March 9, 2021

Christian Serratos on Playing Selena Quintanilla and Her Legacy

6 min read

Christian Serratos, whom many will recognize as The Walking Dead’s fearless Rosita Espinosa, or perhaps as Bella’s bespectacled friend Angela Weber in Twilight, considers herself “the biggest Selena fan.” But while preparing to portray the late Tejano icon for Netflix’s Selena: The Series, Serratos experienced a bit of a reality check. “I had to learn like 80 percent of the songs because it was a lot of her earlier music,” the 30-year-old actress says. “I think people might watch the first season and be a little confused—I consider myself a die-hard Selena fan, but I was like, ‘I know nothing.’”

Despite the obvious tragedy of Selena’s story, there is much joy to be found in Selena: The Series—including the glorious ’80s and ’90s wardrobe and hairstyles. “I’m so overjoyed that the people who love her so much are now going to get this entire new person to fall in love with, because there’s so much of her that we don’t know,” Serratos says. Read on for more about recreating the star’s legendary performances and her debate over whether to call J.Lo for advice.

You’ve played some memorable characters in major films and series, but this is really big. You must be so excited.

It’s strange. I feel very calm. It was such a long process getting the job, and there were so many moving parts. Obviously there is a responsibility [to get it right], so I decided very quickly that I couldn’t afford to freak out. I didn’t have time to really digest what I was doing, and I might not even really digest it until I’m done. And that might be for survival.

Selena is such an iconic figure, and past portrayals of her are iconic in their own right, like Jennifer Lopez’s performance. Did you get a chance to talk to her about the experience of playing Selena?

I had thoughts, like, ‘Do I reach out to her? Or do I not?’ I’ve been in this business for a very long time, but I still felt like the biggest nerdy rookie newcomer. I’m over-analytical as it is, and I’m always really concerned about whether I’m doing the appropriate thing. It just started to stress me out, so I was like, maybe I’m not supposed to. But I grew up watching that movie, and I was such a fan of her portrayal of Selena.

christian serratos in a scene from selena the series

“I think people might watch the first season and be a little confused,” says Serrato. “I consider myself a die-hard Selena fan, but I was like, ’I know nothing.’”

Victor Ceballos Olea / NETFLIX

Many describe her performance as “star-making.”

People loved that film, and people already have this amazing portrayal of her, but I had to suppress all those thoughts and just watch Selena and give the beauty I was witnessing onscreen. That’s all I could do—just show that hard-working woman, that woman’s beautiful soul, her confidence. I still think about reaching out to J. Lo. But I mean, it’s like, it’s J.Lo, and I wouldn’t know what to fucking say [laughs].

When you were watching the Selena footage, did you have a favorite performance or video clip that you kept going back to?

When she performed “Que Creias” at a baseball game—it was just so badass. She has so much confidence. She loves her fans and you can tell in how she plays with them and has a great time with them. I wanted to mimic that. She was such a strong and powerful woman. And she was so young. I think people look at Selena in her prime, like the iconic Selena that we know, and wouldn’t guess her age, but she was very young, and so family-oriented. You can tell she’s a tangible person. Sometimes you watch people and you’re like, I’m not their friend. They are this entity, they are the star, but she somehow made an arena of people feel like they were all hanging out together as friends, and she just happened to be performing a show to thousands and thousands of people. She brought you in, and I think that’s something really special about her. I haven’t seen anyone else do that.

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You were a pretty serious figure skater growing up. Did that background help you with the performing aspects of this role?

It did and didn’t. I skated for like 15 years, and I still skate from time to time just for fun. I also danced when I was younger. We joked about it on set because some of the choreography, I was like, “Oh, it’s no problem. It’s the same thing as skating,” but in skating you would hyperextend in a different way than Selena did, so it was learning the same things, but making them completely opposite. But I think knowing rhythm helped me. She’s kind of dirty on stage—it’s a vibe. I had to throw away all that other stuff.

Your partner, New Politics’ David Boyd, is a musician. Did he gave you any tips?

No, he didn’t really give me any advice. If he tried, I’d probably tell him to shut up because it makes me more nervous. But he is also very unique on stage and a very strong performer. There were a few times where I didn’t feel as loose, or I didn’t feel as comfortable in what I was doing, or I wasn’t warmed up yet, and the director would remind me, like, ‘Hey, your husband’s out there—you’ve gotta bring that David energy.’ So he definitely inspired me. I’m now going to have to deal with him getting all cocky after hearing me say that [laughs].

“She somehow made an arena of people feel like they were all hanging out together as friends.”

What were your favorite scenes to film?

I loved the performances, because it’s when we all knew we were going to be together. To see all those rehearsals come to fruition was really exciting, and we just have so much fun with each other when we’re on stage. I think that was true for the Quintanilla family, too. They were family, and they got to travel and perform together, and I think that’s what gave them joy. And seeing the reactions of the background actors—everyone was so happy to hear this music again. We were all fans, so to see the music being performed was fun for all of us. There were times when we weren’t rolling, and it would just be us and the background actors singing her songs. Those were good times.

christian serratos stars as selena in netflix's selena the series

GREG WILLIAMS

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Selena’s death, and it seems like her legacy has only gotten stronger. This series will no doubt introduce her to a whole new audience. What do you think makes her such an enduring figure?

As a young girl, a young Mexican-American girl, I saw this woman cross and break down all these barriers. And she was dealing with, as most women are, a male-dominated industry. She had to work very hard as a very young woman and minority to earn respect. It’s hard for women to demand what’s fair and get the respect they deserve while also still being liked. She was able to stand in her strength, and she was very gracious. She also did a lot for her community. Anybody who works that hard to better the circumstances for their family and their people, I think it’s really beautiful and something that resonates with a lot of people.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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