The first part of Selena: The Series debuts Dec. 4 on Netflix. Noemí González stars as Suzette Quintanilla, Selena’s sister and a member of the family’s band. For Noemí, the role of Suzette is a “landmark” moment since Selena “meant so much” to her growing up.
HollywoodLife talked EXCLUSIVELY with Noemí about embracing the role of Suzette, who was a “pillar” of the family and the band. She also opened up about bonding with Christian Serratos and establishing Selena and Suzette’s strong relationship onscreen. The actress revealed her journey to playing the drums and what Suzette told her that left her shook. Read our Q&A below.
Before taking on the role of Suzette, how familiar were you with Selena and her family?
Noemí González: I was extremely familiar with her backstory and her family’s story. I even helped fellow castmates and production with some details because I was so familiar with their story. Essentially, I had a very personal family event happen that really resonated with me. I experienced as a little girl watching Selena’s star rise on variety shows before she was mainstream popular in Mexican or Latin American culture. And then I ended up watching the movie, which really resonated with me because I lost a sibling, and I found out they were raised Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Quintanilla family, and I was also raised Jehovah’s Witnesses. I felt this very unique parallel with this family, so I definitely dove into their family history like a Selena fanatic would know and more because of the personal similarities and how much strength they gave me.
What was it about Suzette that really stood out to you and made you really want to dive into her life?
Noemí González: There’s more than one thing about Suzette. To me, there are so many fascinating aspects to her as a pillar of the family and as a pillar of the band. She wasn’t musically interested. She ends up being the first female Tejano drummer of the genre, definitely was a big pioneer for female musicians in a male-dominated industry. She was a sister, drummer, best friend to Selena. She was extremely supportive. I found out a little more in-depth that she was in charge of production budgets. She kind of was Abraham’s assistant. And now, the fact that she really leads Selena’s legacy as CEO of Q Productions and one of our EPs for the show after 20 years of seeing a presentation of Selena in the media, it’s incredible to see just a beautiful human spirit, sister, and family member to have so much of her life’s work towards keeping her sister’s legacy alive. I think it’s just incredibly noble, and I really look forward to filling that space of portraying Suzette as much as possible.
The real Suzette was an executive producer of the series. What were your conversations like with her?
Noemí González: I really wish I could have interacted with her sooner. I immediately called my manager and was like, I want to go to Corpus. I want to be her assistant. Nobody needs to know that I’m going to be portraying her. She doesn’t even need to know as much, and she can ignore me. I just want to be around her, just really feel her, and be a fly on the wall. But because of COVID and because of the way we were going to be portraying our characters this time around, we had a lot of space and were able to work on our characters objectively. And then later, we connected. It was already going to be incredible to finally meet her, and unfortunately, it had to be virtual as well on camera, but it made it all the more special that we have been waiting to meet each other for the longest time. It made it really intimate that I knew so much about her through the history that I had already had, the scripts that were given to me, and then she generously provided some family history that wasn’t available to the public for us to listen to her tell these memories and stories. I got to listen to it for more than one reason, to get her voice and to also really relive it from the way that she was telling it and see how it was being interpreted by our amazing show writers, and then how I was going to interpret everything that comes with playing someone. It was really, really cool to have. I would have loved to have it be the way I think Hollywood standards expect, but COVID really affected the way that we work and live.
Was there any pressure on your end about playing a real-life person? Did you feel the weight of that responsibility?
Noemí González: Absolutely. How can you not? Naturally, I think anyone who plays a real-life person is going to have that pressure. But then to play that and they are still alive to watch your performance and potentially talk to you about it, that’s another layer. And then thirdly, she’s one of your EPs. I can’t think of a time where that was the case, maybe Elton John with Taron Egerton for Rocketman. It’s definitely this many-layered pressure. But more than anything, I think I was honest with the fact that Selena means so much to me. She meant so much to me growing up before I knew that I was going to end up being an actor talking to you today about a show that I’m going to be on. It’s just a layer of I had my own personal connection to a legend, and then I just had so much solace and so much peace because of this family being so giving in telling their story. And now I get to be a part of it. I really knew how much it was a landmark for me career-wise and creatively, but also just spiritually to give back artistically in any way that I could. Selena has given me so much that I needed to not cut that pressure, I just knew that it was profound. Instead of dismissing it, I channeled it into learning the drums, which was challenging, and channeled it into fully giving my all to portraying Suzette and being really present for Christian as Selena and as a sister to the Quintanilla family.
You learned how to play the drums for this role?
Noemí González: I did. I learned how to play the drums. I had no familiarity with the instrument whatsoever. I was even startled with how loud they are. It was an interesting experience because I was musically trained as a singer, but I had never applied my musicianship to an instrument. So this role really reinvigorated that for me. It was really just an incredible opportunity to play a character who happens to be such a badass that she has drummer as one of her background factors to play her. They had different sounds that they were producing as a band that was evolving to their signature sound, so I had to make sure that I got comfortable with the drums and then layered on how Suzette would play the drums at any given time. And then I had to layer in playing for the camera. I was jamming and then as soon as they get to my coverage, they’re like, oh, the cymbal’s in the way, or this is in the way. I felt like I had four plates in the air, and I was holding on to all of them and then acting in a scene. You know, catching a look between the Dinos or looking at my mom and dad or having a moment while drumming. It was just like, who am I? What am I doing? And how did I get here when I had no familiarity? It was so challenging and humbling. It was really, really cool to be pushed and challenged in this way.
Suzette and Selena’s bond really takes center stage in the series. What was it like exploring that relationship with Christian?
Noemí González: I think we understood the bond between the siblings, but then we also really understood the bond that was kind of famous between two women. It was really nice that when we had prep and downtime she and I took a lot of advantage to just get to know each other as young actresses in the industry and our history. She asked me, “What are your hopes and dreams? What are your goals after this job?” We leaned on each other during the experience, too. It was cool because it felt like what I had already known from all the history I had that Selena would climb up to Suzette’s bunk, and she would tell her dreams of designing, opening up more boutiques, and everyone having accessibility to her fashion line. So it’s really nice to get to have that kind of dynamic setup. We really enjoyed our acting scenes together that were just me and her that really got to the nitty-gritty. We definitely explored what it’s like to be in this very insular family, and that those sisters shared the room. We would change how we would receive each other when it was just me and her versus when it was us around everyone else. That was a really fun exploration to have with Hiromi Kamata, our director and EP as well. So applying that treasure to really give color to the relationship dynamic between me and her was really, really cool. We definitely enjoyed our scenes. There’s definitely more to come where we really were present with each other. We could tell that we just had fun, even if it was emotionally demanding. These girls really had a spectrum, and it was really cool that Christian and I really enjoyed being open and connecting with each other on camera for these things.
Through this experience, was there anything you learned about Suzette that you didn’t already know?
Noemí González: I had known that she was taught by multiple people how to play the drums, and it wasn’t formal or strong training, but I didn’t know that she was left-handed but she plays right-handed. I guess once I really learned how to play the drums, I had my own challenges and humility with it that I was like, wow, if I’m this age, learning this instrument for a job with this pressure with this legacy, how must it have felt to be this little girl next to these very musically-inclined geniuses like A.B. Quintanilla and and our star singer Selena Quintanilla, and you have to play an integral part of keeping the beat, maintaining foundation with the drums when you’re not really interested and it’s hard. They’re a really hard instrument. How was it navigating that as a little girl with that pressure? The family was so poor. They needed to bring bread and butter to the table. It really helped me shape Suzette’s character a lot based on what I experienced needing to learn the jobs for this. I met Suzette the last two weeks before we wrapped up virtually, and that’s when she shared with me that she’s left-handed. I’ve looked at all this research and I know that drummers play differently if they’re left-handed versus right, so she had another layer of a challenge in a position where people expected her to bring food to the table, play an instrument that she had to learn, and then on top of it play against the way your body naturally would. She’s just a badass. It really showed her strength and her commitment to family. It’s just awesome that I had that kind of eye-opening experience through the show.
What do you hope that this series provides to viewers about Selena and her family?
Noemí González: I specifically want people to feel. Not necessarily know anything specifically, but to really feel a different side of her that hasn’t been really shown before and the family vibes to really feel what it takes to be positive, be hardworking, be light under incredibly challenging conditions while making sure your family doesn’t stay homeless. You could feel the way that there’s so much love that overpowers the heaviness. I really hope that that helps everyone during these times.