you watch the films I've been in, you can see what my figure's
like. It's not like you can hide it."
Mr. Showbiz: When she died two years ago, Selena was poised for
crossover success in the English- language music business. Will
the movie bring her that success in another form, by convincing
Hollywood that Latin American stories appeal to broad audiences?
I hope so. Some people consider it a Latin movie, which it's not.
It's a movie that everyone can enjoy. If it does well, it shows
to Hollywood that we can do more movies. It's also important for
me because it's a really great role. And it's important to Selena
and her fans, to have this memory of her.
conducted a huge casting call for this film, not just for the
role of Selena, but for everyone in her band and in the Quintanilla
family. Did you have to fight hard to win your part?
I got a call
saying that Gregory Nava was going to direct the Selena story.
Now, I knew she was about my age and they might be considering
me for it. But it wasn't this thing like, "I have to get
this part." I think it wasn't until I auditioned that I really
wanted it. That's when I realized that there was all the dancing
and singing, and then I got really excited about it. We had to
do four scenes from the movie, and five minutes of dancing to
her numbers for concert scenes.
You were the
best- known actress considered for the role, but you were still
asked to audition. How did you feel about that?
at the stage of my career where I have to go after things that
I want. It would be stupid not to. Even if I was at the caliber
of Sandra Bullock or Michelle Pfeiffer or Julia Roberts, if there
was a role I wanted, I'd say, "Can I come in and read for
that?" That's how you get to do the good roles. You can't
let it get offered to everyone else before it comes to you.
What did you
like best about Selena's personality?
One of the
things that made her so popular was that she was always just herself.
She didn't try to hide her figure, all that stuff. She was Latin,
she had dark hair, and she dyed her hair even blacker than it
was. She wore bright red lipstick. It was never a thing with her
to say, "Maybe I won't wear this miniskirt, maybe my butt
won't look so big if I wear this instead." She accentuated
what she had. And women look up at her and say, "My body's
just like that. She's showing it, so why should I feel ashamed
famous for her body- baring costumes. Did you ever feel self-
Well, if you
watch the films I've been in, you can see what my figure's like.
It's not like you can hide it. But when I get in with the wardrobe
designer, they're thinking, "Let's see, she's looking a little
hippy, she's got a big butt, what should we do?" They're
always trying to minimize-- put it that way-- and it's because
we see all those actresses who are so thin and white. Latinas
have a certain body type. Even the thin ones, we are curvy. I've
always had trouble with wardrobe people!
Mexican- American; you're a Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx.
What similarities are there between your backgrounds?
in this country, that's the parallel. Of course, there's a lot
of differences. There is the Nuyorican culture here in New York
City, and there is a whole different Tejana culture. But there
are parallels between us: growing up and being treated a certain
way, or not being treated a certain way. Being a minority. Being
What did Selena's
life teach you about being a celebrity?
I used her
as an example when I was making this movie. She was very good
with her fans. She was always very gracious, and always took time
to talk to them. She realized that her fans were the most important
thing. There were a lot of ad-libs in the movie, and one of them
was at the Grammy speech when she thanks her fans. It did happen
in real life, but that wasn't in the script. I made sure to end
the speech with a thank you to her fans. It was a constant thing
with her, from the time she won her first Tejano music award when
she was sixteen years old.
did you admire as you were growing up?
I didn't have
a lot of role models. There weren't a lot of actresses I could
identify with, being Puerto Rican. But I loved West Side Story,
and that says it all right there. I identified with it. It was
my favorite movie and I wanted to be Rita Moreno. Not Maria: she
was kind of wimpy and she blamed her brother for things. But actually,
now, if I could ever do West Side Story, I would want to play
Maria. I think that's the actress in me, wanting to be the center
of attention and the star of the show.
how Selena moved, I had to watch a lot of videos for hours every
night, and try to unlearn how I moved."
When you portray a real person, you're obliged to do a lot of
research. Where did you start?
was wonderful. They were on the set, and I spent time with them
before we started. I watched every piece of videotape I could
get, because you act different in interviews than you are off
screen. I think anyone who does a film like this about a real
person, you have to do your homework and find every insight, into
who she was and what made her tick, and what was the flaw in her
personality that led to her death. It was a good [casting match],
because we were at the same kind of points in our careers: we
were enjoying some success, but we weren't like hugely popular.
We had a lot of parallels in our lives, and Selena and I were
similar types of personalities. It was lucky for me, that way.
Can you elaborate
on the idea that you and Selena were at similar stages in your
of her friends said that at the end, Selena was always tired.
And I could understand that. I thought, "Of course she was
tired!" She had a boutique, she was recording her new album,
she was touring and doing gigs all over Texas. We had a lot of
things in common. I was flying in and out, working on four films
at the same time. She also was a very big- hearted person. She
was a fixer. That's one of the reasons that Yolanda [her murderer]
slipped into her life.
With all these
movies coming out, you are becoming a public figure. Does Selena's
fate scare you at all?
Do I feel
scared that something like that could happen to me? There's always
that fear. I have managers in my life who are always telling me
to be careful! I have protective people in my life. But you can't
stop living because of it.
came to the set one day and they talked with Selena's parents,
and afterward my father goes, "I don't know what I would
do if that happened to us, if we lost you." I said, "You
can't think about things like that." Selena's father was
always very protective of her, and then her killer turns out to
be someone in their own backyard. Do you live your life in fear,
not going out, being afraid all the time? You just can't tell.
pushed his kids very hard, making them practice their music when
they'd rather be playing outside. Was there anyone in your life
who pushed you to try harder?
My mom took
us to dance classes when we were young. I was five when I started
dance. My mother might have been a little of a frustrated actress,
but she wasn't a stage mom. We went to dance classes every weekend.
It wasn't till I got older that I started to pursue it myself.
I went to different dance studios here in Manhattan.
Did your dancing
background help you in imitating Selena's movements?
That was actually
one of the hardest things. To learn how Selena moved, I had to
watch a lot of videos for hours every night, and try to unlearn
how I moved.
of a relationship did you have with Selena's mother, and how did
she help you prepare to play her daughter?
She's a very
beautiful lady, and she was very protective of me. She was always
saying, "You never eat, you don't want to look fat, you never
drink enough water! You're just like Selena!"
opens with Selena performing at the Houston Astrodome. Had you
ever performed in front of a huge crowd like that?
No! I've almost
forgotten how much I like to perform onstage, because I've been
so caught up in doing films. It was great being in front of an
audience, getting that immediate response. I was kind of spoiled:
the first show I did, 35,000 people show up. I liked it! And that
week I told my managers that I want to record something. I've
gotta record an album. I love doing it so much. So maybe that's
something to work on this year.
was it to learn to sing like Selena?
Well, I am
a singer. I didn't think of it as lip- synching. I just learned
to sing in her style, just as I learned to dance like her. I was
actually singing, but of course they didn't record it.
When the movie
introduces the woman whom we know is Selena's murderer, the audience
at last night's screening started hissing. Were those difficult
scenes to play?
One of the
things I had to be careful of was that Selena never knew she was
going to die. I had to approach it in a very "alive"
sense. The way I portrayed her was very, very true to the way
she was. She was a jokester. If you see any of her home videos,
you'll see that. They were a very happy family. They still are.
Of course, with the tragedy they have gone through, things have
changed. But when you watch the videotapes, that comes through.
fame came as a result of her being murdered. Why didn't the movie
include that incident?
make it a TV movie of the week. That's not what this film was
about. This is about Selena's life, and getting people to see
what she was all about: her struggles, what she overcame and what
made her who she is, and why she became such a phenomenon. That's
what everybody is interested in-- why it's such a phenomenon.
Why is everybody interested in this woman? This movie shows you
why: she was funny, she was giving, she was loving, very different
from many artists that we have in America. I want people to know
who she was.