During an interview with Sean Penn, broadcast January 17 on 60 Minutes, CBS news anchor, talk show host and reporter Charlie Rose grilled the actor about his meeting with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman at the drug lord’s hideout in Mexico. Penn’s controversial article about the notorious drug cartel leader appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine on January 9.
In a voice slightly tinged with envy, Rose asked Penn if he (the actor) was an adventurer with the off-hand journalistic approach of the late Hunter Thompson. Penn, whose journalistic ethics and integrity are in the hot seat, retorted he had agreed to appear on 60 minutes to clarify the purpose of the Rolling Stone article, lamenting the article was a failure. He also did not hesitate to voice his own criticisms about the media’s knowledge of the drug addiction crisis and the war on drugs. “The policy of the war on drugs seems not to change – to be unmovable,” Penn commented to Rose. Penn’s exchange with Rose was reported on January 18 in The Washington Post.
The content of Penn’s article, posted on the Rolling Stone website and written in the first person, reads like a novella monologue. It also has the makings of a future adaptation into an action/adventure movie script with rich pulp story overtones. But the actor’s fateful (and eventful) meeting with the Sinaloa drug cartel headman would not have happened without assistance from Kate del Castillo, a leading Mexican film and television actress who played a drug queen pin in a popular Mexican soap opera.
Penn and del Castillo did not know each other. But El Chapo and del Castillo had a love connection. The two had met on the match site, Tinder. The Tinder match struck a love chord in the heart of the coldly charismatic elusive drug lord. He was interested in publishing his biography and wanted the soap opera star to produce a biopic about him.
Del Castillo is the femme fatale that can usually be found only on the pages of film noir movie scripts. Alluring and resourceful with hints of a dark character, she is a self-proclaimed human rights advocate. In 2012, according to the Rolling Stone article, del Castillo exhorted El Chapo to start “trafficking with love.” In other words, he should use his acumen to court corrupt politicians instead of “women and children who end up as slaves.” She also expressed her contempt and distrust of the Mexican government, stating her trust would “go to El Chapo.” It was this admission that inspired El Chapo’s faith in her; she was the only one he would trust in the filming of his biography.
Penn had been following the exploits of the famed drug kingpin who became more of a legend when, with Houdini-like stealth, he escaped twice from his captors. Penn had conceived the idea of an article about El Chapo, which he pitched to Rolling Stone Magazine after the drug lord agreed to a meeting. Del Castillo was the key to El Chapo. Penn and del Castillo met through a mutual acquaintance.
The journey to El Chapo’s Sinaloa haven was treacherous. In the Rolling Stone article, Penn chronicles the travel ordeal in gut wrenching and spine chilling detail. During and after their stay with El Chapo, del Castillo was translator, helped Penn gather information, and came up with alternative ways to correspond with the drug lord whenever there was a communication obstacle.
If the story had a happy Hollywood ending, El Chapo would have made a final escape to the mountains, leaving Penn and del Castillo together. Things didn’t happen that way. Mexican authorities arrested El Chapo on January 8 following a battle with his security force. Del Castillo is under investigation in Mexico. International Business Times reported on January 19 that she has been subpoenaed. Penn is under investigation in connection with his interview with the cartel leader. Rolling Stone Magazine is also taking heat for allowing journalistic breaches. The U.S. is waiting for Mexico to extradite the man whom many Mexicans regard as a folk hero, even though publicly denounced as the most wanted criminal.