Selena: About The Production

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Finding Selena
One of the greatest challenges that the filmmakers of "Selena" faced was finding the actress to portray their lead character. Since Selena's popularity was so widespread, her image and memory still lived vividly in the minds of countless fans. The filmmakers recognized that their selection of Selena would be met with considerable scrutiny.

In order to review as many candidates as possible, they staged one of the largest casting calls in the history of cinema. Director/writer Nava and others traveled to Texas, California, Florida and Illinois in search of young Latinas to portray the younger and older versions of Selena in the film.

What they discovered in the process was a testimony to how powerfully the legacy of Selena lives on, as thousands of hopeful aspirants crowded the calls in each city. Every audition was filled with young women and younger girls decked out in variations of Selena's signature style. Choruses of familiar Selena songs rang out and dancing syncopated the rooms as the girls broke out into spontaneous celebrations of their favorite performer.

The filmmakers discovered the special blend of talent, drive and magnetism that Selena embodied in Jennifer Lopez, who had worked with Nava on his previous film, the powerful multi-generational drama, "My Family/Mi Familia." Lopez is, just like Selena was, a young, energetic talent whose star is rising fast in Hollywood. Having already appeared in films as diverse as "Jack" and "Money Train," Lopez is poised for an extraordinary year with starring roles in the action-thriller "Anaconda"; the drama "Blood and Wine," opposite Jack Nicholson; and Oliver Stone's small-town thriller "U-Turn," in addition to her star-making role in "Selena."

"We were thrilled to have Jennifer star in this very special story," says Nava. "The combination of her enormous talent, warmth, appeal and strength made her the ideal candidate to portray Selena."

"Selena was a special person who affected a lot of people," says Lopez. "Throughout the production, I was amazed by how many people would come up to me and say, 'I knew Selena' and share beautiful stories with me."

The part also gave Lopez a chance to showcase her natural talents as a live stage/musical performer. She broke into entertainment as one of the kinetic Fly Girls on Fox's comedy series "In Living Color," and playing Selena allowed her to revisit her dance training. Lopez rehearsed extensively with choreographer MIRANDA GARRISON to faithfully recreate Selena's fluid, natural style. Lopez remembers, "One of the biggest challenges was the dance part. It's very hard to unlearn everything your body is accustomed to doing and that it does naturally. I had to learn what Selena did, which is very different from my own dance instincts."

The nationwide casting calls produced another actress to play Selena, however. At the San Antonio audition, the filmmakers encountered a 10-year-old sensation named Becky Lee Meza, whom they selected to play the part of Selena as a young girl. Nava recalls the filmmakers' reaction to the spirited young performer: "Just as Selena's talent and star quality catapulted her from anonymity to the top of the music industry, Becky captivated all of us from among the thousands of young girls we saw. We were thrilled to find her, particularly from Selena's own home state of Texas."

Meza says that "it was an honor to get the part. Being chosen to play young Selena is like a dream come true. She was my role model. Ever since I was real little, I would look at myself in the mirror and sing and dance and act, and now it's true!"

Additional Casting
Selena's story is not just of an individual, but a family, so there were other important parts to cast beyond Selena's. As Nava explains, "I love ensemble work. This story is not just about Selena but about her entire family and how they all worked together to realize their dream. Therefore, the film provided many interesting roles and the chance for some real ensemble acting. I think our company of actors really interact nicely as a family."

Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla, Jr., who was a central figure in the singer's life, is featured prominently in the film. Academy Award nominee Edward James Olmos, who had worked with Nava on "My Family/Mi Familia," was the director's first choice for the role. "Eddie is like the Olivier of the Mexican-American world," Nava notes. "Abraham is a larger-than-life character, and Eddie did a marvelous job in capturing him."

The real-life Quintanilla, who serves as an executive producer on the film, remembers the fire that drove him and compelled him to encourage his children to pursue their dreams: "You have to be a musician to understand what it's like to be hooked on music. Once it's in your heart, it's there for life. I love music, and I had a dream when I was young to cross over into mainstream success. It wasn't realized back then. But when I saw the talent that my kids had, I started developing that in them, and we were able to pursue the dream together."

Olmos transformed himself physically for the role, gaining 50 pounds. Producer Robert Katz attests to the startling resemblance that Olmos was able to achieve: "Eddie and Abraham were together one day when the lights were down a little. At one point, someone asked me, 'Which one's Eddie?,' which pretty much tells you how well he approximated Abraham's appearance."

Olmos considers the film "a celebration of life in the highest form. It's about love of a family and how that helped them to reach such success." But as the high points in Selena's life were recreated for the camera, there was always the reminder of how short-lived her career was. "There were some very difficult moments, because it's a true story," Olmos remembers. "I take my hat off to the entire family for having the courage to do this. They have held on to their own sense of love of family and people and preserved their dignity."

Jon Seda, who made a name for himself with a standout performance in "I Like It Like That" and who has appeared in "12 Monkeys," "Dear God" and "Sunchaser," plays Chris Perez, a talented guitarist who joins Selena's band and stirs up the family when he and Selena eventually fall in love. In preparing for his role, Seda spent a lot of time with the real Perez, and the two young men became friends. "Chris has an incredible heart," Seda says. "It takes a strong person to deal with what he's had to in his life. He became a real inspiration to me."

Constance Marie, who plays Selena's mother, Marcela, laughs about the complicated family tree she owes to director Nava: "In 'My Family/Mi Familia,' Jennifer Lopez and Jacob Vargas played my parents, and now, in 'Selena,' I play their mother! Eddie Olmos, who is my husband in this movie, was my brother in 'Mi Familia.' I'm going to need a lot of therapy!" More seriously, she adds, "we all work great together. It's like a family."

Jacob Vargas, who plays Selena's brother, Abie, was personally selected by the real Abie for the part. "Abie told me he wanted me to do it. He said, 'I've seen your work. I trust you.' So, it's a great honor to have been chosen by Abie himself."

The actors had to learn how to play various musical instruments since it was Selena's family who made up her band. Jackie Guerra, who plays Suzette, the band's drummer, recalls the challenge of not only learning a character but an instrument. "My musical experience was pretty much limited to successfully changing the radio station in the car," she laughs. By the end of the shoot, however, "I had gotten the bug. I actually ordered an electronic drum kit. I'm a really good karaoke drummer now!"

The Quintanilla family opened up their homes and lives to the members of the cast, sharing their memories of Selena. Abraham and Marcela Quintanilla spent many hours with their on-screen counterparts, Edward James Olmos and Constance Marie. The Quintanillas also spent much time with both Jennifer Lopez and Becky Lee Meza, sharing fond stories about their daughter, opening family albums and screening home movies.

Olmos recalls the special time spent with the family: "It's very difficult to look in a mother or father's eyes and ask them to talk to you about the beauty and the love and fun times they had that they no longer can have."

On Location: Deep in the Heart of Texas
"Selena" was shot entirely on location in Selena's own home state of Texas, often at the very sites where the actual events happened. San Antonio served as the primary home for the company. It was there that the filmmakers staged the centerpiece sequence of the film: Selena's record-breaking performance at Houston's Astrodome.

When Nava invited San Antonio residents to participate in the filming of that performance, the response was overwhelming: more than 35,000 people attended! Selena fans travelled from as far as Mexico City, Chicago and Miami in a public celebration that confirmed Selena's spirit still lives on in the hearts of her fans.

Producer Moctesuma Esparza recalls the special sentiment in the air on that night: "Reenacting that performance was the first time that we saw Jennifer perform for an audience, and it was emotionally overwhelming. Abraham Quintanilla was sitting next to me, and I saw tears rolling down his face."

Producer Robert Katz continues, "It was so emotional because it seemed that Selena was back in front of those fans. Nobody on that night came away unaffected."

Jennifer Lopez was understandably anxious about appearing as Selena in front of all of those people, many of whom had seen the actual concert just a few years before. "I didn't know whether they were going to accept me, but when I came into the stadium, they all started cheering. It will remain one of the most incredible experiences of my life!"

Other pinnacle moments in Selena's life staged for the film included a critical concert she performed in Monterrey, Mexico, which validated Selena's position as a serious musician, shot in Poteet, Texas. In Corpus Christi, Texas, Selena's home town, the candlelight vigil and Grammy ceremony were recreated. Scenes were also shot in the Selena Boutique, still owned and operated by the Quintanilla family. Selena's sister, Suzette, manages both the San Antonio and Corpus Christi stores which carry Selena's designs, some of which were utilized during the fashion shoot incorporated into the movie.

Dreaming of You
"The film is a celebration of Selena and a tribute to her life and career," says director Nava. "She loved her family, her husband and her fans in a way that was rare. She taught us to realize that you can go through any barrier. And that's exactly what she did."

Edward James Olmos adds that "this is the hardest movie I've ever worked on, but also one of the most important ones. I am honored to have been a part of it."

"The story is the story of the American Dream," says Lopez. "The Quintanilla family started with nothing. They were all living in one room in Abraham's brother's house. But with a lot of hard work, dedication and love, they achieved an incredible success in so many different ways."

Abraham Quintanilla sums it up like this: "Everyone, immigrant or native, is in pursuit of the American Dream. To better their life. When I look back, I see that we were doing nothing different than what so many other people are trying to do: make something of yourself and your life."

Warner Bros. Presents A Q Productions, Inc. - Esparza/Katz Production of A Gregory Nava Film: Jennifer Lopez and Edward James Olmos in "Selena," starring Jon Seda, Constance Marie, Jacob Vargas, Lupe Ontiveros and Jackie Guerra. The music is by Dave Grusin, and Nancy Richardson is the editor. Cary White is the production designer, and Edward Lachman, A.S.C. is the director of photography. The co-producer is Peter Lopez, and the co-executive producer is David Wisnievitz. Abraham Quintanilla, Jr. is the executive producer, and Moctesuma Esparza and Robert Katz are the producers. "Selena" is written and directed by Gregory Nava and distributed by Warner Bros., A Time Warner Entertainment Company.

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