‘The Cleaning Lady’ EPs Wrote Season 3 With the Hope Adan Canto Would Return

Tuesday’s Season 3 premiere of “The Cleaning Lady” isn’t the type of episode you would expect from a series that lost one of its leading actors in the middle of production. That’s because it was written and filmed with the hope Adan Canto would one day return.

“We did actually have a season crafted initially that was very focused on Arman’s past and his backstory,” Miranda Kwok, the showrunner and executive producer for “The Cleaning Lady,” told TheWrap. “Unfortunately, when we learned [of Canto’s cancer diagnosis], we had to pivot. We weren’t sure if we were going to get him back. We decided to keep the family elements so that we could leave space for Adan to return to the show because we were all so hoping that that would be the case … then, of course, had to pivot again when we learned the truth of what happened to him.”

On Jan. 8, it was announced that Canto had died following a private battle with appendiceal cancer. He was 42.

Even before losing one of its stars, Season 3 of “The Cleaning Lady” had been a difficult one. In late January and early February of 2023, the writing team started working on the story for the new season. Because of the looming WGA strike, those initial scripts had to be completed before early May. Though the writers’ room returned in October, production was further delayed by the SAG-AFTRA strike, which wasn’t resolved until early November. Around that time, the team learned of Canto’s condition, requiring them to completely rework their episodes before filming officially began in December.

“It’s been a very, very challenging year,” Kwok said. “It’s been very devastating and heartbreaking losing Adan through this process. He was such an important member of the show and also the family that is ‘The Cleaning Lady.’ So, it was a struggle dealing with that.”

Season 3 of “The Cleaning Lady” begins with Arman (Canto) nowhere to be found. As Thony (Élodie Yung) and Nadia (Eva De Dominici) start to search for him, they become more and more desperate to find the man they both love. This journey leads them both to exploring Arman’s life in a way they typically wouldn’t, starting with a visit with his estranged parents in “Arman.”

Because so much of this season was spent hoping that Canto would be able to return, there’s no one episode that serves as a definitive celebration of his life or mourning of his loss. Instead, that grief is baked into every moment of this season.

“All of the decisions were guided, episode by episode, by, ‘Will we be able to bring him back midseason? Will we be able to bring him back end of season?'” executive producer Jeannine Renshaw told TheWrap. “When you look at the season and the choices that we made, I think we’ve made a beautiful season that ended up being able to really honor him in such a powerful and emotional way, both as a character and as a human being. It didn’t start out that way. It started out as, hopefully, being able to embrace him when he came back.”

This long form ode to the late Canto, though unintentional, also helped to not shortchange the rest of the characters and storylines. Kwok specifically pointed to Thony and Nadia as having a “very emotional” season. That arc involves Thony fighting to get her sister-in-law Fiona (Martha Millan) back as well as navigating a new crime world. As such, a new crime lord takes the form of the “much darker, more insidious, more powerful” Ramona (Kate del Castillo).

“We don’t want to to make it abrupt or just forget about not having him,” Kwok said. “We did not want to go through that quickly at all. We wanted to take the time for everyone, especially our characters to go through that journey with us.”

Both Kwok and Renshaw noted how hard it was to continue filming after Canto’s death. The executive producers made sure their cast and crew knew they were free to go home if they needed time to process his loss.

“Everyone was feeling it across the board,” Kwok said, holding back tears. “At the same time, Élodie wanted to carry on for him. So everyone sort of pulled together and pulled through, and they pulled through for each other.”

“I think the whole season will be a grieving process until we wrap,” Renshaw added. “We’ve gone through all the stages amongst the cast and crew.”

When asked what she wants fans to know about Canto, Kwok emphasized his love, joy and his dedication to his craft.

“What strikes me the most about Adan is just how pure a soul he was, how genuine he was with everybody. That was the thing that shone through the most. He brought a genuine love and care to people and to the show and to the craft. He loved to collaborate, he loved to dig in, he loved to explore,” she said. “But ultimately, the most important thing for him was always family. His energy and time — everything was dedicated to that. That was something that we so respected in him because he knew that’s what mattered most.”

Though she only spoke to him over the phone, Renshaw was struck by the feeling Canto brought to set.

“A set really starts with the top. If it’s a dysfunctional set or if there’s a lot of animosity or anger, it’s usually because the people at the top have set the tone,” she explained. “You walk on that set and it is the most respectful, wonderful, collaborative set, everybody doing their best for the right reasons, wanting to make a great show. I really believe that he set that tone. I don’t think it will change.”

Adan Canto and Élodie Yung in “The Cleaning Lady” (Jeff Neumann/FOX)

Renshaw also sees how “The Cleaning Lady” approached Canto’s death as in line with how the series tackles its stories as a whole. After all, there was always the option to quickly say goodbye and pretend his death didn’t happen.

“That didn’t feel right for this show that honors so much of the real. What’s happening in these characters’ lives is what’s happening in people’s lives,” she said. “Let’s not run away from it because this show doesn’t run away from the hard truths and the emotions that people are going through and the results of their actions. The show dives into it.”

“It was a risky choice, but whatever happens, however it’s received, I feel like we did our part as artists and writers in terms of honoring what happened to us and what happened to this character,” Renshaw said.

New episodes of “The Cleaning Lady” premiere Tuesdays at 8/7c on Fox.

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