[Only IN Hollywood] Mabuhay to Martha Millan, badass in ‘Gentlemen,’ the rock of ‘Cleaning Lady’

Ruben V. Nepales

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Only IN Hollywood] Mabuhay to Martha Millan, badass in ‘Gentlemen,’ the rock of ‘Cleaning Lady’

NOT YOUR MEEK TITA. Martha Millan as Mercy in 'The Gentlemen.'


Martha Millan, born to Filipino parents in Pasay, raised in Australia, and working as an actress in America, is breaking stereotypes of Filipina and Asian women

LOS ANGELES, USA – She’s ferocious, machete-wielding Mercy Moreno who greets her chop shop customers with “Mabuhay!” in her unforgettable guest appearance on Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen, which recently debuted at no. 1 on Netflix.

In Fox’s The Cleaning Lady, still going strong on its third season, she’s Fiona de Leon, the “rock” (per creator Miranda Kwok) of the series’ Thony (Elodie Yung).

Martha Millan, born to Filipino parents in Pasay, raised in Australia, and working as an actress in America, is breaking stereotypes of Filipina and Asian women.

In just two episodes of The Gentlemen, Guy’s do-over of his 2019 movie, Martha is definitely not your meek tita. In the London-set crime-comedy-drama, she is absolutely memorable as Mercy, a ruthless, tough-talking owner of a high-end sportscar dealership that’s actually a front for trafficking Colombian cocaine.

Face, Head, Person
NO MERCY. Martha Millan is unforgettable in her guest performance on ‘The Gentlemen.’ Netflix

It’s a delicious guest performance turn that Martha accomplishes even with only a few scenes. It’s a credit to the Fil-Aussie’s portrayal of a badass chop shop owner that the UK’s The Standard ranked her Mercy as among the series’ top 5 toughest characters, next to those of lead star Theo James, Giancarlo Esposito, Pearce Quigley, and Ray Winstone.

Vicky Jessop wrote: “Mercy appears to run a car dealership but there is of course much more to her than that. The formidable woman is in fact at the head of a Mafia clan of her own – keeping prisoners and cutting off their fingers in the same building she sells her cars.”

“She’s also handy with a gun and a machete. Nominative determinism this ain’t.”

In Guy’s usual intriguing world of gangsters and aristocrats, played well by fine actors, including, aside from the above thespians, Daniel Ings (he will make you not think of Chicken Dance in the same way again), Joely Richardson, Vinnie Jones, Kaya Scodelario, Michael Vu, and Chanel Cresswell, Martha makes her mark.

A tough feat to achieve, considering the accomplished company, but Martha succeeds and makes us remember her Mercy for probably a very long time.

It’s a surprise role that Martha bagged in the series, about Theo’s Eddie inheriting the family’s wealth when his father dies, only to find out that his estate is involved in a big weed business and of course, with the underworld.

Guy created and co-wrote the series and directed the first two episodes, with the other six helmed by David Caffey, Eran Creevy, and Nima Nourizadeh.

If you have not seen Martha in The Gentlemen, it’s a must-watch.

Martha also continues to shine in Miranda Kwok’s The Cleaning Lady, where the actress co-stars with Elodie Yung. Both are stellar in Fox’s popular series. In the new season, Martha’s Fiona is still in the Philippines, where she was deported to in the season 2 finale.

Getting Fiona back to the US is one of the challenges faced by Elodie’s Thony, a Cambodian doctor who originally studied and practiced medicine in the Philippines. Thony misses her sister-in-law as she finds herself enmeshed in organized crime while fighting for her safety from the government.

The hit series, led by showrunners Miranda and Jeannine Renshaw, has been praised for its predominantly Southeast Asian cast and its diverse behind-the-camera talents as well. The new season introduces Fil-Am actor JB Tadena, who joins Martha, Princess Punzalan, Alberto Isaac, and other Pinoys in the cast.

JB AND MARTHA. JB Tadena and Martha Millan in ‘The Cleaning Lady.’ FOX

In addition, the show, which was adapted by Miranda from an Argentinian series of the same name, also stars Sean Lew, Kate del Castillo, Santiago Cabrera, Eva De Dominici, Faith Bryant, Clayton Cardenas, and Jay McLaren. The series sadly lost Adan Canto, who played Arman Morales, when he died last January 8.

Martha quipped in our video interview that it was an acting challenge to shoot the “hot and sweltering” Philippine scenes of The Cleaning Lady at the height of the last winter in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Martha is back filming again in Albuquerque, from where she called and also talked about other topics, including the rise of Filipina actresses in the international scene, including Dolly de Leon and Ruby Ruiz, and being directed by the likes of Marie Jamora and Lou Diamond Phillips.

When I congratulated her on these current projects by saying that it’s a good time to be Martha Millan, the gracious, easygoing actress replied with a smile, “That’s such a great way to put it. Yes, it is a good time.”

The actress’ other credits include playing Claudelle Sosa in The OA and guest roles in such shows as SuccessionEntourageMadam Secretary, and Law & Order.

[Only IN Hollywood] Mabuhay to Martha Millan, badass in ‘Gentlemen,’ the rock of ‘Cleaning Lady’

The following excerpts of our Zoom chat were edited for brevity and clarity.

Let’s start with your role as Mercy in The Gentlemen. Can you clarify first the nationality of Mercy? A friend claims that your character said, “Mabuhay,” but I may have missed that.

Yes, it’s when she enters; it’s her first appearance. I enter to greet Theo James, Daniel Ings, and Chanel Cresswell when I say “Mabuhay!” and allow them to come to my chop shop.

How did you land the role of Mercy? How much did you relish playing a ruthless, badass woman? And did you know right away the director was going to be Guy Ritchie?

For me, the first notification was an audition and I saw his name attached to it. And straight away, I was like, I don’t care what role it is, even if I’m just sneezing on it, please let me audition.

So, it was sent by my manager and I put myself on tape. We just wrapped season two of The Cleaning Lady.

And nowadays, it’s wonderful how you can audition from anywhere. The fact that COVID upended the whole process, it has also opened up a bigger market for auditions.

So, yeah, I pretty much just taped here. And then they were interested in seeing me and I auditioned for the director.

Your green Lamborghini scene with Theo James, Daniel Ings, and Chanel Creswell was so delicious and memorable. Can you talk about that scene? And what was it like to work on the first day on set?

It was extremely nerve-wracking for me because it was the first time I’d ever worked overseas. Most of the work that I’ve done was in America.

But, yeah, especially playing alongside Theo James, who just finished The White Lotus, Daniel Ings, and Chanel. They were just so warm and inviting.

But at the same time, it was being a guest star on a show so you always just want to do your best because you are a guest.

How much fun did you have with the actors, especially Theo James and Daniel Ings?

Daniel is such a funny person in general, in real life, and just so warm and inviting. And so is Theo. Theo is very focused.

And you can tell by their investment in their characters. It just really shines through throughout the series.

But incredibly, it was a lot of energy in terms of just being there for each other as actors. You can’t bring performances unless the actors are there for you.

And playing alongside them was conducive to bringing good performances. So, it’s amazing.

Guy Ritchie is noted for his sharp, witty, and rapid-fire dialogue. Can you, as an actor, talk about your pleasure and excitement of being able to deliver Guy’s lines? And are you a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s work?

Camera, Electronics, Video Camera
GUY. ‘The Gentlemen’ creator Guy Ritchie on set. Netflix

Yes, huge. For me, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsThe Gentlemen (2019 film), and Revolver. I’m a big fan of those.

And I love the gangster culture that he brings into the industry in a way that is lighthearted but the consequences are extremely dark. And how he balances that in such an entertaining way is incredible.

So, to be a part of his world was such an honor. Obviously, when you are reading and acting on Guy Ritchie’s scripts, you want to do justice and live up to the writing in a way that brings that wit and quickness that his movies bring.

So, it was definitely quite intimidating but it was just investing in the power of Mercy and who she was that allowed for her to be ferocious and somehow funny and warm in some way.

I am sure you look forward to working with Guy Ritchie again. Please comment on that and what it was like to meet Guy Ritchie for the first time.

I would love to work on another Guy Ritchie project as any actor would. Like I said, the balance of how his shows are so entertaining, quick-witted, but at the same time deals with a lot of dark issues. They’re so intelligently balanced that it just keeps the audience coming back for more.

And in terms of meeting Guy Ritchie, at that time we were filming, he was already filming another project and so it was just a quick glance during the premiere for me. It was just a hello.

And of course, it’s Guy Ritchie – everybody’s just clamoring, so at the same time it was just such an honor to be at the premiere and to be invited. I couldn’t have asked for more to attend the world premiere of his project so it was amazing.

You have another delicious scene towards the end of this show that we will not discuss to avoid spoilers, but can you just tell us how much fun did you have doing that scene? Because it’s also memorable.

There were so many delicious scenes. It’s fair to say throughout the whole series, every character from Theo, Daniel, Kaya, and Chanel to Joely, and all the main characters, they’ve relished all of their scenes.

[The machete] in my hand was so empowering. It’s very violent but it was challenging as well to make it authentic, real, and believable.

But that comes through with the writing, again, with the vision of the director and with the collaboration of all the actors. It’s incredible. So that in itself is just something that I hope to experience again.

Mabuhay and brava on that performance in The Gentlemen. Now, we go to The Cleaning Lady. Can you talk about your character, Fiona de la Rosa, in season 3, and how this new season expands on the back story of Fiona?

Fiona is the complete opposite of Mercy. She is going through a lot, obviously. She has just recently been extracted from the country and separated from her family.

So, the journey is seeing how she, if she even returns to the US at this point, and how her collaboration with Thony or her relationship, sustains this really tough point in their lives.

You’ll find so many core values being relived or rediscovered in terms of how far you will go for your family, for your children, and why. Why do you do these things?

But to reunite with Princess Punzalan, Alberto Isaac, and then also work with JB Tadena, was an amazing and incredible experience to live out through a Filipino environment and set. So, yeah, I’m excited.

Clothing, Coat, Jacket
REPRESENT. Martha Millan as Fiona de la Rosa. Robert Ascroft/FOX

Fiona is deported to the Philippines so your scenes are set in the Philippines but you film in New Mexico. Do you sometimes wish you were actually shooting in the Philippines?

I just wanna give a shout-out to Roshelle Berliner who did the actual [production] design. She built the set in Albuquerque and the authenticity and detail of creating a Filipino outdoor turo-turo was incredible.

It helped the actors so much to dive into being in the Philippines, except that it was winter when we shot. It was December and it was like 30 degrees Fahrenheit. And we’re supposed to portray the Philippines as hot and sweltering.

Hence, JB is in his tank top. It was a challenging experience to still portray the heat while it was freezing cold. So, that in itself was challenging for both of us, for everybody in general, even the crew.

But again, authenticity is what brings so much success to the show. And I think people will relate to a lot of the relationships that they go through with their siblings or with their family, regardless of our heightened stakes and our reality.

The core of the show is still about family. And if you look at the new characters that are coming in, they also are based on deep family core values. So that’s why I think that’s the secret in the sauce.

You get to deliver Tagalog or Filipino words. How do you adjust your Australian accent to speak in Tagalog?

People get really shocked when I start speaking Australian. For me, I grew up with my mother and father, like, talking like this. And then for them, they’re like, we don’t talk like that.

And I’m like, yes you do, but that’s okay. But for me, it was very specific because I wanted to portray a Filipino who had been living in America for 15 years. And there’s a difference in that accent as well.

So, I wanted to find the authenticity in that and also modeled it along my auntie’s line, who had been living in America for many years, and the same with my parents who were in Australia for 40 years.

That’s just innate. It’s innate in me and I just turn it on. I don’t know what happens, it’s like [being] Filipino.

The new season introduces JB Tadena as Paolo Belleza. Can you talk about working with JB and the other Filipino actors in the series, including Princess Punzalan and Alberto Isaac?

They’re all so giving as actors and genuinely, they want to have fun, which is something so important to me on set because we were dealing with issues that are dark and topical at this time, and controversial. And I think having fun on set is necessary.

So, JB is a lot of fun. He’s super easygoing. And Princess is the sweetest woman ever. She does have that nurturing quality that calms you down, which Fiona needs.

And Alberto is like the Filipino father who’s like my dad. And he’s like, “Okay, okay.” If you want to say, it’s like, “Okay, I love you kiddo.”

So, there are all those little details about Filipinos that are so authentic. And that’s why that section of the show is very loved as well.

Indoors, Restaurant, Urban
PINOYS. Martha (right) with (standing from left) JB Tadena and Sean Lew. Jeff Neumann/FOX

The Cleaning Lady also taps diverse directors. What was it like to be directed by diverse talents, including Filipino Americans, Marie Jamora and actor Lou Diamond Phillips?

I love them. Again, an honor and just so much fun. They are the most creative, fun people to work with but at the same time, always noticing the detail of authenticity in highlighting our culture if they can, especially with Marie Jamora.

She brought all these Filipino sweets to set for the crew and everybody. I’m like, “Nah, I can’t. I’m gonna be bouncing off the walls with that.”

And then there’s Lou Diamond Phillips, who’s iconic. He’s a trailblazer in the way that he opened doors for a lot of Filipinos to work in the industry as well. So, to work with him was an honor. It was incredible.

Can you talk about how The Cleaning Lady, as created by Miranda, puts a spotlight on strong, diverse women? And also, how it’s a welcome representation, especially of Asians in television?

Absolutely. As I always say, it’s amazing that never in my life would I have thought I’d audition for a series regular lead role that portrays a Filipino.

And that was something that opened so many doors for so many people. Like Miranda said, it opened doors for new talent in that way. And I don’t know if I would ever have been considered if it was a generic description of what was being cast.

Representation is wonderful to see and it’s moving forward. The goal is to normalize it so that it isn’t a topic of the day and that it’s just part of our everyday lives, watching on TV.

That’s how the world is depicted and that’s how the industry shows us, shows the world.

Groupshot, Person, People
CAST. Martha (fourth from left) with the ‘Cleaning Lady’ cast. Robert Ascroft/FOX

How much do you appreciate that The Cleaning Lady also explores the plight of undocumented immigrants, families in search of a better life, and immigration issues?

It dives into the reasons why people go through such dangerous situations. And these aren’t just light issues or experiences that we’re talking about.

These are life-threatening experiences in order to give better opportunities for their families. And to put yourself through that or put your families through that shows a certain courage.

I know that it is quite controversial in many ways but we also have to consider the facts and the reasons, why people go through that. It’s not a light decision people take, as I said.

It’s life-threatening or they would lose their lives in order just to give better opportunities for their families. That’s something that the show highlights; the dangers that they go through and how life is so precarious every day for them.

But it’s still, again, at the end of the day, just seeing their children do so well in every possible way that they probably would not have done in their previous situation.

What do you think is the status of actors of color in American entertainment? What are your hopes and dreams for more opportunities for actors of color in Hollywood?

I think for me, it’s exciting. I started doing this 20 years ago – dating my age now (laughs), a long time ago – and in terms of limitations, I didn’t want to focus on that.

It was all about the work and how I can portray this character as best as I can. But the fact that now, there is this openness that the industry is exploring and allowing because the content that is delivered these days is what the audience wants.

The audience is constantly bombarded with social media and that allows for such a global point of view that it isn’t just a narrow depiction of a certain culture. People see different cultures in every country.

For instance, I’m Filipino, I grew up in Australia. Elodie has a Cambodian background but she’s French.

There are so many varieties that to ignore that for the industry, it’s ignoring the market that they could easily capitalize on if you want to go economically.

But in terms of the audience, they’re a very intelligent and content-craving audience that craves authentic stories.

And that is why you see diversity and representation exploding in such a way that is hopefully going to be normalized. Normalized – I just want to keep saying that.

Following up on that, can you talk about your journey as an actor of Filipino heritage who was raised in Australia and then moved to the United States? Were you born in the Philippines or Australia? Talk some more about your family. Where are your parents from in the Philippines?

So, I was born in the Philippines. I was born in Manila, in Luzon, Pasay City. I see that in my passport all the time – that’s why.

But we moved to Australia when I was four years old. My mother is Bethsaida Santos Millan. My father is Jose Azarcon Millan. My mother is from Pampanga. My father is from the Visayas – Cantilan.

They both met in the city, in Manila. And how we got to Australia was, again, for better opportunities.

At that time, my parents were very young. They were in their early 20s. Australia was open to more immigration. And my mother and father took the opportunity in order for us to get better opportunities.

Not to say that the Philippines doesn’t offer that. But with every family, if there’s an opportunity, you go ahead and take it.

My parents are very proud to be Filipino and always have instilled that in us growing up, despite the fact we grew up in a very Anglo-Saxon community. It was quite difficult to assimilate and not ignore your ethnicity but remain true to who you are.

And that’s something that my parents never ever forgot to instill in us culturally. So, I’m very proud of that. My father is always on the Filipino news. He knows all about Filipino news.

He could be a Filipino journalist too but they are both rooted in Filipino culture. But they allowed us to also be part of this global movement of just being part of the world and enriched in culture in that way and traveling.

But in terms of my acting, it was just by chance I was in high school doing a play. Then I decided to defer university and I got accepted at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York.

And then pretty much started working after that. It was mainly small roles but back then, there weren’t many roles in Australia for me.

It was more viable for me to stay in America where shows like Law & Order had so much representation that it depicted the true culture of New York. And that’s a melting pot of the world.

So, it was just perfect for me to be there at that time and just cultivate my career there. Not so much in LA. I’m a New Yorker at heart.

In LA, there is too much driving for me. I got into an accident straight away. It was a very small one but I was like, not a good sign.

Can you also talk about the exciting breaks of Filipina actresses who are making inroads in the international scene like Dolly de Leon and now, Ruby Ruiz and Amelyn Pardenilla in Expats?

It’s amazing whenever you see a Filipina, you can tell straight away, a mile away, that they’re Filipina. But to see them onscreen and be in such high-profile roles, it’s empowering.

It’s always empowering to see someone of your culture or know that they’ve probably gone through the same experiences but also being a part of this movement that is normalizing things, that is allowing for more opportunities for different cultures to be part of industries that were just very narrow in terms of representation.

It’s just exciting to see that. Dolly de Leon, for her to just burst out in terms of the awards and being acknowledged in that way, it’s just so empowering for everybody to see that because you’re a part of it as well or in some way.

That’s the connection where diversity and representation are important because you connect to it.

How do you feel about being on the current number one show on Netflix (The Gentlemen)? And what is next for you?

Clothing, Formal Wear, Suit
SPARKLES. Martha Millan is radiant at the London premiere of ‘The Gentlemen.’ Contributed photo

Right now, I’m just basking in the wonder of actually being a part of this industry, doing what you love to do, and then getting to see it succeed. Having a number one show, I’m sure Guy Ritchie is used to it but for me, it’s something that you dream of.

But at the same time, even working with actors on that show for me is a dream. So that in itself is just awesome. All I can say is awesome.

You see number one and I know I’m on it. It’s like, even if I was just sneezing on it, I would be happy. But the fact that I get to do a lot of chopping and screaming is even better.

And The Cleaning Lady, it’s our third season and it is a testament to what people want.

And the fact that we have such topical issues on the show and at the same time have entertainment value, it’s a great balance of what the audience these days is craving for. So, I’m really proud to be part of both of the shows. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Avatar photo


Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.