Actor Élodie Yung Reflects on Her Start in France, Grieving and Her Directorial Debut

In 2010, Élodie Yung was at a crossroads. 

Though most people now know her from FOX’s “The Cleaning Lady,” back then, she had made a solid name for herself in her home country of France. Having found her footing through various projects like “La vie devant nous” and “Les fils du vent,” she spent four years as a series regular on the French police procedural “Les Blues,” achieving what many fledgling actors dream of. Yet, Yung still felt limited. 

“There was a plateau — a ceiling that I could never overcome in France,” Yung explains. “So, I decided not to do the next season of the series and go to [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts].”

To some, it may have seemed counterintuitive to leave a slowly-but-surely rising career in France; but, Yung knew that she had to challenge herself in some way to reach new levels. By pausing her work and attending LAMDA, Yung hoped to fill in any gaps and explore acting through different methods and styles. 

“When I started in France, I didn’t have any proper training. I learned on the fly, on set and from practicing,” she says.

“I discovered in England that acting is not always something innate — something you have or don’t. It’s a craft, so you can perfect it. When you train, you discover different techniques and collect tools to see what works best for you.”

Enrolling at LAMDA not only provided Yung with new acting skills but also opened new doors for her. She eventually signed with both English and American representation, setting her sights on more global roles. Soon, she found herself on the call sheets for bigger-budgeted international projects like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” Yung then went on to other mainstream projects that put her in the public eye, like Marvel’s “Daredevil” and “The Defenders,” where she played Elektra Natchios.

All that has led to her leading role as Thony De La Rosa in the hit drama “The Cleaning Lady.” The series follows a Cambodian Filipino former surgeon who works and lives in Las Vegas on an expired Visa. As she struggles to find the money to keep her 5-year-old son Luca alive, she is slowly dragged further and further into the criminal underbelly of the city — taking drastic measures to protect herself and her loved ones. 

Throughout the series, Thony shines as a complex character who makes decisions (both good and bad) in hopes of ensuring the safety of those around her. For some, Thony may seem unreadable or confusing, but for Yung, Thony is innately human.

“To me, [Thony’s] a simple woman. She’s a real person who is multifaceted; she has many aspects to herself, like you and I. And I think we use ourselves differently in different situations; we react or we’re proactive to those situations and obstacles we’re facing,” Yung says. “This is how I tend to approach her — not as someone complicated but just someone like you and I, someone with layers.”

The show itself has never strayed away from serious topics. Throughout its three seasons, “The Cleaning Lady” has covered issues like ICE raids, immigrant rights, healthcare and deportation.

“[The writers] write an entertaining show, and they find a good balance,” Yung says. “I think that’s part of the DNA of our show; we are inviting people to watch an entertaining show, and then you’ll have the one or two episodes where we breach really important topics.” Despite the “heavy” subject material, Yung doesn’t worry about making the show entertaining. “I’m given those scripts, and I’m very happy to contribute to what they’ve written. But to me, I don’t focus on the entertainment; I only focus on what [Thony] has to go through.”

There’s no doubt that Thony’s motivations lie in her love for her sister Fiona (Martha Millan) and the rest of their family. However, it’s ultimately her outward relationships with the mobster Arman (Adan Conteo) and his wife Nadia (Eva De Dominici) that move the narrative forward. Though the trio’s tumultuous relationships forced Thony to grow in seasons one and two, Conteo’s tragic passing prior to the show’s latest installment challenged her in ways she hasn’t experienced before.

Mirroring Yung’s real-life grieving journey for her co-star, Thony must deal with the loss of the potential “love of her life.” Seeing this as an important crossroads for the show, Yung often collaborated with the writers to shape how the series moved forward. 

“I was part of some conversations this season, with the loss of Adan, on how to approach the new love triangle. I was like, ‘Guys, this woman just lost someone she loved a lot, if not the love of her life. Don’t think in terms of entertainment, but ask how to approach someone who’s grieving,’” Yung explains.

“We had to do things the right way, not in terms of what was going to be the most exciting. Storytelling is about telling our stories, and among other things in the season, we’re telling the story of someone who’s grieving.”

For Yung, “The Cleaning Lady” is not the only place where she explores honest filmmaking. In 2023, she had the opportunity to direct and premiere her first-ever short film, “Happy Ending.” Co-written with her husband Jonathan Howard, the short film follows a Cambodian woman, Chenda (Jasmine Sim), who immigrates to the United States and finds work at an illicit massage parlor in hopes of supporting her family — all while carrying a secret. Yung found the experience enlightening, and, while it was similar to acting, directing gave her a new perspective on both crafts. 

“I think both go hand in hand; whether you’re acting or directing, you have to have an understanding of the story you’re telling,” Yung says. “But there’s something more instinctive when I act; there are impulses that I follow. It’s something in the flesh — instinctual impulses. As opposed to when I directed my short, I used all the resources that people could offer me. I used my brain more, and there was a sense of calm that I don’t have when I act.”

While this new season of “The Cleaning Lady” may be the most emotionally taxing yet, Yung is still eager for audiences to follow Thony’s journey, and she has the same inextinguishable thirst to move forward as she did all those years ago in France. Directing is not the only new venture Yung wishes to pursue; now that she’s had a taste of work behind the scenes, she hopes to try something new on screen as well. Yung’s aiming to expand into something more lighthearted like comedy — something she had been wary about up until recently. 

“I’m going to put it out there, I would love to be in a comedy,” Yung explains. “I did a romantic comedy in between [“The Cleaning Lady”] seasons, and that was so fun. It was with an all Asian cast, and it’s called “Worth the Wait.” My character is not funny in it, but it’s something different. I would love to do a comedy in the future.” 

This article will appear in Character Media’s Annual 2024 Issue. Read our 2023 issue here.