SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Selena: The Series Part 2,” streaming now on Netflix.
As the 18-episode saga of singer-songwriter Selena Quintanilla’s (played by Christian Serratos) rise to stardom came to a close, it had to do so with her untimely death at the hands of her former fan club president Yolanda Saldivar (Natasha Perez).
But because the Netflix drama was designed to be a celebration of her life, her music and her family, the tragic shooting was not shown on-screen. Instead, Selena staunchly defended her friend and stood by her side, even after her father Abraham (Ricardo Chavira) proved Yolanda was embezzling. She took her call when Yolanda said something terrible had happened to her in Mexico and followed her to a motel, where the point of view switched to that of a hospitality worker cleaning another room. An off-camera gunshot rang out, signifying the end of Selena and Yolanda’s argument that has been much documented in news reports. The show did not portray that argument, nor did it follow Selena as she ran out of the room to get help and named Yolanda as her shooter, as was also reported. Instead, the show eventually cut to Selena’s point of view on a gurney as she was being transported to the hospital, followed by flashes of earlier scenes and events to signify her life flashing before her eyes as she slipped away in the hospital.
“I think it was very important to everyone to only show what was necessary. I think that’s the respectful thing to do,” Serratos tells Variety. “This isn’t the story of a tragedy; it’s the story of a wonderful, beautiful woman and I think watching it, knowing what happens, you’re already hit with emotion so it doesn’t need to be gratuitous.”
For Serratos, who considered herself a “die hard” fan of Selena well before booking the role, the emotion of her being taken too soon hit her when she stepped into the costume for Selena’s final pre-death scene. Between being in the clothing and also sitting in her truck, “it hit me like a ton of bricks that I was walking in the footsteps of somebody who was about to have something tragic happen,” she shares.
Filming the footage of the interview Selena gives that ends the series, in which she is randomly asked how she wants to be remembered, was also one during which Serratos admits she struggled to “hold it together” at times.
While Serratos always had to play scenes straight, without any sense of foreboding or somber emotion, the other actors around her had to tap into grief, sadness and, for Chavira, a sense of guilt for the scenes that came after Selena’s death.
“When Selena falls in love with Chris, [Abraham] sees the possibility that this young man could ruin the dynasty that he’s building because he understands that if Chris marries her, they’re a couple and if he gets in her head about a solo album or anything like that, it’s going to ruin this whole business that he’s created,” Chavira says. “While he may not want this for his daughter, he embraces it because he understands that embracing it maintains control and he can keep a watchful eye over it. At the same time that all of this is going on, there’s this other person from way outside the sphere that ingratiates herself with the family and specifically with Selena, but because Abraham is so consumed with Chris and this other stuff, he lets his guard down over there. He allows other people to handle that situation because he feels it’s so beneath him — it’s not the band, it’s not the music — and that’s ultimately the thing that takes down the entire empire.”
In general, scenes that were taken from real-life public moments from Selena’s life, whether they were interviews, concerts or being on stage at the Grammys accepting an award and forgetting to thank her husband by name, offered unique complications as a performer. On the one hand, Serratos points out, they can be “easier because I had a Bible” — real footage to look at and study. But on the other hand, those scenes are much more technical because “production wanted them to be identical [and] we were doing things down to at what second she switched hands with the microphone. Then it’s harder because people are keeping an eye on you.”
The second season was chock full of these moments, from the aforementioned Grammys to the Astrodome performance. By contrast, Season 1 focused so much on being on the road before she really rose to fame that there was “not a lot of fact-checking that people could do,” Serratos says. “We had knowledge because the family was involved, and I was able to see footage and photos that are not public, but nobody else could. There’s a part of me that’s like, ‘Gosh I wish they knew this was real.'”
The two seasons of “Selena: The Series” offered insight into the Quintanilla family well beyond the wide-selling records. But in some cases, the behind-the-scenes knowledge gained from the real Quintanillas, including Suzette and Abraham Jr., who were executive producers on the series, had to be used as backstory only, to aid the actors’ understanding of certain characteristics and behaviors.
“One of the big pieces of this family was they were Jehovah’s Witness, so there was a deep sentiment and religious aspect to their household, the way they were brought up [and] the energy of the family that we never addressed in our series, but was something I kept in my mind as I was playing the role,” Chavira says.
For both Chavira and Serratos, certain stylistic choices further aided their understanding of their characters. Serratos shares that she felt the most like the real Selena not when she was in her famous purple jumpsuit, but when she was just in jeans, a tee-shirt and, most importantly, a baseball cap. Chavira, meanwhile, points to Abraham’s sunglasses as a “huge component” of his character.
“I’ve always talked about those sunglasses for him as a coat of arms: He puts them on and he becomes this other person, and it’s how he protects himself and how he protects his family. Whenever he’s not in his house, he always has the sunglasses on,” he explains.
In addition to diving into the close-knit Quintanilla family, “Selena: The Series” also depicted the rise of the businesswoman that was Selena Quintanilla. While Abraham shaped his kids into a band to allow him to live out his musical dreams, Selena also chased her own personal passion of creating a fashion line and opening a boutique. The second season saw her at times struggling to keep up with all of the demands on her, but it also explained that she wanted to do it all now because “what if it goes away?”
“I related to that,” Serratos says, because, “I’ve been in this industry since I was a kid, but it still feels like the rug can be pulled out from under you at any point. What am I going to do after Selena? I have to solidify that this wasn’t a fluke. And I will do that for the rest of my life. I will probably be 70 years old in this industry going, ‘I’ve got to solidify who I am as an actor; I’ve got to do something after this.’ So I totally get that desire to work harder and to top yourself, too. Especially for women — and for Hispanic women — it’s, ‘Prove yourself, prove yourself, prove yourself; tell your story and have your voice be heard.'”