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Adan Canto On Playing a Gangster With a Solid Moral Compass on ‘The Cleaning Lady’

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Adan Canto On Playing a Gangster With a Solid Moral Compass on ‘The Cleaning Lady’
Adan Canto as Arman Michael Desmond/FOX

Adan Canto is no stranger to playing burly, powerful characters across film and television. But when he was first approached in early 2020 about  a leading role in FOX’s The Cleaning Lady, the Mexican actor—who is best known for his role as Sunspot in X-Men: Days of Future Past and who had just finished a three-season run on Designated Survivor—could tell that something was different. 

The show executive producers Melissa Carter and Miranda Kwok pitched him was unusually compelling. So was the character he’d play. “It was just an opportunity to visit the realms of Northern Mexico culture, growing up in the States, and what kind of personalities or people it creates,” Canto told Observer. “And then you throw it in the blender of the Las Vegas crime syndicate, and then you get what you get, which is pretty fantastic.”

Developed by Kwok (The 100) and based on the 2017 Argentine series La chica que limpia, The Cleaning Lady centers on Thony de la Rosa (Daredevil’s Élodie Yung), a whip-smart Cambodian doctor who travels to the U.S. to seek treatment for her ailing son, who suffers from a life-threatening immunodeficiency disorder. She’s working for a cleaning service, but when the system fails and pushes her into hiding, Thony has an unexpected run-in with Arman Morales (Canto)—the lieutenant of a powerful crime syndicate—and begins to clean up murder scenes for his operation, using her guile to save her son and forge her own path in the criminal underworld.

In a recent video interview, Canto spoke about the evolution of Arman’s rocky relationships with Thony and his boss Hayak (Navid Negahban), the show’s timely exploration of immigration and undocumented migration, and how he has navigated the typecasting of Latino actors in Hollywood.

Observer: What was it about the character of Arman that immediately appealed to you?

Adan Canto: One of the things that I found amazingly attractive was this dichotomy that’s constantly within him. I like to see him as a gangster with a solid moral compass. His upbringing is of a certain kind, with hard-working, decent parents from the North of Mexico. He values work, honor and reliability, and you would look at that and think, “That’s virtuous. It’s good.” But then he finds himself in this world, this crime syndicate, and that doesn’t change his structure, his foundation. So I found it interesting to see how this world affected him and how he functioned in this world, and what kind of a ruthless personality it created. Because once Arman decides to do something or he knows what route must be taken, there’s no question about it, and this sort of burly, ruthless, powerful personality that you see probably comes from that. There is a strong belief in what he’s doing—there’s no doubt in his mind that it’s the right thing—and he won’t back down.

From the moment that they meet at an underground fight, Arman seems to take a special liking to Thony, even if his intentions aren’t entirely clear. What do you think he really sees in her, and what does he want to get out of that relationship? Is it personal or simply transactional?

To be honest, I think it’s one of those things where he might not have a plan. There was obviously a plan in the beginning. It was convenient, she cleaned up their messes super effectively, and that’s helpful. But once he gets to know her heart, I don’t think he has a solid plan there. I think he’s just scrambling to keep her alive and then, yes, she keeps working for them, and that’s good. I don’t think he’s maliciously calculated towards her—at least right now, I don’t see that. I think he sees those values of a hard-working human being that just is focused on helping her family and making sure that they make it through and that they survive.

In the pilot, Arman tells Thony that they’re both in a country that’s not their own, they don’t have the same privileges and and they seem to share an implicit understanding of the struggles that immigrants—and especially people of color—face in pursuit of the American Dream. How does their initial connection deepen as they become more entangled in each other’s lives?

Well, survival is a massive element here. We’re talking about the purity of a young boy that has to go through the health issues that he’s going through. There are stories out there of children going through things like that, and it’s a devastating thing, and you want to do as much as you can to help. It’s one of the elements that I found irresistible in the story. I have a one-and-a-half year old boy [named Roman], and there’s something amazing that happens in your heart when you see innocence, purity like that. You want to do everything in your power to protect it and to see it through. So that’s an element that we can’t ignore in their relationship that pushes it to dimensions that, honestly, I don’t think Arman even knows where he’s going or where it’s taking him. (Laughs.)

1642844551 596 Adan Canto On Playing a Gangster With a Solid Moral
Élodie Yung and Adan Canto Michael Desmond/FOX

Thony and Arman are both married to other people, but they share a connection that is central to the intrigue of the show. Is there also some twisted romantic potential there, or do you think it’s a case of fatal attraction?

I don’t know if you can separate the two. I think there’s something that happens when you’re in survival mode and having to go through all of these incredibly complicated situations. It creates a bond that’s hard to compare to any other kind of relationship, right? So I think they’re discovering it as they’re going, and I don’t want to give away too much, but you’ll see. 

What has it been like to work opposite Élodie?

Fantastic. It’s just been—for a lack of a better word—so easy. It’s easy when your castmates have done the work of understanding the world, and they have such a well-defined character that they’re bringing to the table, where you don’t have to plan things out. You’re bringing your backstory, your needs, your objectives, and let’s see where it takes us. We do it in many different ways over and over again until we find the sweet spot of the scene that we’re doing, so it’s been delightful.

She’s very much connected to finding the truth of her character, the truth of the situation that she’s in, and we’ve had a blast. And the crew has been a dream. These guys are immaculate, and above all, they’re just great, warm human beings. I think we formed a pretty awesome family [during the pandemic].

Arman has this looming sense of power over Thony, but he feels largely powerless when it comes to Hayak Barsamian, the true leader of the organization. In the next episode, he has to collect “donations” for Hayak’s daughter’s wedding, revealing a soapy secret from their pasts. How would you say that contentious relationship evolves as Arman begins to reach his breaking point?

I think he’s discovering what position he actually holds within this family. He thought that he was part of the family in one way or another. He’s immensely reliable to Hayak—certainly indispensable. But then, as time goes by, he realizes that he’s probably not that solid in the position he holds, so I think he starts to understand that he’s going to have to create a strategy of his own to solidify his position in his life and in this “Barsamian” syndicate. It’s pretty interesting where it leads, and working opposite Navid has been phenomenal. He’s just a delight to work with.

It’s no secret that Latino actors have historically been tasked with portraying gangsters or mobsters in crime dramas, but it really becomes an issue when those characters are dehumanized or not grounded in any kind of reality or relatability. How do you think this show subverts that common trope for Latino actors?

Well, I think it has good foundations. One of the things that I admire and respect from Miranda and Melissa is they were careful to make sure we had a solid backstory to every character, and they used real stories. You might be living a good, honorable life, but then tragedy meets you and you find yourself in an ecosystem where the rules are different, and you have to scramble to make ends meet. And then, inevitably, you find yourself a criminal or something like that. So I think that the choices are very well carved out to take you to the point of where the characters find themselves today.

I wouldn’t have liked the idea to play a gangster just to play a gangster because it’s cool. No, I like this complexity, this dichotomy, within my character, and everybody has a reason for why they do what they do. [Hayak] is certainly fighting for his own justice and he’s a patriot, so eventually, you’ll get to know all of these things.

You originally began your career in Mexico, and you’ve made a successful transition to Hollywood in the last decade. How have you navigated the issues of typecasting in an industry that consistently tries to put you in very specific boxes?

That’s a good question. And to be honest, I don’t know if I had formed a specific strategy to navigate this. I was just honest with myself and with my team the whole way through. There were obviously certain characters or scripts that I read that I immediately went like, “Of course not! No!”

I know the Northern Mexican culture [because] I was raised in it, so I can tell when somebody is just scrambling to come up with a reality that’s far from [the actual] reality, so I honestly stuck with the honesty within myself. I didn’t want to do anything that didn’t sound or feel right, and I guess I’ve been blessed with good opportunities and I fought for other opportunities that weren’t necessarily handed over to me.

I auditioned like crazy just to get, for example, this last film with Halle [Berry called Bruised]. I had to work on his accent and study his upbringing, what kind of problems he had, what kind of parents he had, why he chose the path in life he did—all of these things really gave him a solid footing.

What are your ultimate hopes for The Cleaning Lady? What kinds of conversations do you hope this show will provoke?

I think we’ve mentioned just the very complex realities of the coyotes or the black market for organs. It’s just horrible! And even with this young boy’s situation, I find it very compelling to visit these realities and these kinds of issues and portray them as realistically as possible. I think it gets you to live vicariously. What would you do in a situation like that? How far would you go, or how would you mess with your moral compass to tilt it to find that end that is the “right” one? I think those are great conversations, and I think [we’re] arriving at that for sure.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Cleaning Lady airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on FOX.

Adan Canto On Playing a Gangster With a Solid Moral Compass on ‘The Cleaning Lady’

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More than 5,000 fans support new women’s soccer club in inaugural match

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More than 5,000 fans support new women’s soccer club in inaugural match

Minnesota Aurora president Andrea Yoch stood at the gates of TCO Stadium and watched fans of the new pre-professional women’s soccer team stream in for their inaugural match about an hour before kickoff Thursday.

“We just made this up,” Yoch said through a smile and in an orange romper and light green coat to match Aurora’s vibrant colors.

About 15 minutes before kickoff, Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination” played on the stadium’s speakers, and a community-owned club created out of the pandemic came to fruition with an announced crowd of 5,219 supporting the USL Women’s League.

Thursday’s attendance in Minnesota was on par with the average of seven pro-level National Women’s Soccer League crowds this season, including in Louisville, Seattle, San Diego, North Carolina, Orlando, Chicago and New Jersey.

Aurora benefited from a Green Bay Glory own goal early in the second half and Minnesota gave up an equalizing goal in the 89th minute to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Aurora, which has 3,500 season ticket holders, also took up another Minnesota soccer tradition: waiving scarves during corner kicks, a mainstay at Minnesota United games for years.

The crowd, which included MNUFC center back Michael Boxall, filled the stands at the Vikings’ field and lined the concourses, with the merchandise tent having lines for all 90 minutes.

Aurora’s supporters section chanted “No Glory” toward Green Bay and supported its own side in song. But there was also a small chorus of young girls chanting, “Let’s go, Aurora. Let’s go!” from the stadium’s grassy hill. On the concourse, another group of young girls were running around and one was overheard saying, “Sarah is my favorite.”

That was toward Aurora’s famous goalkeeper Sarah Fuller, showing signs of support were big and small.

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Yankees bats awake late in 7-2 win over Rays

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Yankees bats awake late in 7-2 win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Aaron Boone popped out of the dugout in the ninth inning to boos. It was not the Rays fans booing, but the large group of Yankees fans. The manager was headed to the mound to get Nestor Cortes, who had just given a leadoff single to Wander Franco—but had been brilliant all night.

Cortes dominated the Rays’ dangerous lineup for eight innings as the Yankees beat the Rays 7-2 at Tropicana Field Thursday night in the first of the four-game series.

The Yankees (32-13) have won three straight games and 13 of their last 18. They maintained the best record in baseball and increased their cushion in the American League East to 5.5 games over the Rays (26-18)

Cortes threw eight scoreless innings, but Franco scored on Manuel Margot’s single off Wandy Peralta to charge him with a run. It was his 18th consecutive start allowing three earned runs or less. The 27-year old scattered four  hits, walked one and struck out five for his fourth win of the season. It was just the second time in his career that Cortes pitched into the eighth inning.

Cortes walked Yandy Diaz to lead off the bottom of the first and then gave up a single to Harold Ramirez before getting out of the inning unscathed. Cortes matched scoreless innings with Yarborough, retiring 14 straight Rays. The Yankees most consistent starter this season, Cortes threw 109 pitches and got seven swings and misses, four off his four-seam fastball.

It was just the second time in his career Cortes had gotten through eight innings. He spared a bullpen that has been hit hard recently by injuries.

And gave a lineup that has also been hit by the injury bug a chance to catch up.

The Yankees were no-hit through five innings by Ryan Yarborough, who walked Anthony Rizzo in the first and then retired 14 straight before it unraveled in the sixth. Matt Carpenter, who had arrived in the Yankees clubhouse just hours before, was hit by a pitch, the first base runner since the first, and Marwin Gonzalez’s line drive to center field was the Bombers’ first hit of the night.

Aaron Judge grounded a single—98 miles an hour off the bat—up the middle to bring in the Yankees’ first run. The slugger, playing center field after Aaron Hicks was a late scratch, stole second. Miguel Andujar singled to drive in another and a  second run scored on the Rays’ throwing error on the play.

Isaiah Kiner-Falefa led off the seventh with a walk and scored on a Ralph Garza, Jr. wild pitch. Judge drove in the Yankees’ fifth run on a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the ninth. Anthony Rizzo followed with a sharp line drive double that plated two more.

The Yankees signed Carpenter, who exercised his opt-out earlier this week, and immediately brought him into the fold with uncertainty about DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton on the injured list.

LeMahieu, who had a cortisone shot in his wrist, was still out of the lineup and he tried hitting and took balls at third base before Thursday night’s game. He said the shot had not yet helped enough. The Yankees are also without Josh Donaldson, who is on the COVID-19 list but has not tested positive for the coronavirus. The third baseman is back in New York dealing with a respiratory illness. He is also facing a possible one-game suspension after his altercation with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, whom he repeatedly called “Jackie,” in reference to Jackie Robinson. Donaldson issued a statement saying that he and Anderson, who is Black and interpreted the comments as racist, have a mutual understanding. Donaldson is appealing the league’s discipline.

Thursday night, the Yankees were just trying to get through their first series against the always tough Rays. It is also the first of a streak in which the Bombers will play 10 out of 13 games against teams with a winning record, after facing the perpetually rebuilding Orioles seven out of the last 10.

Carpenter, signed by the Yankees after opting out of his minor league deal with the Rangers last week, arrived at the visitors’ clubhouse about an hour and a half before first pitch and minutes before he was hustled off to the hitters’ meeting. The three-time All-Star and former Cardinal was rushed into the lineup less than an hour before first pitch when Hicks was scratched with tightness in his right hamstring.

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Jessica Gelt: Why The Onion’s take on the Uvalde shooting captures every parent’s worst nightmare

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Jessica Gelt: Why The Onion’s take on the Uvalde shooting captures every parent’s worst nightmare

It’s the yellow caution tape that gets to me when I look at the pictures tweeted by the satirical website The Onion in the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, this week. Emblazoned with the words “Sheriff’s Line Do Not Cross,” the yellow tape is draped around the schoolyard after an 18-year-old man gunned down 19 small children who had recently finished their honor-roll ceremony.

Yellow is a bright, cheery color. It’s one of my 6-year-old daughter’s favorites. It’s the color of the sun, of sunflowers, of balloons and candy. It’s the color of her hair — soft and fine as corn silk.

On police tape, however, yellow is the color of every parent’s worst nightmare: that their child’s school became the target of yet another mass shooting, and that maybe their precious baby has been violently murdered.

It’s a fear we have lived with since the unthinkable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, after which absolutely nothing was done to effect change when it comes to guns in America. In fact, since 20 children were shot down in cold blood in Newtown, Connecticut, gun laws have actually loosened in this country. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to soon deliver a decision undoing a long-standing New York law that forbids people from carrying guns in public without first demonstrating a “special need” for self-defense.

Wednesday morning, The Onion devoted its entire home page to dozens of images from mass shootings dating back to 2014, accompanied by the same devastating headline: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

The picture at the very top is the one of Robb Elementary in Uvalde, with the yellow tape circling a schoolyard that should have been filled with joyful kids. The image made the rounds across Twitter and trended rapidly. The Onion has a history of cutting to the chase when it comes to moments of extreme national tragedy in the way that only razor-sharp satire can. No one looking at it was laughing, though. Especially not parents, for whom that specific set of signifiers has a particularly horrific resonance.

The image of yellow tape, paired with police cars, sirens flashing, in front of a school — that’s the image that fills parents with the kind of grief they can taste. The kind that keeps them up at night, wondering if one day they too will have to face such a scene at their child’s school.

The crushing news out of Uvalde came about an hour before I was due to pick up my 6-year-old and her best friend from kindergarten. I could not get to the elementary school fast enough. My heart pounded, and I wiped at my eyes because I couldn’t see through my tears to drive. The radio didn’t help, as the scope and scale of the carnage in Texas began to crystallize. I was not alone in my race to get to my child. The schoolyard was filled with parents who had shown up early, who could not wait to wrap arms around their babies. Our worried, pained eyes met as we hustled toward the pickup line. But we didn’t speak. We couldn’t. What would we say?

The bell rang, and children burst forth from the school doors — yelling and laughing, chasing one another and running to their waiting parents. Little kids full of giggles and questions, wearing clothes dirty from play, shoelaces untied, hair messy, faces caked in food, bearing lopsided smiles.

As we walked back to the car, my daughter and her friend chattered on about the dance party they had in school and the glow-in-the-dark bracelets they got as a special treat. They wore paper crowns that they made in art class, decorated with tender kid drawings: smiling faces, stick arms, flowers and birds.

The worry and fear were more palpable Wednesday morning, as parents who had spent the night stewing in this new horror were further processing its vast implications — and realizing that this grief was theirs to shoulder forever, maybe, unless actual change was made in favor of common-sense gun legislation.

This week had been spirit week at Robb Elementary, and Tuesday was foot loose and fancy-free day, with the kids encouraged to wear their fanciest footwear. We parents had to grapple with images of tiny bodies in glittery, fabulous shoes — shoes that made the morning fun and exciting to kids who were still learning to read. I thought about that as I put my daughter’s feet into her own glittery shoes as we got ready for school. They are the kind that light up when she runs. She finds so much joy in those shoes. Because little kids can find joy in anything.

I thought about not taking my daughter to school this morning. But I did. And I wasn’t alone. We parents got up and did it again. As we walked toward the main doors, we held our children’s hands a bit more tightly. Many parents got down on their knees at the school gate and hugged their kids longer than usual. Our eyes still filled with worry. We were not yet ready to speak.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a conversation I had with my daughter a few nights ago, just before the nightmare in Uvalde. I had just put her to bed, when she got up again and came timidly into my room. She said two things were “concerning her.”

She asked if dying meant she would never imagine anything again. I said that was likely the case. I told her everyone dies. That her daddy would die one day, that I would and that she would too. But, I said, she didn’t have to worry about that for a long, long time.

She asked how people die. I told her it happens when our hearts stop beating — from sickness, or accidents, or when we are very, very old.

She nodded and then said, “Maybe if I die, I’ll come back as a little baby somewhere else.”

“Maybe,” I said. “Some people believe that. Your grandma Boo always said she would come back as a yellow butterfly. That’s why when we see yellow butterflies, we think of her.”

She thought about this for a moment.

“I’m going to come back as a black and white cat,” she said. “And I’m going to show up at your door, and you’ll know it’s me. I’ll push up against your door, and I won’t go.”

I liked the image of the cat, but I didn’t at all like the idea that I would still be around when she was not.

I told her, “Oh, sweetheart, I hope I’ll be long gone before then.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

I said, “I hope I die before you. Mamas should die before their babies.”

“Most mamas and daddies stay alive until their babies are gone,” she said.

I could tell she needed me to say I’d never leave her, so I said, “OK, deal. I’m not going anywhere, as long as you promise not to either.”

“Deal,” she said.

I kissed her and tucked her back in. Then I went to my room and cried my eyes out.

Parents aren’t supposed to lose their babies. We aren’t supposed to show up at school to be confronted by the shock and horror of yellow tape and police cars on a clear blue day just before summer vacation is about to begin. We aren’t supposed to digest one mass shooting after another after another, always hoping that the bullets won’t one day fly closer to home.

And we should never have learned to accept the standard line after such a tragedy occurs, the one currently blanketing The Onion’s homepage in a heart-shattering tableau of yellow tape and emergency vehicles. Like a relentless funeral dirge, it reads: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

Jessica Gelt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

 

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