It’s been a two-year journey for Melissa Carter and Miranda Kwok to see “The Cleaning Lady” go from idea to filming.
As the series goes from page to screen beginning Monday, Jan. 3, the pair are excited to have the world see the final product.
“What excited me about the show is that I wanted to do a female ‘Breaking Bad’ type story, but have the point of view from an undocumented person,” says Kwok, who is also the creator and writer. “To tell a more timely story as to what is going on today. I wanted to layer in a lot of issues through the story.”
“The Cleaning Lady” follows the story of Cambodian doctor, Thony, played by Élodie Yung, who comes to the United States for a medical treatment to save her ailing son Luca.
With her son diagnosed with a life-threatening immunodeficiency disorder and her husband, Marco, played by Ivan Shaw, struggling with a gambling addiction and unable to get a visa, Thony is left to save the boy on her own. Where she once had it all – a successful career as a doctor, loving husband and family, Thony is now in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her sister-in-law, Fiona, played by Martha Millan, waiting for a matching bone marrow donor for Luca, while struggling to make ends meet as an undocumented worker.
When the system fails and pushes her into hiding, she refuses to be beaten down and marginalized. Instead, through an unexpected run-in with a lieutenant of a powerful crime syndicate, Arman Morales, played by Adan Canto, she becomes a cleaning lady for their operation.
Crossing into a world of moral grays, Thony begins to live a double life, keeping secrets from her family, while cleaning crime scenes for Arman and dodging the law, including the smooth-talking FBI Agent Garrett Miller, played by Oliver Hudson, who is in pursuit.
Using her cunning and intelligence to forge her own path in the criminal underworld, Thony does what is necessary to save Luca – even if it means sacrificing her own soul in the process.
The series premieres at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, on Fox. The series is based on the original Argentine series.
Carter, the showrunner, was drawn to the production because it’s an ensemble piece.
“You have female empowerment,” Carter says. “Different types of families and backgrounds are shown. Cambodian, Filipino, Armenian and Mexican. It’s a great mix.”
Kwok says Thony isn’t choosing this life.
“Her circumstances are forcing her down this path,” Kwok says. “She’s doing all the wrong things for the right reasons. It’s about a mother struggling to keep her son alive.”
Carter says the series allows viewers to think about what circumstances would push one over the edge.
“We’ve all done jobs that aren’t glamorous,” Carter says. “Thony and Fiona are undocumented workers and the series allows us to see what it’s like to walk in their shoes. It’s very relatable. They are doing a job just to pay the bills.”
Kwok wanted to get across the point of compassion.
“We’re all people,” she says. “That’s what the series is about.”
The series filmed mostly in New Mexico, with the exception of a few production days in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Prior to the series, neither Carter or Kwok had been to New Mexico – and they both fell in love with the area.
After the production got the green light from Fox, Carter began looking for locations.
Somehow, Albuquerque wasn’t on the list.
“We were really fighting for it to be in Los Angeles or Santa Clarita, (California),” Carter says. “Once we visited Albuquerque, we saw it could completely be done. From the high end to the rest of it, (Albuquerque) did look like the suburbs. We found amazing locations and amazing crews. It’s a bounty of riches.”
Kwok says the cast and crew felt like family throughout filming.
“There’s a lot of passion and support for this project,” Kwok says. “Not only did we have a wonderful of talent, the crew brought their ‘A’ game.”
Carter didn’t realize how much of a production boomtown Albuquerque is.
During her time filming, she made the leap and purchased a home in the city.
“So many people have moved to work on productions in New Mexico,” Carter says. “I bought a house there in Nob Hill and I think the show is going to come back. I’m trying to talk my husband into retiring there.”
According to the New Mexico Film Office, the production filmed from August through November in Albuquerque and surrounding areas.
It employed about 200 New Mexico crew members, six New Mexico principal actors, and over 1,800 New Mexico background actors and extras.
The production filmed during the pandemic, as vaccines were starting to roll out.
Carter says the New Mexico Film Office had already put guidelines into place.
“In Albuquerque, we felt safe because everyone was wearing a mask,” Carter says. “For the pilot, we were wearing masks and shields. We had the full COVID protocol down the entire production.”