“Selena,” the movie, 15 years later

Actress Jennifer Lopez, who plays Selena in the movie “Selena,” performs with her band in one of the scenes from the movie. (RICCO TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

Actress Jennifer Lopez, who plays Selena in the movie “Selena,” performs with her band in one of the scenes from the movie. (RICCO TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

Tejana singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, known to the world as “Selena,” was taken away much too early at the ripe age of 23. As she was nearing the height of her cross-over music career, she was murdered by her fan club president, Yolanda Saldivar.

In 1997, just two years after her death, Gregory Nava wrote and directed the biopic, “Selena,”about the Tejana star’s life. This film tugged at the hearts of all who watched, because it consoled thousands of fans still mourning their idol’s death, and it also created new Selena fans of people who had never known of her before.

“She reached the English audience through the movie,” says Constance Marie, the actress who played Selena’s mom 15 years ago. “It took her mainstream.”

“Selena” will be making its 15th anniversary appearance kickstarting HBO’s New York International Latino Film Festival on August 13. Although it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition and a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical or Comedy motion picture for Jennifer Lopez, it actually won four ALMA Awards.

The successful film included a Latino-studded cast, including a 28-year-old, Jennifer Lopez, in one of her first feature film roles; Edward James Olmos, who played Selena’s dad; Constance Marie, who played her mom; and Jon Seda, who played Chris Pérez – Selena’s band and soul mate.

Constance Marie still remembers vividly that time in her life when she was cast to play Marcella Quintanilla. The award-winning actress from Los Angeles says she had never even heard of Selena before trying out for the movie, but she was hoping for the lead role.

“I watched videos of her over and over and became a fan while watching them,” says Constance Marie. “Then all of a sudden I had the thought ‘Oh my god, she’s not with us anymore!’ I became a fan and realized she was gone all in a week, and I began to cry.”

When she was told she wasn’t going to play Selena but her mother instead, she says at that point she felt grateful for any opportunity to get Selena’s story out — regardless of the role — the best that she could.

“We all had to sit down and meet the people we were playing,” recalls Constance Marie. “We had to learn how they carried themselves…I needed to connect with and absorb who Marcella Quintanilla was.”

Seda says he practiced with Chris Pérez for many hours and tried his best to mimic him as much as he could.

“It would take years to be able to play as amazing as he can,” says Seda. “Although I respected the fact that he didn’t want to come to the set because it was just to emotional for him, I felt the only way to do him justice and let the world see how great a talent he is was to have him do the solo, and I’m glad he did!”

Constance Marie concurs it was a tough time for everyone. Sometimes, in the middle of interviewing Mrs. Quintanilla, they would both break down and cry.

Constance Marie also had it rough, because her call time was four and a half hours earlier than the rest of the crew. She says being only two years older than Jennifer Lopez, a lot of makeup was needed to look like her mother.

Seda says the recently-late Lupe Ontiveros also had a challenging role — playing the woman who killed Selena and making her one of the most hated women in the world.

“I think she was an unbelievable woman, and I think it was really difficult for her to play that role, because people didn’t deal well with her death,” says Constance Marie. “She was very gracious, and she handled it really well.

There was also controversy about the Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez being chosen for the role of Selena, rather than a Mexican-American.

“I was really upset about that,” says Constance Marie who worked at a time when Latinos weren’t getting Latino roles. “Everybody should have been so thankful that an actual Latina was actually playing her…”

She says Jennifer Lopez, who often hummed Selena’s “Dreaming of You” on set — bringing the cast to tears –  accomplished a huge undertaking.

“To imitate someone who could sing, but she also had to dance, I don’t think anybody could have done it better — not even myself,” says Constance Marie. “I think Jennifer just picked up the baton that Selena threw out there and kept running with it.”

Until this day, Constance Marie says she has only seen the film once.

“I cannot watch it in its entirety,” says the woman who more than a decade ago embodied the mother of a legend who still lives. “I am a mother, and I can’t even imagine it happening to me.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Selena’s husband opens up in new book “To Selena, With Love”

"To Selena With Love" cover

“To Selena With Love” cover

This month marks the 17th anniversary of the death of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, known as just “Selena” to her fans. Her husband Chris Pérez, has far from forgotten her.  After all these years, he finally decided to write a book about their love in his memoir called, “To Selena, With Love.”

“I did suppress all of my memories until this book,” says Pérez, whose upbeat nature toned down remembering the pain he went through when his wife was murdered at only 23-years-old. “That was my way of dealing with it.”

Although he didn’t want to talk about it before, he remembers everything from when they met around 1988. Selena was only 17, and he was around 18.

“As the two youngest members of the band, while everybody else was doing 21-year-old things, we’d stay in the bus playing video games, go walk around the malls, or go to a movie,” says Pérez.

It is from there that he starts telling his love story.

“It was basically me talking,” says Pérez about the writing process. He then had his conversations transcribed.

He says he can’t remember the very first time he fell in love with Selena, because they spent so much time together that one day just led into the next.

But no matter the precise moment it happened, his love for her was inevitable.

“Her laugh, her smile, her sense of humor…just to be near her was good enough,” says Pérez. “She had a daring side to her, like a ‘Man you’re crazy’ kind of thing.”

He remembers the last time he saw her vividly.

Chris Perez (left) with Selena (right) (Courtesy Chris Pérez)

Chris Perez (left) with Selena (right) (Courtesy Chris Pérez)

“The last visual memory I have is that smile and that laugh,” he says. “I didn’t have my phone because she took my car and my keys. Nobody could get a hold of me. She wanted to make dinner for us, and I went to get the ingredients. When I got home, I got a call saying there was an accident.”

He says even on his way to the hospital, the idea that she might be dead wasn’t even a thought in his mind.

“I was in shock,” he says. “I was devastated. Something like that changes you. It shakes your core. As cliche as it sounds, food didn’t taste the same, colors didn’t look the same. Everything was gray.”

Being a songwriter and a musician, he says he began taking little baby steps forward. As time went on, he started walking at a steady pace, until he started running with his musical career.

He says he even tried marriage again, from which he has a 13 and 7-year-old.

Although his second marriage did not work out, he has not lost his zest for life.

“My hopes for the future are to watch my children grow up, to continue to be able to make a living playing music, and to have a happy family,” says Pérez.

As far as Selena is concerned, he will always remember how she loved junk food, especially the Whataburger from Corpus Christi; how she had a really bad habit of not putting gas in her car, and how she would just get out of her car and drop her keys wherever and lose them – same thing with her cell phone.

“Cell phones were the size of a cracker box, but she managed to lose it.” he says fondly.

However, he says one of the most important things she stood for is that all is possible with hard work.

“That’s one of her biggest messages,” says Pérez. She was part of the D.A.R.E. campaign and the educational push in Texas, and obviously her voice and music. That’s what she’d like people to remember her for – those things.”

Pérez says the whole experience of having had Selena in his life, even for just six years, has taught him to be less afraid to express his feelings of love to his friends and family.

“I believe that if you feel love in your heart for someone, it would be difficult to deny,” he says. “Never be afraid to love or fall in love.”

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.