Sean Penn Tells ’60 Minutes’ His El Chapo Story "Failed"

Sean Penn on '60 Minutes' with Charlie Rose.
Courtesy of CBS News

The actor called his controversial interview "experiential journalism."

Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn told 60 Minutes' Charlie Rose that one of the conditions for his access to drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera was that the fugitive known as "El Chapo" would have final say over his Rolling Stone piece. 

Penn admitted to Rose during an interview that aired Sunday night that he was in total disbelief that Guzman agreed to meet with him for a sit-down interview in October. 

“I was stunned that he would risk our trip. I was stunned,” Penn said, according to a transcript provided to The Hollywood Reporter by CBS News. 

Guzman had been on the run from Mexican authorities after escaping a maximum-security jail in July. Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo met with Guzman in his secure jungle compound.

Guzman was recently recaptured. Authorities credit Guzman's reaching out to filmmakers in attempt to make his story into a movie the main reason he was recaptured.  

Penn, who wrote in the Rolling Stone piece he spent eight hours with Guzman, called the controversial interview "experiential journalism."

"I don't have to be the one that reports on the alleged murders or the amount of narcotics that are brought in," said the actor. "I go and I spend time in the company of another human being, which everyone is. And I make an observation and try to parallel that, try to balance that with the focus that we — that I believe we — we tend to put too much emphasis on."

Penn then shot back at media members who criticized him and his journalism tactics: "I want to see the license that says they're a journalist."

Despite all of his work, the story would have been killed if Guzman did not like what he read, the actor said. 

"What was brokered for me to have the interview with El Chapo was that I would finish the article, send it to him, and if he said no, then that was no harm, no foul to any reader," said Penn. "It would never be printed."

Penn was recently blasted by one of Guzman's attorneys for writing that the drug lord openly boasted about his business and empire.

"It's a lie, absurd speculation from Mr. Penn," said attorney Juan Pablo Badillo. "In a way, yes, it does complicate [Guzman's defense]. Mr. Penn should be called to testify to respond about the stupidities he has said."

Penn said it was not a matter on whether he was hard enough on Guzman, but that he would not have changed anything had he been pushier.  

"I think the policy of the war on drugs, which so deeply affects all of our lives, seems not to change. It seems to be so unmovable," said Penn. "And it occurs to me that often, because we want to simplify the problem, we want to look at a black hat and put our resources into focusing on the bad guy, and I understand that. I absolutely understand justice and the rule of law."

The actor said his overall goal was to kick-start the conversation on the war on drugs. So far, it has not gone as well as he'd hoped, and his article "failed" in that regard, Penn told Rose. 

“We all want this drug problem to stop. And if you are in the moral right, or on the far left, just as many of your children are doing these drugs, just as many of your brothers and sisters, your mothers and fathers, the teachers at school, are doing these drugs. Just as many,” said Penn. “And how much time have they spent in the last week since this article came out, talking about that? One percent? I think that’d be generous.”

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