Kate del Castillo Shares Her Side of the Story About El Chapo and Sean Penn

Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI

The Mexican actress who connected Sean Penn and El Chapo remembers the story differently than Penn does.

Kate del Castillo opened up to The New Yorker about how she first became connected to drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera, known as El Chapo. In her version of the story, she said she was unaware Penn was working on an article with Rolling Stone until they met El Chapo for the first time, and interpreted his questions as interest in her movie project with El Chapo.

The Mexican actress told the magazine that one of El Chapo's lawyers contacted her about 2.5 years after she tweeted about El Chapo in 2012. Del Castillo said the lawyer asked her to come to Mexico to talk about El Chapo's interest in making a movie about his life. In September 2014, del Castillo flew to Mexico City to meet with some of El Chapo's lawyers, who said that their client had tried to send her flowers after her initial tweet about El Chapo, but they couldn't find her address.

Del Castillo said the lawyers told her el Chapo wanted to give her the rights to his life story. As she recounts it, they said, "Because you’re very brave. Because you’re outspoken. Because you always tell the truth, even when it’s about the government. Because you come from a great family. And because he’s a fan of yours from ‘La Reina del Sur.’" 

La Reina del Sur is a telenovela series on Telemundo starring del Castillo as a drug trafficker.

El Chapo wrote del Castillo a letter, saying, "With respect to the rights, I want it to be clear that you are the one that decides everything that is done, what you want and what you don’t want." He signed over his story rights to del Castillo on Jan. 9. 2015, for a project to be co-produced by Argentine producers Fernando Sulichin and Jose Ibanez.

Following El Chapo's prison break in July 2015, Sean Penn asked Sulichin to connect him with del Castillo. The two actors met for lunch in Santa Monica, where Penn asked if the two could meet up with El Chapo.

A few days later, del Castillo was in Mexico visiting a friend when she began messaging with El Chapo via a Blackberry given to her by his lawyers. El Chapo agreed to meet with del Castillo, Penn and the two producers.

When Penn and del Castillo made plans for their trip, the actress answered questions about how she had connected with El Chapo. Del Castillo told the New Yorker she thought Penn's interest in her story was because he was contemplating working on the film project with her. In fact, Penn was already in contact with Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner, and had told Wenner about his upcoming meeting with El Chapo.

This is when Penn and del Castillo's stories begin to differ. When the group of four met with El Chapo, Penn brought out a letter of assignment from Rolling Stone saying that he and the two producers were working on a story about El Chapo and he wanted del Castillo to translate their interview. Del Castillo says she did not know about the letter ahead of time, while Penn says he discussed it with her in advance.

“Kate was a valued partner in our journey, which was embarked upon with total transparency and full knowledge of our collective interests," Penn told The New Yorker. "From our first meeting, I discussed with her my intention to interview Joaquín Guzmán for an article in connection with the meeting that she facilitated. We discussed it again during the flight and the trip to Mexico with our partners.” Del Castillo said Penn's claim he discussed the article idea with her at their first meeting is  “total and complete bullshit."

The actress said she went forward with the interview because she thought "Maybe we can base the movie on this article." After their meeting, Penn contacted El Chapo again, via del Castillo, in an encrypted e-mail with 22 questions. Del Castillo sent the questions to El Chapo saying, "After this article, we’ll begin with the movie." El Chapo responded with a recording of himself answering some of Penn's questions.

By the time del Castillo met with Penn to look over his final draft, she said she had realized Penn was not interested in the movie project. She said she did not read the story in its entirety when Penn presented it to her, but once she eventually did she found issues with how Penn portrayed her, saying she felt he had made it seem like she had encouraged a courtship with El Chapo prior to a conversation about a movie project. She also disagreed that the group went through a military checkpoint on the way to their meeting with the drug lord.

El Chapo was captured in January and Mexican officials said this was in part due to his interactions with people who did not have anything to do with his drug business. Del Castillo told The New Yorker when she heard the government was opening up a new line of investigation into his interactions with her, Penn and the producers, she "wanted to die." The Mexican government is currently investigating del Castillo for possible money laundering in connection with her interactions with El Chapo. Del Castillo said Penn had urged her early on in the process to hire a criminal-defense attorney and she has a team now.

Del Castillo still plans to follow through on the movie project with El Chapo.

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