"This role was the first one for me that was a little hard to transition out of — even as far as her speaking voice," says Christian Serratos, who portrays legendary Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in Selena: The Series.
Known for The Walking Dead (she played Rosita Espinosa) and the Twilight films (she was Angela Weber), the actress leaned into Selena on several fronts. She worked with both a dialect coach — to nail the the East Texas accent Selena had as a teenager — and a singing coach; when Selena sings a cappella in the series, that's Serratos's voice.
Part one of the Netflix series is a three-episode coming-of-age story. The three episodes of part two, which dropped in May, "turn into a really powerful story about this woman coming into her own," Serratos says. "We see so much more of Selena being the icon that people know her to be."
Born in Pasadena, California, to a father of Italian descent and a mother of Mexican heritage, Serratos grew up listening to the Queen of Tejano. "It felt like she was a member of the household because her music was always on," Serratos recalls.
Selena was shot and killed by Yolanda Saldívar, the president of her fan club, in 1995. Serratos was just a child then, but she eventually came to appreciate how the Grammy-winning superstar, who was only 23 when she died, broke down barriers in the entertainment industry for the Latinx community.
In fact, the actress says she's long had a feeling she would somehow play a role in telling Selena's story. "That's why I was so calm when it came to the audition process because I was like, 'Maybe this is it,'" she remembers.
While winning the role was a dream come true, Serratos knew what a challenge it would be. "Playing somebody this beloved is never easy," she says. "I realized that all I could do was work as honestly as I could, with as much respect as I could."
Serratos appeared in every scene on every shooting day, Monday through Saturday. "It was basically like, 'Hey, you have 10 minutes before you have to get to the next scene. Jump into a dance rehearsal.'
"That's hard," she says, "but it also makes you feel alive. I feel like, now, I,can do anything."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2021