Stage & Screen

Élodie Yung: "It’s About Being Available To The Part And The Story"

The star of FOX's 'The Cleaning Lady' on growing up in Paris, her parents' influence and her approach to acting.
Élodie Yung for 'The Cleaning Lady'
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Élodie Yung: "It’s About Being Available To The Part And The Story"

Hi Élodie! Thank you for spending some time with &ASIAN!

To kick things off, how do you choose to define yourself? What is your identity?

I feel that I am a woman, a mother and an artist. I do feel very French but I am close to my dad’s culture as well, which is Cambodian. I also feel very international since I’ve been living in different places like the UK and the US for a long time now.

The global perception of Paris as a European cultural location can often feel romanticised, especially reinforced by the mainstream media's fixation on the 1st Arrondissement.

As a French-Cambodian person, can you share what your childhood of growing up mixed-heritage in Paris was like, and how the diversity in Paris feels? How much hybridity and cultural exchange is there?

I was born in Paris, 9e Arrondissement, but I grew up in the poor suburbs of La Seine Saint Denis. It was very working class there and all cultures were mixed. And to me, Paris also felt like a melting pot as well.  

Élodie Yung for The Cleaning Lady. Photo: FOX.

You’ve spoken in the past of your father’s immigration to France and how it directly impacted his dreams of becoming a mechanical engineer; in turn you now play Thony on The Cleaning Lady who experiences a similar life.

Can you tell us more about how your parents’ influenced your life and career path? Were they involved in your decision to pursue acting instead of law?

I think everyone has different experiences in life and I’m not sure we can make a specific articulation about how parents influence us. In my case, I grew up in a working class environment but my parents were always supportive of anything I wanted to do. And in their own ways, they are both storytellers!

So I guess that’s been transmitted to me in a way. 

As a mixed-Asian actor who’s a black belt in Karate, we've been able to see you showcase your abilities in several action roles!

While we love watching you showcase your abilities, have you ever felt limited via these exact qualities that make you so unique? 

Yes of course, but I also think it’s proper for an artist to feel this way: eventually, you feel you’re limited to certain parts, certain projects and you want something different. I am always seeking opportunities that push my limits. 

Élodie Yung from Season 2, Episode 3 of The Cleaning Lady. Photo: FOX.

Something we love about watching you in The Cleaning Lady is your clear excitement to dig elbow-deep into Thony’s emotional world and her challenges: you’re not afraid of the mess just like her, and the show’s primetime nature can sometimes push the limits of believability.

With both your father’s story and being a parent yourself, how much of your own experiences informed how you portray Thony? How much of what she goes through affects how you see your own family?  

I don’t really look at how I work and reflect on this, but I can tell you that as a general rule, I bring myself to the part (my body, feelings and my own experience of life) and try to meet my character.

To me, it’s about being available to the part and the story.  

Within the series, Thony’s disempowerment is shown through the lack of options she has, with the narrative showing how invisibility can protect as much as it also limits. In contrast, you work in a competitive industry where for many the goal is to “be seen”.

With this in mind, how do relate to the idea of invisibility either personally or professionally? 

That’s not my approach to acting or this industry: to be seen. I do it because I’m passionate about it and I believe I can offer a meaningful piece of myself to the characters and stories. 

The fact that more people from diverse backgrounds are being provided the opportunity to have a voice is great though and I am very happy for this movement. 

Élodie Yung from Season 2, Episode 4 of The Cleaning Lady. Photo: FOX.

In Season we’re just getting to know Thony and are seeing her discover new sides to herself.

What are the biggest changes to be found between Season 1 Thony and Season 2 Thony?

The story is getting more and more complex! And so are Thony’s challenges! 

What was the process of landing the role of Thony like? Can you take us through how the role came to you?

I auditioned, like always, and this time I got the part! The first round was one of the worst auditions of my life, so when they called me for a second round I decided to have fun and do what I wanted. And it just clicked.

Audiences are truly appreciating that Thony is telling a story about the struggles many South East Asian immigrants face, especially South East Asian immigrant women.

How much were you able to develop your role with the showrunners to make sure these
cultural nuances were properly shown on screen? Has this increased or changed with
Season 2?

While telling a story about the struggles of South East Asians isn’t the primary focus of the show, we try to be as accurate as possible at all times. 

Both myself and the show runners feel strongly about accurate cultural portrayals and to that point, they are always open to discussions. 

Élodie Yung from Season 2, Episode 6 of The Cleaning Lady. Photo: FOX.

Viewers have been loving the show: why do you think people have resonated with The Cleaning Lady so much?

I think it’s a very exciting show, very entertaining, but at the same time character driven, and I think viewers respond to that.

If there was one message people take either from watching The Cleaning Lady or from Thony herself, what would it be?

To be resilient.

Élodie Yung from Season 2, Episode 6 of The Cleaning Lady. Photo: FOX.

You’ve played some iconic roles in your filmography: aside from Thony, what role is closest to your heart and why? What would be your dream role to play one day?

I loved playing Elektra because she was crazy, but deep down she still had some sort of humanity left in her.

I absolutely love to act and would like to play as many diverse parts as possible! 

You’ve been in the acting game for a long time now: how have you seen diversity change on screen and behind the scenes since you started out? How do you hope things might continue to change? 

Currently there’s a lot of change happening. People both in front of and behind the camera are coming from different backgrounds. I’m confident it’s not just a trend and will carry on this way!

Élodie Yung can be found on Instagram and Twitter. Season 2 of The Cleaning Lady is showing on Mondays at 9/8c on FOX.

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