The 49-year-old actor guest hosted Friday's episode of Entertainment Tonight and chatted with Nischelle Turner about his role as Abraham Quintanilla on Selena: The Series and showing a new side of the singer's father.
The Texas native grew up in San Antonio, Texas and was born the same year as Selena in 1971. While he enjoyed rock and metal back in his day, he remembers getting into his father's truck and listening to Tejano music together.
"Invariably they'd always have a Selena song on, so I knew about [her] and then reading the paper I'd see where she was performing, and seeing the local telecast you see when she was winning awards," he recalled. "So it was very much a part of the framework of my young adulthood. And then as I got older, I became nostalgic for those truck rides with my dad and I started listening to conjunto and Tejano music, which I still listen to a lot today. And her songs they resonated very well, even today."
The role of Abraham especially resonated with Ricardo, who saw a lot of his father and uncles in the Quintanilla patriarch. As a father of two, it also made him reflect on his parenting style.
"I got a 17-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter and you definitely draw from that. A lot of people, I think, they see Abraham as being someone harsh, stern, and that's very indicative of that generation of Mexican American men and that age group," he explained. "That's my father and that's a lot of my tios, and those men raised me. So I have some of that. I feel like my parenting is a bit old school. But the thing is, at the foundation, if you have compassion and love, that's what parenting is. Compassion, love, but a little hard sometimes."
What Ricardo learned along the way was that Abraham didn't just give tough love but also made huge personal sacrifices for his children; daughters Selena and Suzette and son A.B.
"What I think sometimes people miss about him is, it was his dream to be a musician and then he passed it to his children because he wasn't accomplishing his dream for whatever reason," Ricardo expressed. "He saw something in them. He drove the bus, he carried the bags, he was the roadie, he was managing money, managing schedules. That’s a complete act of selflessness to put his children in front of him. I’m sure there was selfishness to it too. But me looking at that as a parent, that’s the ultimate act of parenting, to be completely selfless and put your child before you."
In preparing for the role, Ricardo admitted that he's never seen the 1997 biopic starring Jennifer Lopez, explaining that the film came out a couple years after Selena's tragic death and "it didn't resonate" with him at the time.
"And I also thought I grew up around this story, or the story and I grew up together, so I don't need to see the movie," he added. "But I’ve seen clips of it over the years. And when I found out I was going to get this role... I made sure not to watch the movie because I didn't want it to inform any of my decision making as an actor and how I was going to approach the role."
"I mean Edward James Olmos, he's amazing! He's an amazing, authentic, talent that is also part of me, Mexican American," he said of the 73-year-old actor who portrayed Selena's father in the film. "He's iconic…I never saw it, but now I'm kind of nervous to see it."
However, the difference between his and Olmos' portrayal of Abraham is that the series gives a "more intimate look" into how the Quintanilla family got into show biz.
"It's storytelling from when she started at 9-10 years old through the high school years and then when they started having success," he noted. "And that's that first part of the series. What you do get that's unlike the movie is you have a fully realized Quintanilla family. You have fully realized characters in Suzette played by Noemi Gonzalez and A.B. played by Gabriel Chavarria, Marcella played by the wonderful Seidy Lopez. I just absolutely loved working with her."
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'Selena: The Series': Suzette Quintanilla on Scenes That Made Her Cry and How the Show Was Cathartic
For Ricardo, who's been in the industry for over two decades, seeing a Mexican American story on the screen is so fulfilling.
"I’m Mexican American. This story is a story about a Mexican American family. One of the things my father always impressed upon me is, never forget where you came from, never forget your roots," he expressed. "All of my family members before were migrant farm workers. So it resonates, the struggle, those hard times, those meager times for them. I read it in the script and it resonated with me. It's like, is our story exactly the same? No, but are there similarities? Yeah, there's a lot of similarities."
"Representation matters," he continued. "I realized that there were so many things that were similar to the man that I have in San Antonio that I call my father because he is of that same generation and a lot of my tios. And for me, this is a beautiful way to pay homage to this family that is specifically from south Texas and Mexican American, and their story and Selena's legacy. It's also a bit of an homage to my family and my roots."
For more from the Selena: The Series cast, watch below. Part One in now streaming on Netflix.