Toronto native, Miranda Kwok, is making it her mission to create stories that highlight API characters, immigrants, and the struggles they face. New Mexico has been home for her latest story, FOX's The Cleaning Lady for two seasons. We were able to catch up with her as she wrapped the latest season.
How did you get started in film?
MK: It goes way back. I went to an art school when I was 10 years old. Then, I was great at drawing and painting, and you had to excel at three out of four arts at this school. I went to an audition. It was a fill day audition as child, and you needed to do a bit of everything. I was very shy growing up, and all my friend we drama majors. I was very inspired by them, their storytelling, and how they were able to immerse themselves into these characters.
When I was 13, I had my television debut singing and dancing on a kid video show. When I was 16, I got my first agent, but it was really difficult to find roles especially as an Asian woman. The roles were few and far between, and they were not very good.
My parents were encouraging me to be a doctor or a lawyer, and I thought I would be a psychologist at one point. I started counseling at a rape crisis line, and that's when I found a new understanding for people and their stories. The obstacles that they faced in their lives, and how they are able to get through it and find their strength. That is something that inspired me to get involved, but that journey can be very challenging. I missed the arts, and I realized film and TV are a different way to reach people. You can talk so someone and try and help them through a situation, but with film and TV people can immerse themselves into a storyline, or character, and really connect with that.
I found that people can be so closed off in their own lives, but when they watch something and can bawl their eyes out because it moves them and can open them up. That's what inspired me to get back into initially acting and moving from Toronto to Los Angeles. There I met all these amazing writers, directors, and producers and I realized there are so many other options.
I got asked to produce something and thought to give it a shot, but it is very hard to get any project off the ground, especially with no background. I realized that in order to tell the stories I really wanted to, I had to write them. I wrote a screenplay that won the Slamdance Screenplay competition, and that my first inkling that maybe there's something here.
It seems like you are now able to create those roles that you did not see in your acting experience.
MK: It is so exciting and liberating to tell the stories I want to tell and create these characters. For example, I love Breaking Bad. Those are stories that excite me, and I wanted to tell a story of the female Breaking Bad, and the Asian, female Breaking Bad. Normally people don't see Asian women in these roles. That is what inspired me to adapt this particular project where I was able to take an undocumented immigrant and have her find her power and strength, attached the obstacles she faces.
The Cleaning Lady just received the Women's Image Network Award for Outstanding Drama Series. Now knowing your initial goals, how does it feel to receive that recognition?
MK: It's really heartwarming. This is a story that felt like the project that could. When I said to Warner Bros. that I wanted this to be a Southeast Asian character, they were curious what that looked like. I wasn't thinking about how I got a show on the air, I was just thinking about the story I want to tell. The fact that it got picked up was mind-blowing, and then another season.
The audience has been so receptive to this story, and that has been incredible. That this show with these characters and these storylines are receiving recognition is what is really exciting.
What prompted you to want to tell the story of The Cleaning Lady?
MK: The idea of the story of an undocumented immigrant who is a doctor in her own country who comes to America, because that is a common story that is often overlooked. How often do you get in a taxicab, or the person bussing your table at a restaurant, is a doctor in their own country and this is the only job they can get? You hear it, and then forget about it. I wanted to dig into that because it is such a common story for many immigrants. So many people come here making sacrifices for their family, and they don't receive that recognition.
The original Argentinian format was that of a cleaning lady who ends up working for the mob, so the elements of her being an undocumented immigrant was new for the Americanized version. That's what really excited me was to dig into that story and tell the story from the Cambodian and Filipino perspective, which is a perspective hardly seen on American television.
You are also telling the children's story in The Cleaning Lady.
MK: That was really important for us to tell that story. Especially because people in undocumented families have multiple statuses withing a home. There can be someone who was born here, someone who is not. We found it was really important to dig into all these stories, and the multiple layers of this family.
What factors contributed to production choosing New Mexico as the Las Vegas backdrop for the show?
MK: That was a brilliant idea from Warner Bros. and our producers. To shoot in Las Vegas can be very expensive, and we wanted Las Vegas because there is this upstairs/downstairs feel where it is a city of extreme luxury and extravagance and hope of the American dream. At the same time, you have the people who are holding up the city which are these service workers, and immigrant workers, who are often dismissed and ignored and are in the shadows. It was important to highlight those extremes.
In Albuquerque, because of the desert location, we were able to film here because physically it looked very similar. At the same time New Mexico is very film friendly. One of the best things that I have discovered filming here has been our A-list crew, who had worked on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. They are amazing. You have these extremely talented crews who are also good-hearted, good-working people. We really created a family on set, and that is a really beautiful thing.
It first started with what is going to match visually, and then it was about where we can get this amazing talent and crew. We had really amazing local talent on board. All that has been fantastic for us and solidified New Mexico as our home.
Outside of set, where were your favorite places to visit in New Mexico?
MK: With the little time we had off set, I did get up to Santa Fe and Meow Wolf. I still have not made it to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, which I want to. Being out in Nob Hill and exploring the restaurants there and finding those little pockets was fun.
Last but not least, red or green?
MK: Red. I've always loved spicy food. But I was warned about New Mexico spicy.