Jennifer Lopez scored her breakout role in Selena, which premiered in theaters 25 years ago. (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

Mother always knows best … both in life and in art. That’s the takeaway from the true Hollywood story of how Jennifer Lopez nabbed the role that made her a Hollywood A-lister. The former In Living Color Fly Girl beat out thousands of other young hopefuls when she was cast as slain Latinx singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez in the 1997 biopic, Selena, which premiered in theaters a quarter-century ago on March 21, 1997. And as director Gregory Nava revealed to Yahoo Entertainment in a 2020 interview, the real Queen of Tejano’s mother, Marcella Ofelia Quintanilla, cast the deciding vote.

“I remember Marcella gasping and saying, ‘Oh, she dances just like Selena,'” Nava recalls. “And we went, ‘She’s the one. She is the one.’ She has the talent, the ganas [desire] and the passion to really channel the spirit of that beautiful young woman.” (Watch our video interview above.)

Lopez was one of 21,000 actresses to audition for Selena, a number that Nava says eclipsed the number of performers who coveted the role of Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s Gone With the Wind. “It was a very long process, and a very difficult process, because we couldn’t offer the role to anybody. The family wanted to see who was going to play their daughter: I really understood that and so did the studio. So we had an open casting call and were overwhelmed when 21,000 young women came to audition for the role of Selena. Everyone was taken by surprise.”