Perhaps more shocking than Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s third arrest on Jan 8 was the fact that Sean Penn had interviewed the drug lord months prior to his arrest.
El Chapo dodged the Mexican military as well as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to meet the Hollywood actor in a secret jungle hideout – reportedly in Mexico – and provided, for the first time ever, the details of his long drug-running career which have now been published in Rolling Stone.
But the meeting would not have been possible, Penn claims in his article, without the help of one woman named Kate del Castillo.
A 43-year-old Mexican and American actress, de Castillo is famous for her portrayals of powerful crime lords on television. Her relationship with El Chapo, however, began four years ago with a tweet.
"Today I believe more in El Chapo Guzman than in the governments that hide the truth from me even though it is painful," del Castillo reportedly said in a post linked to her Spanish-language Twitter account in 2012. She added the Mexican cartel kingpin should harness his influence for the good of Mexico.
While the tweet, understandably, prompted angry backlash against the actress, El Chapo sent flowers to de Castillo for her views, though the bouquet, it is said, never reached her. After that, both of them started contacting each other via BlackBerry text messaging service and even hand-written letters. At one point, they even discussed the possibility of making a biographical motion picture.
“It perhaps should have come as no surprise that this homegrown icon of entertainment would catch the interest of a singular fan and fugitive from Sinaloa,” Penn writes in his article.
Last year, however, de Castillo retracted her admiration for El Chapo on television, saying her tweet was more a criticism of the Mexican government.
"At least with El Chapo, we know who he is," she told CNN Español. "We know what he does. What's his business. The government is many times just as criminal but we're blind to it and it's hidden."
A mutual friend introduced Penn to de Castillo which then led to the secret interview with the world’s most wanted drug trafficker in October.
The actress posted the following photo with Penn on her Instagram account on Oct. 3 – presumably the day after they met El Chapo at an undisclosed location in Mexico.
Apart from acting, de Castillo is also known for her human and animal rights activism. As per People.com, “In 2009, del Castillo was appointed Ambassador for the Mexican Commission on Human Rights and the following year she helped launch the Blue Heart campaign in order to raise awareness and fight human trafficking.”
In 2012, she starred in a PETA ad, urging fans to “fiercely protect your animals.”
As of yet, de Castillo - who currently lives in Los Angeles and has US citizenship - hasn’t spoken out about her role in getting Penn the now-controversial Rolling Stone interview. But considering how she is usually vocal about her opinions in public, she will soon address the issue.