Élodie Yung

On navigating grief, and how empathy connects us all


Talent: Élodie Yung @e.l.o.d.i.e.y.u.n.g

Photos: Matt Doheny @dohenyphoto

Fashion: Sky JT Naval @sky_is_dlimit

Makeup: Sarah Uslan @sarahuslan

Hair: Marcus Francis @marcusrfrancis

Throughout her career, French-Cambodian actress Elodie Yung has drawn audiences in with her action roles, making excellent use of the black belt in karate that she earned in her youth. She appeared in films G.I. Joe: Retaliation and The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and is perhaps best known for her work as Elektra Natchios in Netflix's Daredevil series and The Defenders miniseries. She brings an intensity to her parts, making them thrilling to watch both on the big and small screens.

Yung’s true talent, however, lies in bringing complex, nuanced characters to life, which she demonstrates in her current role as Thony De La Rosa on the FOX drama series The Cleaning Lady. Here, she displays a wide emotional range filled with dramatic depth that captivates viewers every week. Leaving her medical career in the Philippines, Thony becomes an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. in order to save her son, Luca, who needs life-saving medical treatment. She works as a cleaning lady with her sister-in-law, Fiona (Martha Millan). After being caught witnessing a crime by the mob, she finds herself using her medical expertise to become a “cleaner” for them. She works for the mob leader's right-hand man, Arman Morales (played by the late Adan Canto), who had a soft spot for her as he was also raised by a single mother. As the lines between right and wrong increasingly blur during the show, Thony must make difficult choices navigating through a dangerous and morally complex world.

This third season marks a significant change for the series with the passing of Canto earlier in the year. “We've had a very hard season,” Yung shares. “We lost a friend and colleague this season, and so, more than any time, we tried to find those light moments throughout.”

In a call with Timid, Yung opens up about how the cast and crew supported each other through their loss, how she explored grief through her character, and the impact storytelling has in fostering empathy.

Timid Magazine: Congrats on season 3—we’ve been enjoying it so far! Can you tell us about any funny or memorable moments during filming or promoting this season?

Elodie Yung: I always try to find the fun in what I do, because otherwise life would be very boring or tragic. I'm always down for the laughter, and it's usually with crew members. And then my partner is Martha Millan—she's got a wonderful high energy and we always laugh a lot on set.

TM: Several new faces joined the cast this season. How did you go about building connections with them, both as castmates and through your characters?

EY: I have no time to be super social on this job, but I do take the time to go for a dinner here and there. Mostly, we build relationships through the work or in between the takes on set because this is where I would spend most of my time on this project. They've been wonderful, all of them. It wasn't an easy season to jump in, but they've been very giving and very supportive. I tried to make anyone who comes—even if, you know, sometimes we have people who come for one day, two days—I always try to make everyone feel that they're at home, always ask if they need anything; and so it's a very supportive environment. I hope that my new friends and colleagues had a good time. We've progressively built a relationship around those four months and it's been great.

TM: We saw Thony having to work with Ramona (Kate del Castillo) and Jorge (Santiago Cabrera) this season, which was obviously different from working with Arman. What was it like to play her navigating this new dynamic? Did it reveal any new aspects of Thony as a character?

EY: At the beginning of the season, Arman disappears, and in the middle of the season, she sees him die. It is a pivotal moment in her life. It's the man she loves. Obviously, that has affected her in a way that she's never been affected before. Because Ramona is tied up to this thing, and because Thony is grieving, I wanted to focus on some sort of revenge story. I wanted this for her. I talked to the showrunners, because we needed to approach the second half and come up with some ideas on how this loss would affect her emotionally and affect her actions. I wanted to talk about grief. Grief to me can have so many facets, so many aspects. I wanted the audience to see the rawness—you know how sometimes you hide your pain behind your anger because it is so painful? I think that can be a stage of grief, and for me, Thony needed to find someone responsible for that. Then I wanted her to put this focus on Ramona so she would not have the time to drown in her own sorrow and look at herself.

TM: Throughout the season and show, Thony is often faced with limited options that force her to compromise her morals to save her loved ones. How do you approach portraying her decision-making process in these difficult situations?

EY: What I love is that she is imperfect. She has flaws. And maybe if I'm just an audience member, maybe if I'm not tied up to this project, I'll be like, “Oh, this is the wrong decision. What is she thinking?” The way I have to approach her is from a—how can I put it?—from an empathetic point of view. I need to understand why but not judge. I need to understand her motives and where it's coming from, as opposed to judging the consequences and her actions. The core of what she does has been to protect her son. It is trying to keep things together. Protect her family. It always comes from her heart and from a good place. And that's my door to Thony—trying to put myself in her shoes. She's someone who's stuck in horrific situations and she's got good motives, but doesn't always make the right decisions. And I like that about her. She's not perfect.

TM: Was there a scene or moment where you felt you connected with Thony the most?

EY: Definitely in the love that she has for her kid. In this maternal way, that everything she handles is because she wants to protect—she's a protector. I can relate to that. I think anyone, at some point, could relate to struggling, to being stressed. The struggle of her life is on a bigger scale, but I can relate to that because no one has it easy. That echoes with me, and I think the audience relates to that.

TM: This season was the first one without Adan Canto. How did you support each other as a cast during this difficult time and pay tribute to his character and his work on the show?

EY: I think, collectively, it was very painful. It's still painful. I think as a group—cast and crew—we all grieved together, talked about Adan, talked about pain as well, so verbalizing it was helpful. I think as well, to me, through acting, it was putting those feelings and the love for Adan within the work. It was painful and hard. There was not one day that I haven't thought of Adan while we were going through that. He was very present throughout this season.

TM: The show explores the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants. The earlier episodes this season had Fiona and her son, Chris (Sean Lew), struggle to get back to the U.S. with the help of Thony, and Chris finally understanding his mom’s reasons for leaving the Philippines all those years ago. Thony also had to deal with fighting to retain custody of Luca (Sebastien and Valentino LaSalle). What do you hope viewers take away from these stories, and how do you think shows like this help shape public perspectives on various social issues?

EY: I think this medium, doing something fictional, whether it's a series or movie—you appeal to an audience from a different angle, different from the news or from an article you read, because the audience falls in love with our characters. It appeals to their more empathetic parts. You can relate more on a personal level with the characters you fall in love with. We're not talking numbers. We're portraying Fiona who got deported—how does that affect her and her son and daughter and Thony? How does that emotionally affect people within their families? I think it gives food for thought to people and taps into their hearts.

TM: Looking ahead, how do you think Thony's experiences this season will shape her path in future storylines? Is there a specific direction you'd like to see her character grow in, or a storyline you’d like to explore?

EY: I haven't really thought about this. I'm not part of the writing. This season, I shared some of what I wanted to do with her drive because of the tragedy that happened. What I don’t want is—I don't want her to become a character for me. Thony is not a character to me. I want her to be a person. I want our audience, male or female, to relate to her and not feel that she is a superhero who's just always finding her way out. I want to feel her thought process—her feelings. I want to see her flaws, her pain, and her joy. I love that our show is entertaining, and I love that those situations are almost impossible. But, to me, it's important that I [can] still relate to her.

TM: What’s next for you?

EY: I don't know. I'm just gonna sleep forever after this. What's next is that I just want to spend time with my family, to be honest. That's really what I want to do. I'm enjoying this press that we're doing, and I love supporting the show, but tomorrow is my first day off, and I'm going to be with my daughter.

The season 3 finale of The Cleaning Lady will air on May 21, 2024.

Disclaimer: This interview was edited for length and clarity.