Behind Selena’s Ricky Vela is Hunter Reese Peña

By now you have had many opportunities to check out Selena: The Series (Part 1 & 2) on Netflix. The two-part series is a departure from the 1997 film starring Jennifer Lopez as the Tejano superstar who was murdered by Yolanda Saldivar. While fans of the movie may have gushed at some of the parallels found in the series, there are many aspects of Selena’s life that are explored in more depth, including the family dynamic and life on the road with her band, Los Dinos. This is not a review on the series, but you should check it out for yourself.

One person who gets a bit more attention in the series than they did in the movie is Ricky Vela, the keyboardist from Los Dinos who was part of Selena’s trajectory into super stardom. In fact, Vela wrote the gut-wrenching love song No Me Queda Más, in 1994, that describes an unrequited love that is alluded to in the series. Vela is also credited for having written or co-written El Chico del Apartamento 512, La Llamada, and Fotos y Recuerdos.

Netflix / Hunter Reese Peña

In Selena: The Series, Ricky Vela is played by television newcomer Hunter Reese Peña, an artist from Los Angeles who has been a lifelong fan of Selena. A pivotal scene in the series features Reese Peña portraying Ricky Vela emotionally watching Selena (Christian Serratos) since No Me Queda Más. The scene is one of the most watched segments of the series and it has really stuck with fans.

Beyond being a part of the pop culture phenomenon that was Selena: The Series, Reese Peña has been working on his own music and art.

Just in time for Pride month, Hunter Reese Peña released the music video for his single Over California, in which he channels his inner diva and transforms into Huntress. The video gives off retro vibes that take you on an internal struggle with self and search for love.

 

I got in touch with Hunter Reese Peña to learn more about him, his creative process, and what’s next for the artist.

DAVID LOPEZ: How did you become a part of Selena: The Series? 

HUNTER REESE PENA: I got the audition through my agent but I mixed up the dates and missed it! It was a big mistake and my agent dropped me because of it, and my then-manager refused to ask them to reschedule so I just drove to the casting office, apologized, and begged them to still let me audition, they did, the rest is history.

 

DL: Were you a Selena fan prior to your role as Ricky? 

HRP: Yes! Since I was 4, I had all of her albums.

DL: Tell me about your music. How long have you been creating music?

HRP: I’ve been singing along to music since I was a little kid, in 2011 I released a 10 song album but I was too eager to please and it wasn’t very “me,” I didn’t know “my” genre so I took it down and promised myself that I wouldn’t release music again unless I really personally loved it. “Over California,” is kinda my take on the music I love.

DL: Tell me about ‘Over California’. Where did the inspiration come from? 

HRP: I had a secret crush on a friend a few years ago, for years. And when I got together with my producer for the first time, he showed me the beat that we ended up using for Over California. I felt very on the spot, but I wanted it to be good, and the most potent emotion I could tap into at the time was this crush. I wrote most of it that day, but finished writing the rest last year at the beginning of quarantine.

DL: What motivated you to do drag in your video? 

HRP: I’m obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’m obsessed with female pop stars like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Shakira, Selena, Beyonce, Doja Cat, etc. So drag is my way of emulating all of that greatness. 

DL: What’s something about you that most people wouldn’t know? 

HRP: That I’ve been depressed almost my entire life and it’s hard for me to find ways out of that paralysis. But when I do, it’s great. Being on a huge set for the first time for “Selena” was one of the happiest times of my life. When I’m able to be creative I feel the most alive so people assume I’m always that outgoing and excited, but when I’m alone I’m moody, and emo, and I listen to sad songs to feel seen.

DL: Other than acting and music, what other things bring you joy? 

HRP: I love writing TV shows. I’ve been writing since I was in 7th grade. I got my first screenwriting book in high school. One of my dreams is to be a queer/Latinx Lena Dunham and star-in/direct/write my own TV show like she did with HBO’s Girls.

DL: What do you think is the most attractive part about yourself? 

HRP: That I’m not scared to be myself, and even when I’m scared I do it anyway. I don’t think there’s anything more rock and roll than being perceived cis and straight and throwing it all out to do drag in a music video. Seriously, think about it. I exist in a world where I see many queer folx being treated like second class citizens, unworthy of being represented in main stream media, their humanity reduced to “an agenda,” and in the middle of getting nothing but love for being cuddly/cis/straight Ricky, I put on a wig and high heels… If that’s not punk I don’t know what is…and to me there’s nothing sexier than punk troublemakers who make their own rules.

 

Follow Hunter Reese Peña on Instagram.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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