In Netflix‘s Selena: The Series, Noemi Gonzalez plays Suzette Quintanilla, Selena [Christian Serratos]’s older sister, drummer, and closest confidant. The role is a major breakout moment for Gonzalez who elevates her supporting character with scene-stealing charisma. In an interview with Awards Daily, Gonzalez opens up about her connection to the Quintanilla family, tackling an instrument, and honoring the legacy of a childhood idol.
Awards Daily: I’ve asked every person I interviewed from the show what their personal relationship is to Selena, her music, and her legacy—let’s start there.
Noemi Gonzalez: Absolutely. Well, her music is timeless. It was wonderful to learn to play the drums and apply myself in that way instead of always lighting up whenever I hear the music. Now I get to jam out to her. So that was a really cool experience to go through. Specifically, my connection with her was watching her when I was a little girl. I was really attached to her, knowing that there was something special about her. I watched her on Siempre en Domingo and other variety shows on Mexican channels where we could see her before she got to the mainstream sound that she’s still known for.
It was really cool to be a little girl and watch that happen. She was raised Jehovah’s Witness, as was I. Lastly, my brother, unfortunately, passed away at a young age in a car accident. It felt like I grieved with the family. When the movie came out [in 1997], I was devastated and learned how to process these feelings with this media and this content. This true-life story resonated with me, with my family being so tight-knit, Mexican-American, Chicano versus Tejano, and Jehovah’s Witness. And so it was an interesting dynamic to have a legend to relate to in this way.
AD: I’m so sorry to hear that. Thank you for sharing with me.
NG: Thank you.
AD: Tell me about your relationship with Suzette Quintanilla. How much time did you spend with her? How much of these conversations did you have where you were able to tell her the ways in which you two were connected?
NG: Honestly, I didn’t get to work with her ahead of time and during filming because of COVID restrictions. It changed the dynamic of how we were going to shape our characters. But, I think a silver lining was getting the space to work on all of the archival histories we had. She provided a lot of content that’s not available to the public that helped shape the series. It helped me listen to her voice and capture her voice with our dialect coach Esther Caporale. I also learned the drums through Kiko Brenneisen, my drum instructor, and the patience of Antonio Pontarelli, the music consultant production provided.
I was hoping to meet her, and when I found out that wasn’t going to be able to work out, I fully channeled all my work into her portrayal. Ultimately the last two weeks of production, we got to meet her —me, Seidy Lopez, who plays my mom, and Christian Serratos, who plays our Selena. We got to have a virtual phone call with her right before we wrapped. It was a really beautiful way to meet her. She asked me a question about what it was like portraying her. And I answered it in the same way that I answered about my personal connection to Selena. I mentioned, ‘Just so you know, Suzette, my family was also Jehovah’s Witness, we’re Mexican-American, the bicultural experience that you had in Texas, I had in California, and I’ve also lost a sibling.
What was profound to me was transforming physically, spiritually, and craft-wise to make sure I honor Suzette’s life story and honor Selena’s life story because I know about it in a very deep, personal way. And there was a really beautiful, emotional moment between us of understanding each other. I just wanted her to know that I see her and honor her and her sister, and I don’t take it for granted. And I appreciate that they let me be a part of this.
AD: You did try to capture Suzette in your performance. You mentioned your dialect coach and learning to play the drums. Can you tell me a little more about channeling that in your performance and working through your craft as an actress?
NG: Great question. It was a lot of fun to, for the first time in my career, have the opportunity to play a real-life person —knowing that they’re going to be seeing this when it’s released. I had archives and performances that were captured on YouTube. And there were many interviews that she did, but most of the time that she was in front of the camera, I noticed, were post-grief. With Esther Caporale and then listening to her voice in interviews, I had to go backward and set up where she came from. And also navigate the creative license that I had because there wasn’t footage of her as a young girl. It was a really fun opportunity to do the research and apply my training to capturing the sound of her voice. And then her physicality on the drums when she’s just a young girl getting comfortable with it. And she might prefer to do the Mexican-American sound that she likes —mainstream English market sounds as opposed to the kind of ranchero sound at the beginning. Then, seeing how she played when she moved into her signature, iconic sounds like Bidi Bidi Bom Bom, La Llamada, Como La Flor, It was cool to mimic her based on the footage.
I was having challenges learning the drums, it’s a very demanding instrument. It was very foreign to me. I wondered how it must’ve been for Suzette to do that alongside her musically-inclined brother, A.B. Quintanilla, [Gabriel Chavarria], who produced their music and played the bass and keyboard. And Selena was just a powerhouse of talent on stage and in designing. And [Suzette] was the one that was the support, an integral part of keeping the beat. There was a really fun, complex, multifaceted way to ultimately shape her character on the show. That was challenging. It was creative. I had my resources, but then I also had pockets to take full advantage of a creative license. And being a rock-star honoring that— it was really, really fun.
AD: You know, one of my favorite lines from the show is when Selena says, ‘There’s no Selena without Suzette.’
AD: I think the show does such a beautiful job of establishing that sibling relationship. Tell me about working with Christian and establishing this bond with these two sisters and the Quintanilla family.
NG: It’s so beautiful to have this opportunity, especially with female representation in the media— to play these two sisters with these beautifully written themes. Christian and I leaned into that. When we were in prep mode and had more time together, I stayed over at her place multiple weekends. I brought carne asada. We made homemade tacos, enjoying tequila. We talked about our dreams and hopes, and aspirations as actresses and professionals. It wasn’t forced. It was organic. And we were doing what Selena did— climbing into her sister’s bunk, telling Suzette her dreams of a boutique and her design aspirations and her English market goals. It was brilliant casting to me, and both of us were ready to honor that bond. We did it naturally, and then we came together on camera and the stage. And it was really fun to support Selena and be there for Christian in this way.
AD: One thing I loved about your portrayal of Suzette is that she’s so warm and loving. Still, she also has her eyes on everyone, and she always knows what’s going on. How did you find these facets to her?
NG: Oh, thank you so much. You know, Suzette, to me, is the emotional intelligence sibling. The other siblings were all trained to trust their father. It did them a lot of good because there’s a lot of wisdom that Abraham [Ricardo Chavira] provided so that they could be a loving, successful family and do it together.
I thought about how there was so much attention to Selena’s education. And how with the older kids, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Suzette was a mama bear. And it shows you that the bright individual is sometimes the emotionally intelligent one, or the one that is the empath, that can feel the dynamics of a room and wonder, ‘Why are these decisions being made?’
It shows how cool and unique Suzette’s trajectory has been. I also had the awareness that I was playing the future CEO of Q Productions and one of the future executive producers of the show that I am acting in. It helped me go back and have an eagle-eyed perspective on, ‘What were the moments in a day of this family’s life that you could feel the future of this decision-maker or the future of this observant businesswoman coming to life?’
It was cool to plant those seeds in a very clear, fresh perspective, looking at the world, always curious manner. And that is something that I got from Suzette when we spoke— she understands people, where they’re coming from, and what decisions need to be made. I learned a lot from her. And I loved portraying someone who has humble roots and has a dynamic change—from curiosity to decision-making and executive producing. It’s pretty cool to start with playing that girl as she’s becoming that woman.
AD: I have to ask you what your favorite Selena song is!
NG: [Laughs]. For me, I have the ones I love to listen to, and the ones I love to play the drums on? And one that I love to listen to, an all-time favorite that will never really go away, is No Me Queda Mas. It also has a very cool backstory, so stay tuned for that. But No Me Queda Mas for sure. It is up there— the poetry, the combination of the rich Central Mexican sounds that are traditional with contemporary sounds, and Selena’s emotional performance. And then Bidi Bidi Bom Bom to play. It’s literally a beat, that is so cool.
AD: Watching the series felt like I saw a big moment of discovery for your career. And you shined in your performance. Did you have that sense as you were filming the show that Selena: The Series would be a unique project for your career? And where do you want to take that moving forward?
NG: Well, thank you so much. I mean, absolutely, I did have those feelings because I know Selena’s power as a person who was just so radiant and had such a strong fan base. I came into it knowing that I was playing Suzette and that we would be showing the story that is Selena, which heavily includes her family.
Ultimately, I was really proud of myself for being so dedicated and disciplined with learning the drums. Any pressure that I felt about the job, I poured into my craft and into shaping Suzette and made sure that I honor her. I had my own personal history as a fan and all the information I had from that research growing up that I didn’t even realize I was doing for this job.
And then I had the archives given to me, and the scripts —it was my interpretation of everything together. I felt like I had a really beautiful opportunity here. I made sure not to take it for granted and to have no stone left unturned. And I made sure to honor Selena so that I can be proud of the fact that I knew what this opportunity meant, not just me, but for the history of this iconic woman, her family, and or the next generation. I loved getting to know Suzette and feel that I’ve been a part of the Latinx representation that is happening right now. I’m just so grateful for such a radiant and beautiful story. I made sure that I leaned into it.
Part one of Selena: The Series is streaming now on Netflix. Awards Daily also has an interview with Selena executive producer Moisés Zamora.