SAN ANTONIO – Now a mom of two, a state employee and avid runner, Janice Cruz was a 23-year-old caseworker when her family urged her to audition for the role of Selena in the movie about the slain Queen of Tejano Music.
“They just said I look too much like her. ‘You have to do it. You know, you have to go try,’” Cruz said, recalling what her family told her.
Cruz eventually auditioned along with thousands of other young women in 1996, a year after Selena’s murder.
Like the others, Cruz lost out to Jennifer Lopez, who was then an up-and-coming actress.
Soon after that, Cruz said the casting agent called her about trying out for the coveted gig as a stand-in for Lopez.
“They needed someone similar to Jennifer’s body and hair and skin,” Cruz said.
After being told she was that someone, Cruz said, “I just -- I couldn’t stop smiling. I was on cloud nine.”
Cruz said it meant she had to adhere to a strict schedule -- arrive early enough so that they could do her hair, makeup, wardrobe, even her nails, as Jennifer Lopez’s double, and in a sense, as Selena herself.
A Judson High School and University of Texas at San Antonio grad with a degree in psychology and no acting or singing experience, Cruz then had to do what she was told.
“I’d be there standing there while they set up the camera angles and the lighting,” Cruz said.
Cruz would be in actual scenes whenever Lopez’s face wasn’t shown. She said they even had her drive Selena’s Porsche in the movie.
“Someone was crouched below the passenger seat, teaching me how to use the stick shift,” Cruz said.
Images from the set of "Selena: The Movie."
The most emotionally difficult scene was when Cruz was lying in the back of an ambulance after Selena’s character had been shot by her fan club president Yolanda Saldivar, played in the movie by the late Lupe Ontiveros.
“That was my hand that drops the egg ring she was clutching that Saldivar had given her,” Cruz said.
Cruz admits she doesn’t know if that actually happened, but it made for a dramatic shot portraying Selena as she died.
Although some Selena fans at the time were disappointed that Jennifer Lopez was not Mexican-American, Cruz said she was glad that someone with acting experience got the role.
Cruz said she thought, “You know what? She has the beauty. She has the attitude. She had everything they were looking for. So, more power to her.”
Cruz said when it came time for her and Lopez to switch places, “We’d high five. ‘Your turn.’”
The two even chatted a few times in Lopez’s trailer.
Cruz said what most impressed her about Lopez was that “she was very cool, and she is now. She’s very cool, calm, collected, kind of ready to go, ready to do her job.”
To see JLo, as she’s now known, a major star in her own right, Cruz said little did she know at the time, “The amount of stardom that she would reach the way she did.”
Cruz did so well as her stand-in that she was offered the same job in Lopez’s next film. But she turned it down to marry her fiancé, who had taken the headshots she used for the audition.
“I never, ever regret it, especially when he does the dishes,” Cruz said.
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