Christian Serratos waited for years for an opportunity to portray one of her cherished heroes. Earlier this month, she stepped into the shoes of the beloved icon and artist Selena Quintanilla Perez.
Following the heels of an incredible run as Rosita on The Walking Dead, Christian showed her range as the lead of Netflix’s Selena: The Series, and Complex was on hand for a soul-stirring conversation with her about getting this role, the importance of representation, how The Walking Dead helped prepared her for this once in a lifetime role, and so much more.
Talk a little bit about Selena's influence on you even before joining this project.
I grew up a huge Selena fan. I've been listening to her music since I was a kid. She always felt like a staple in the house, but as I got older and started learning more and more about her as a person, as a businesswoman, I just gained so much more respect for her, being that she created a new path for herself when one wasn't offered to her for many reasons. She was young, she was a minority, and she kind of had to fight for her rightful place in music. And I thought that was so admirable.
What's something that you were surprised to learn about Selena after stepping into her shoes?
I think I was most surprised by how long she had been working to achieve the things that made her a success. What I love about our first season is that it touches so much on the journey to becoming that legend. It was fascinating seeing this young, smart girl create the ideas so early on in her life, create the ideas that were going to make her famous. I think what impressed me the most was how she was a lot of things. She was incredibly talented, she was incredibly strong, she was a sister, a wife, and she was so full of joy, but she was incredibly smart. Getting to play those moments of her as a young kid, really standing her ground, I always was excited to show that side of her.
Yes, she was so multi-layered and we do get to see a portion of that. We also learn more about her family and those closest to her. One of those aspects we see more heavily is the developing and cultivating kind of this onscreen sisterhood that we see between Selena and Suzette. Talk about how you built that closeness offscreen with Noemi Gonzalez and how that translates on screen between the two of you.
We had an incredible cast. I came in and was so excited to meet the people that were playing the family. Hiromi Kamata was one of our incredible directors, and she facilitated a great environment for us to bond, and everyone put in the work. It makes your job so much easier when the other actors are committed to doing their best as well.
It was no different with me and Noemi, who portrays Suzette. It's incredible to me that our first season touches so much on the family because that is what makes Selena Selena, that was so important to her. I think it's also going to really resonate with so many people.
Can you talk a little bit about what we are going to see in Season 2, especially since Part 1 covered so much of her life and we are just really starting to see her come into her own.
You're 100% right, this is a coming of age story as well as many other things. I loved seeing her come into her own as an artist, but also as a woman. And the second season, without giving too much away, it's just going to give the fans the iconic Selena moments that I think they're going to be wanting.
Tell me about the iconic women that you saw growing up that inspired you, and kind of encouraged you to be the artist that you are today?
I don't want this to sound odd because it's the show I'm plugging, but being a Mexican American girl, growing up, if I was going to look up to anybody, I had Selena, and that's why I worked so hard to get this job and to do it right. I just wanted to pay so much respect to her, her fan base, her family, and her legacy. This was so important to me. This was the role that I [wanted to portray], and I'm getting to do it. It's a little surreal. This has just been a dream come true, and it feels like a way that I've gotten to thank Selena for all that she's done for me.
You've played a breadth of other roles and other characters leading up to Selena. What have you learned from those other characters that helped prepare you for this iconic role?
I think, especially on The Walking Dead, the experience was so valuable. Being there for so long and paying attention to my surroundings was helpful for me going into Selena. Being a part of that ensemble cast is incredible, because I think they are some of the most hardworking actors I've ever seen, and the most generous actors, and the most gracious ones. We have so much fun and we're so committed to doing a good job there, and I learned some great habits there to take into my next job. I love set life, I love making friends and bonds, and learning from people, and taking everything I learned into the next job, and it'll be no different with Selena.
Undoubtedly, there are going to be some comparisons to the film because, for a lot of people, that's all they really know and have seen onscreen about Selena, so what do you hope that new fans and new people who are just going to be introduced to Selena for the first time get to take away from this show?
I'm a huge fan of the movie. I grew up watching the movie, and Jennifer Lopez did an incredible job. [These were] big shoes to fill. But I'm so happy that we're able to tell this story again in a series because it gives us so much more time with Selena. She has dedicated fans and I think getting the opportunity to see this story with so many more hours is important for people, especially to see so much of how she grew up and how everything was built. I think it's going to be a great payoff.
In terms of representation, this has been a dynamic time in media. Something that I love just as a Black woman is to be able to see, not only my community, but all communities of color represented in media. Talk a little bit about the importance of the representation and the legacy that you hope to leave with this project.
I'm a mother, so getting to portray somebody like Selena is just everything I could've ever asked for, and I hope to see more of it for my child. I grew up in this industry, in the acting business, and found myself often left without the same opportunities as my Caucasian counterparts, and that was always really frustrating for me. But if Selena teaches us anything, it's absolutely perseverance, and if there's not a path for you, you must create it, you must be strong, and you must be gracious. I think people of color are especially good at that. To be able to play such an impactful woman in so many people's hearts is just incredible, and I just hope to do the same thing for people coming after me and my community. I hope to make a change where I can and to create new opportunities and new paths for people in my community and other communities as well.
That's what it's all about, passing the torch and creating additional opportunities for everyone, especially those that come after us. So, another way that Selena trailblazed was in fashion, so what was your favorite look for this show?
Adela Cortázar was our costume designer, and she is incredible. She pays such close attention to details. She loves what she does, [and] she cares about Selena, so everything was authentic vintage or exact replicas of everything and all things Selena. She put a lot of care into everything she made. I always felt like a million bucks because everything was tailored precisely for all of us. And I love doing the more iconic Selena moments, but I always felt most comfortable or most connected to Selena when I was as casual, normal family Selena, like big T-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes is always how I felt most connected to her.
The music is how we get to know Selena the superstar, but she was much more than that. She was a stellar businesswoman. She was an actress, and like I just said, she was a fashion icon. But she is known for her voice and work in music, so tell us about what your favorite Selena songs are, and what you were listening to to help get you in the zone of playing her?
I listen to a lot of R&B and pop, just like Selena. I think my onset playlist was all over the place, but I listened to a lot of Selena, and what she would listen to. I listened to a lot of things that would just help me be able to feel whatever I needed to feel in the moment. "Amor Prohibido" wasn't always one of my favorites, but it became THE song for me during this process and became like my anthem for my time on this show. I've always loved songs like "Baila Esta Cumbia" and "Techno Cumbia." They were a little more fun when I was younger, and I sang those a lot. Now as an adult, I think I tend to like "Si una Vez."
I was caught off guard by just how many songs they had. I thought I knew every single Selena song, and then I did the first season of the show and was surprised by their library of music. There are songs they did when they were younger that are so good and can stand side by side with "Como La Flor." I'm excited for people to hear a lot of Selena's music, [some] for a lot of people for the first time.
Lastly, are we going to see family tensions rise in Part 2? I know that they're going to rise above it, but are we going to see a little bit more of that dynamic? I do feel like, in Part 1, there isn't a lot of pushback, but we know for Selena to grow and become the iconic businesswoman that she is, she needs to step out from under Abraham’s control a bit.
I think Selena's the type of person who, even at her worst, she was at her best. So, I think, even if that is true, she will fight for what she believes in, in her very charming, very joyful Selena way.
One thing I think has been consistent, and one of the reasons why she was such an icon for me, was her spirit, and it was something about her that you really can't put your finger on, but she was it.
Yeah, she just had that star power. That was the thing that I think we wanted to focus on: her spirit, her heart, and her honesty. We wanted to focus on all of those good things because I think that's why people felt and still feel so connected to her.