Kate del Castillo: Meet the Star Playing a Big Part in El Chapo’s Real-Life Drama

Telenovela actress' next role in Netflix drama called into question

Kate del Castillo El Chapo Sean Penn
Picture Perfect/REX/Shutterstock

Mexican actress Kate del Castillo is suddenly starring in a real-life telenovela as details surface about her role in orchestrating the October meeting between Sean Penn and the then-fugitive Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Guzman was recaptured by Mexican authorities on Friday after escaping federal prison in July through a tunnel dug from his cell. Del Castillo and Penn are under investigation by Mexican authorities, who indicated that their visit to Guzman helped them capture one of the world’s most-wanted men.

Penn’s story in Rolling Stone makes it clear that del Castillo was the key instigator of the meeting thanks to Guzman’s appreciation for the 43-year-old telenovela star. Del Castillo came into contact with El Chapo after after declaring polemically on social media in 2012 that “today I believe more in Chapo Guzman than in governments.” She called on him to become a kind of Robin Hood in Mexico: “You would become a hero of heroes. Let’s traffic in love, you know how.”

Del Castillo, who is said to split her time between homes in Los Angeles and Mexico City, has been aggressively pursuing biopic rights to Guzman’s life story with the intent of producing the movie herself — as evidenced by the “All rights reserved, Kate del Castillo Productions. Copyright 2016” tag on the two-minute video of Guzman that Rolling Stone posted with Penn’s story. The actress is repped by CAA.

The life-imitates-art aspects of del Castillo’s association with Guzman are considerable. Del Castillo scored a massive hit for NBCUniversal’s Telemundo network in 2011 in “La Reina del Sur” (Queen of the South), in which she played the ruthless leader of a drug cartel in Spain. She also played a drug trafficker in the 2012 Telemundo novela “Duenos del Paraiso” (Masters of Paradise) set in 1970s Miami. In 2009, she played a Mexican crime boss in the fifth season of Showtime’s “Weeds.”

A rep for del Castillo said on Sunday that her camp had no comment on the El Chapo saga.

At present, del Castillo is set to star in Netflix’s Spanish-language series “Ingobernable,” playing the wife of the president of Mexico. Netflix confirmed the show was still on schedule to shoot this year but they had no other comment regarding del Castillo.

Netflix gave the series a 20-episode order in July. “Ingobernable” hails from Mexico’s Argos Comunicacion and was believed to be scheduled to begin shooting in Mexico in the near future, directed by José Luis García Agraz and Pedro Pablo Ibarra. That plan could be complicated if del Castillo winds up facing legal problems in Mexico.

“La Reina del Sur” was such a smash for Telemundo that the channel broke ground for the industry by mounting an Emmy nomination campaign for del Castillo. Telemundo’s NBCU sibling USA Network has an English-language rendition of “Queen of the South” starring Alice Braga on tap to premiere this year.

Those who have worked with del Castillo say she is a formidable woman — a talented actress but also a big personality with charisma to spare. She’s one of Latin America’s biggest stars and thus her personal life plays out on the public stage. She was married to soccer star Luis Garcia from 2001 to 2004 and to actor Aaron Diaz from 2009 to 2011. She was named one of People en Espanol’s “50 Most Beautiful People” in 2007. She has a massive social media audience including more than 2.5 million Twitter followers, though she has remained silent since the news of her visit to El Chapo broke on Saturday.

Del Castillo has been vocal about her decision to focus on her career, take controversial stands on issues and her willingness to buck conventional roles for woman. She’s also been active with humanitarian causes and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among other groups.

“I’ve never wanted to be a mom,” del Castillo told People en Espanol earlier this year. “I don’t know if one day I will want to be, but if I would have wanted to be, I would have been one a long time ago. I’m not scared of marriage, but I don’t believe in the institution. To love someone, you don’t have to sign a paper. It’s something man created for profit, to create problems and fears.”

Born in Mexico City, del Castillo is the daughter of well-known Mexican actor Eric del Castillo. She began acting as a youth but didn’t hit big until her role in the 1991 Televisa novela “Muchachitas.” She gained fame by touring Latin America and other regions with the play “Love Letters.”

More recently, the actress is said to have focused on boosting her profile in English-language TV. She’s been a recurring guest star this season on CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” She’s also had guest shots on NBC’s “Grimm” and CBS’ “CSI: Miami.” Her English-lingo movie appearances including the 2007 Sundance film festival favorite “Under the Same Moon” and Gregory Nava’s 2006 drama “Bordertown” and the 2014 thriller “No Good Deed.” She also was part of the voice cast for the 2011 animated film “Rio” and 2014’s “The Book of Life.”

Del Castillo has not been shy about criticizing the Mexican government for what she sees as its shortcomings in improving living conditions for the poor. She’s also been active with humanitarian orgs on the issue of human trafficking and with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, among other groups.

As the details of her clandestine trek with Penn emerged, the actress was quick to face criticism in Mexico for associating herself with Guzman.

Mexico’s El Universal newspaper opined on Saturday that del Castillo became “a kind of public-relations for Joaquin El Chapo Guzman and the head of the film project about the most wanted narco in Mexico.”

Del Castillo’s efforts to mount the film project have also drawn scrutiny. Mexico’s Attorney General identified her as the producer of an autobiographical film that Guzman wanted to make on his life. And authorities claim that it was her trip with Penn to meet Guzman — an elaborate cloak and dagger caper as detailed in Penn’s story — that helped lead authorities to their target.

Guzman’s lawyers contacted del Castillo in 2014, according to El Universal. Del Castillo went as far as to reach out to an unidentified Argentine director to write a screenplay.

The newspaper also reported that Guzman’s lawyers also reached out to the actress to ask her to attempt to stop the release of a Mexican film, “El Chapo: El Escape del Siglo” (El Chapo: The Escape of the Century) which bows in Mexico Jan. 15 on 300 screens. Directed by Axel Uriegas, the movie anticipates El Chapo’s recapture.

Guzman’s outreach to del Castillo and Penn recalls a similar scenario a century ago when legendary Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa turned to Hollywood producer D.W. Griffith and Mutual Film Co. Villa negotiated a deal for his life rights to help fund his guerrilla army, complete with a promise to film battles in the uprising as they happened.

The end result was the 1914 drama “The Life of General Villa,” which also featured future director Raoul Walsh playing Villa in his younger days. The story of Villa’s Hollywood moment was recounted in the 2003 HBO telepic “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself,” which starred Antonio Banderas.