Christian Serratos Feels the 'Pressure' of Portraying of Fallen Tejano Music Icon Selena in Netflix Series

Christian Serratos Feels ‘Pressure’ of Portraying Selena
Christian Serratos stars in Netflix's 'Selena: The Series,' out December 4, 2020. Jenna Kristina

"Selena was always so authentically herself. She was going to be an icon regardless."

On March 31, 1995, the 23-year-old Tejano music sensation Selena was tragically murdered in Corpus Christi, Texas. "She has always kind of been present. Of course, it has a lot to do with her being robbed from us," says Christian Serratos, who portrays the singer in Netflix's Selena: The Series, premiering December 4, and was made with the blessing of Selena's family.

Serratos, known for her work in Twilight and The Walking Dead, is the second actress to portray the singer in a major project, the first being Jennifer Lopez in the 1996 hit biopic Selena. "I know there's going to be comparisons, and we're just going to have to come to terms with that." But the new series digs deeper. "We're going to get to spend so much more time with Selena. They're just going to be overwhelmed with things to look at." In the end, Serratos hopes the spirit of Selena comes through, particularly because of the impact she has had on so many people's lives. "She paved the way for me, she paved the way for Jennifer, and so many Latin women and the Latinx community."

Taking on a role like Selena comes with an immense amount of pressure. How did you cope with that pressure and was there anything, in particular, you were nervous about?

I was super nervous about the pressure. I don't deal with it. I let it eat at me. I'm riddled with anxiety, but I think that's okay because I was such a huge fan of Selena growing up. When I found out I could have the opportunity to play her, I really was not going to drop it until I got the job. I was still filming The Walking Dead, and there were going to be some scheduling conflicts and it was going to be a hard road. There were a couple of times where the people close to me were telling me to stop. They were telling me, "You got to give it up because you're killing yourself for this role, and it's probably not even gonna happen." But I couldn't accept that. I cared so much, and I knew what I was prepared to put into the role. I knew what I was willing to give up for this role. I just felt this responsibility.

What do you think it is about Selena that makes her such a timeless musical figure?

One, her music was amazing, like amazing! There was a time when there was a mystery behind the artist and that was the time of Selena, but Selena never had that. Selena was always so authentically herself. Like you could have a conversation with Selena. I just think it was her grace and her soul. She was going to be an icon regardless. I think she was just born for it. So in bringing the show back, there are things that I worry about. Like, she was from a South Texas town and had a very specific dialect, but it was ever-changing, and I worried about the dialect and her accent and her specifics—how she walked and talked. Those are things obviously you worry about as an actor and then you realize nobody will ever be Selena. I will never be Selena. The thing I think that is most powerful about her was her spirit, her soul, her charm. That's what people still feel like when you talk about her. Like, "No, no, no. That was my Selena." So, I just really tried hard to bring that to the screen.

Did your background in figure skating help you find the movements of Selena?

I think growing up competitive figure skating, and I had some dance background, that really helped. Even if I didn't know how to do something, I picked it up really quickly. But there were times where I would—for instance, the Columbia steps, it's a very simple step—but I kept overextending my legs when I did it. It was kind of a funny moment because our choreographers are like, "Why are you doing that?" And then I'm like, "Oh my God, I'm skating, stop skating!" I kind of had to unlearn how to skate with my feet, but then when it came to the hands and some of her flamenco movements, it became so much easier for me because of skating.

The comparison to the film Selena is going to happen because it's iconic. What sets the TV show apart from the film?

I love the film. I grew up watching the film. I love Jennifer Lopez, and I loved her portrayal of Selena. I know there's going to be comparisons, and we're just going to have to come to terms with that. That's going to be okay. What I love about the idea that they made this a TV show is that we're going to get to spend so much more time with Selena. We're going to see so much more of her as a child and see so much more of how they struggled, traveling in the van. And so much more of her looks. Every piece on the show is either authentically vintage from the era or has been custom-built. Exact replicas, to the stitch. It's just going to be really impressive for people to watch. I think they're just going to be overwhelmed with things to look at.

In recent years there seems to be a resurgence of Selena on shirts and with the MAC Cosmetics makeup line. Why do you think Selena's story is so relevant, particularly in 2020?

I think I've always noticed there to be a lot of Selena around me. If I'm being very spiritual about it, well, maybe it's a sign, maybe I was supposed to do something involving Selena in my lifetime. But she has always kind of been present. Of course, it has a lot to do with her being robbed from us. I think it's because she paved the way for us. She paved the way for me, she paved the way for Jennifer [Lopez], and so many Latin women and the Latinx community. So to see this story of a Mexican American family working as hard as they did to accomplish their dreams is just a really resilient, beautiful story people can relate to.

The other highly anticipated project from you is the final season of The Walking Dead. What was it like balancing fighting zombies while getting into character for Selena?

We've had the most amazing run, and we have the most amazing fans. I think this is a great time, and I think we have all these other Walking Dead outlets now that I think are wonderful, like Worlds Beyond and Fear the Walking Dead.

I was working with a trainer five days a week when I was shooting Walking Dead to kind of get the stamina and the body for Selena and working with a voice coach during lunch breaks or a dialect coach when I got off work on 15 hour days on Walking Dead and mom-ing at the same time. It was a lot, but I am so happy that I did it. And I'm so happy now that I know that I can do it. It got dicey there for a second. It got really intense, but I have a wonderful husband and a great kid. I remember one day we were shooting a Walking Dead scene and I still had on red nail polish from when I had to fly out and do hair and makeup tests for Selena. So we had to go again after I took the nail polish off.

How have you been holding up during the pandemic and how has it impacted your work?

It's been okay. We shut down in the first week of March. We wanted to protect our crew and make sure everyone was safe. I'm so glad that we did. I think it was the best decision for everybody. I kind of like the masks. There are so many things that we did that I think are so gross now. Like why did we shake hands? Shaking hands to me is so weird now. It was always kind of weird to me, but it's so intimate. You do everything with your hands. I don't know that I want to shake anybody's hand ever again. And I'm so happy that our crew is safe and that we're able to finish the show for the fans, for her family, for her.