouldn’t say I draw anything specifically from my own experience because I have never cleaned for a living—for regular customers or the mob! But I draw from my personal knowledge of what is it to be an immigrant in difficult conditions from watching my Dad (who was a political refugee in France from Cambodia) and tried to understand this resilience that comes with it. I draw from watching my Mum doing manual labour her entire life as a cashier in a supermarket and the disregard she’s had at times from people. As a mother, I draw from my knowledge of love for my child as well.