While the media negotiates the ethics of Rolling Stone allowing the world’s most notorious drug lord final copy approval—or a glowing profile, for that matter—and prose connoisseurs break down phrases like “Espinoza is the owl who flies among falcons,” or really, the fact that an Oscar-winning actor took it upon himself to write about his penis in a positive magazine feature on a mass-murderer, one of the biggest question marks arising from Sean Penn’s surreal interview with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the leader of the Sinoloa Cartel, is who’s the actress who brokered the meeting?
Her name is Kate del Castillo, 43, and she’s one of the most famous actresses in Mexico.
Back in January 2012, del Castillo attracted the ire of many when she tweeted out a lengthy letter praising El Chapo to her millions of Twitter followers. “Today I believe more in ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán than in the Governments that hide painful truths: Those who hide the cure for AIDS and cancer for their own benefit and to become richer,” she wrote, also outing herself as an AIDS and cancer truther.
She continued: “Mr. ‘Chapo,’ wouldn’t it be cool that you started trafficking with love? With cures for diseases, with food for the homeless children, with ALCOHOL for the retirement homes that don’t let the elderly spend the rest of the days doing whatever the f..k they want. Imagine trafficking with corrupt politicians instead of women and children who end up as slaves. Why don’t you burn all those whore houses where women are worth less than a pack of cigarettes? Without offer there’s no demand. COME ON Don! You would be the HEROES of HEROES! Let’s traffic with love. YOU KNOW HOW TO. Life is a business, and the only thing that changes is the merchandise. Don’t you agree?”
Don’t drink and tweet, folks. The letter eventually made its way to El Chapo, who, according to Penn’s piece, offered to send her flowers in appreciation. This was, apparently, the beginning of a not-so-beautiful friendship, as the two corresponded back and forth via BBM, with the opportunistic actress keen to shepherd a movie biopic of the drug lord. “He was interested in seeing the story of his life told on film, but would entrust its telling only to Kate,” wrote Penn.
Perhaps it wasn’t so odd a coupling after all. When she tweeted that Ode to Chapo, del Castillo had just wrapped La Reina del Sur, a 2011 telenovela for Telemundo. She starred as Teresa Mendoza, a 23-year-old who is forced to flee Mexico when her boyfriend, a rising star in El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel, is murdered. She finds refuge in Spain, where she becomes a big-time drug trafficker in her own right. With a price tag of $10 million, La Reina del Sur was both the most expensive telenovela in Telemundo history as well as the highest-rated, attracting 4.2 million total viewers.
Del Castillo also appeared in the 2006 film Bordertown opposite Jennifer Lopez, which centered on the many female homicides committed by the cartels in Ciudad Juarez, and played Pilar Zuazo, a shady Mexican politician and antagonist of the fifth season of Showtime’s Weeds. More recently, she appeared in three episodes of the CW’s critically-acclaimed series Jane the Virgin and starred in The 33, a recent movie starring Antonio Banderas that dramatized the 2010 Chilean mining disaster—this, in addition to hawking her own line of tequila, Tequila Honor del Castillo, which Penn mentions her bringing along to their meeting with El Chapo.
American audiences will become more familiar with the Mexico City-born del Castillo’s acting work later this year, when she’ll star as Irene Urzua, Mexico’s First Lady, in the Netflix series Ingobernable. The 20-episode series, directed by Jose Luis Garcia Agraz and Pedro Pablo “Pitipol” Ibarra, is scheduled to shoot early this year in Mexico, and will air in late 2016.
Del Castillo aligning herself with the 61-year-old drug lord, who was recently captured by Mexican authorities following his second prison escape, is more than a little bizarre given that in 2009, she was appointed Ambassador for the Mexican Commission on Human Rights, and later helped launch the Blue Heart Campaign that sought to fight human trafficking across the globe. In addition to trafficking drugs, El Chapo’s Sinoloa Cartel is an elaborate organized crime syndicate responsible for regular kidnappings and mass-murder.