Symbolically igniting a flame represents the burning desire of fulfilling one's wildest dreams. After several years of keeping that same flame alive, Noemí González booked the holy grail of roles in the anticipated Netflix series, Selena. Noemí can credit this full-circle moment to the songstress, as she grew up idolizing the magnetic works of Selena Quintanilla, who, ultimately, inspired her to enter the entertainment industry. Now, Noemí’s bright light can be seen in the new Netflix original series, Selena, along with her previous work in East Los High, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, and Young and the Restless. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with Noemí to discuss her newest role as Suzette Quintanilla in the Netflix series, her experience working with the cast, or on-screen family, and how she overcame her biggest challenges within the industry.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to enter the entertainment industry?
Noemí González: Selena, of course, is someone who I grew up continuously watching. Also, my music teacher truly has inspired me. I thought I was going to be a music teacher growing up because I was so profoundly affected creatively by Mr. Bukraba. Because I thought I was going to be a teacher, I went to the University of California Santa Barbara and there was where I discovered acting. It was definitely Selena, because my mom introduced me to her and I would watch the movie over and over again. My mom was also a big fan of vocalists, showing me Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, and Alicia Villarreal of Groupon Limete who sounded very similar to the early sounds of Selena. My mom had a very big influence on the sounds and images that I had growing up.
MM: Can you give an overview of your past in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
NG: As I mentioned before, I never knew I wanted to be an actor, but I fell into University of California Santa Barbara’s acting program because a friend took me to the audition, even though I didn't want to go. But, I went and I ended up being accepted into the conservatory acting program! After graduation, I booked East Los High, which was a show on Hulu and from there I booked Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. A huge thing that really changed my life, which isn’t something viewers can click and watch nowadays, was the ABC Disney Talent Diversity Showcase. It was amazing and was something that had a huge impact on me because I felt as though I was being supported by the industry and that I felt seen. I landed in LA two years beforehand and after six months of student films, I felt I was ready to start auditioning for professional roles. I was always very aware of the next pool I was dipping myself into, so from there I felt it was time to get representation. After that I met my manager, who managed me in the best direction because here I am now, talking to you. When I was with my initial representation which I had in the beginning part of my career, I was a very strong shark in the fish pond, but when I leveled up with new representation, I felt like I became the minnow surrounded by sharks. Now, I don't like to use the word rejection, but it is that because I was constantly getting called back, but for the first time I wasn't crossing the finish line for the booking, and it definitely affected my spirit and my confidence. Ultimately, I ended up booking Dark Web, which is an Emmy award-winning series on Amazon Prime, and then I got Young and the Restless, which was very big for me. Quite literally, the week that I left Young and the Restless was the week that I auditioned for Selena. Again, it was my manager, Yoni, who said, “...You know, I see you as Suzette.” I have been managed wonderfully by Yoni and I'm so grateful for him. Aspiring actors often ask how did you get here, how did you get this job, or how did you get this audition? Truthfully, the answer is that I've been doing this for ten years, technically thirteen years, with my acting training. So it's not like everything fell into place perfectly for me overnight, I've been developing for thirteen years.
MM: The highly anticipated new series, Selena, has just premiered on Netflix… congratulations! What can we expect to see from your character, Suzette Quintanilla, in the newest Netflix series?
NG: You definitely get to see Suzette throughout her drumming journey, as Selena’s confident, and as a woman going through a unique experience. It's a series where you really get to witness the journey of Selena's stardom, so you get to see how the rest of the family keeps up. You also see how incredibly supportive she is, I think people assume that because there was one major star in the family, that there had to be negativity or bickering. But no, they were just family that was all in for Selena and in desperate need of supporting each other because of how incredibly humble their roots were.
MM: How did you prepare for the role of Suzette?
NG: Well, I have been following the family and Selena since before she had passed because I was raised as a Jehovah Witness, and so were Selena and the Quintanilla family. So my family really knew her way before she crossed over. I had all of that family history prepared, but for this character specifically, I learned the drums, cut and permed my hair, and changed my overall appearance. I was given two hours of lessons, twice a week. We were originally set to film in three weeks, and it turned into a month-and-a-half. Thank God, because I started learning on August 16th of last year to start learning fifty songs of hers, so it was very challenging to accomplish in time. The drums are incredibly demanding so it was definitely a lot of pressure. I rehearsed day and night, twice a day every day, for at least thirty minutes and even before formal rehearsals. I had to keep practicing to learn more of her songs at her signature sound so it was incredibly humbling. The show also provided a dialect coach Esther Carporale and that was wonderful. We essentially listened to audio of Suzette and watched YouTube videos of her to really grasp at how her voice came to be. It really was full-fledged character development to prepare for this role. I researched the history of female drummers, the history of female musicians, and Selena’s family history. I definitely dove into this character and was taking in all of the richness of Suzette.
MM: What was your overall experience filming the project and working with the cast?
NG: It’s been life-changing and a truly personal journey. This wasn’t just professional, number one, because I came into it with so much passion for Selena, and number two, we have a beautiful family dynamic. The first time that we did a scene together as a family was a dinner scene and all of us say that it was something we will never forget. We were professional and inflow, but more than anything, we were in flow together. That was something magical like a dance that we definitely witnessed every time we have a full family scene, so it just felt right. But specifically, for me, this was the first time I was truly on location, so to have that experience was amazing. I leaned on Seidy López a lot and I love her so much. She plays Marcella, my mom in the series. It's been a wonderful experience to not just have her as a professional on the show, but also to have someone as a true friend in the industry. It's been beautiful to work with these people and to see where they've all come from, how we're coming to serve our characters, and how much we care. It's been a beautiful life experience and I’ve gained personal, artistic, and professional development from it. I feel like I went to Selena University and we're going to get hoodies, so I'll let you know if that alumni gear happens [laughs].
MM: If you could give a piece of advice to someone looking to enter the entertainment industry, what would it be?
NG: Find something that keeps you centered that is not acting related. Whether it be painting, yoga, something fitness-related. This industry can really sweep you up because you put so much pressure on yourself in the beginning, and I think people get lost in thinking that they can't still be themselves and have inner happiness. Take care of yourself by finding something that centers you, because you're not going to enjoy the journey if you become calloused and jaded, you're going to look back and question what it was all for. You need to have something that gives you strength that's outside of the industry, so you don't have that desperation going into audition rooms. You need to be centered as your own artist because you can get lost trying desperately to make your dreams come true. You don’t want to look back and wonder whether or not you were happy. You're not what you do, you're who you are and how you live your life.
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
NG: Two weeks after I landed in LA, I was in a car accident and my car was totaled. I had to audition for East Los High, so I had to take a train and a bus, before ride services like Uber or Lyft. I know that might not be anything in New York, it's common to take public transportation, but in LA it's definitely a challenge. So I had to take public transportation for two years before getting a car in order to make it from the East Los High set to the Walt Disney Studios. That was major and really built a lot of character. Also, at the time in the industry, before the big diversity boom, a lot of fellow Latinos’ lived in LA with their parents. I had a day job as a waitress for years and I definitely saw the difference of how carefree it was for them versus me, and I had to stop comparing myself and have my own joy, regardless of not being able to have them understand that I have a day job and that I was the only one accountable for my financial responsibilities. Another challenge, when I dipped into that bigger pool I had mentioned before, I realized that I was falling in love with characters and stories before they were mine. That wasn't doing me any favors because when I didn't move forward in the casting process, it really affected me. I didn't just have to let go of an acting opportunity, but I had to let go of me falling in love with the project as a whole.
MM: Lastly, do you feel you have a social responsibility with your growing platform?
NG: Absolutely. What I do is not just for me, but all future female actresses. I feel like I'm one of the pioneers to make change continue in the industry, and I don't take that lightly because of how much I've gone through to represent and how much I have to offer. I love to connect with communities and I love to connect with people, so to see it as numbers on a platform or to see it as fame isn't what I believe in. I'm not a fan of fame, but I am a fan of people and making sure that people feel supported and seen. It makes it easier for me to go through this experience to know that I'm not just giving to myself creatively or financially, but that I'm giving to the collective. While on the set of Selena The Series, I've done wonderful things with the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts with Jimmy Smits and Melissa Barrera- a Covid and mental health segment for the Latinx youth. That event was really in line with me needing to feed my soul, knowing that I'm not just getting personal fulfillment in acting itself, but that I'm getting something outside of myself, with society collectively. I can't wait to serve the community and I hope that I serve well.
Photography by: Vince Trupsin