On Friday, the notorious Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was captured by Mexican authorities after six months on the lam. Many more details have emerged, but this is an end to a chapter of urban legends surrounding the Sinaloa cartel kingpin. A few months ago, El Chapo narrowly avoided recapture due to a pet monkey (of all things), but now it looks like his actual undoing arrived courtesy of a dark horse — Sean Penn.
Very recently, Penn conducted a secret interview with El Chapo in the mountains of Sinaloa. The piece was conducted by Rolling Stone and publicized by the New York Times for its groundbreaking nature. The meeting was brokered by prominent Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who accompanied Penn to meet El Chapo.
The setup of this interview is not quite as remarkable as the piece itself, but the motivations of both parties are notable. As it turns out (and as the New York Times reported slightly in advance), El Chapo had designs on Hollywood stardom. The drug lord desired a biopic for years and “got the movie ball rolling” shortly after his initial 2014 prison break. El Chapo hunted for producers and actresses to frame his life as a rags-to-riches story. He was dismayed when the project never took off. El Chapo went back to prison and made his famous tunnel escape in July 2015.
After six months, the meeting with Penn may have come in handy in a few ways. Did El Chapo meet with Penn as an attempt to further a thirst for global fame? The kingpin is reportedly worth a billion dollars, but that may not have been enough. El Chapo wanted stardom, which may have been his undoing. First, the Rolling Stone interview with Penn happened. Penn expressed slight apprehension at all the armory involved with his presence. Still, Penn was not deterred, and this part of the intro speaks to Penn’s excitement:
“I step from plane to earth, ever so slightly sobering my bearings, and move toward the beckoning waves of waiting drivers. I throw my satchel into the open back of one of the SUVs, and lumber over to the tree line to take a p*ss. D*ck in hand, I do consider it among my body parts vulnerable to the knives of irrational narco types, and take a fond last look, before tucking it back into my pants. With Kate translating, I begin to explain my intentions. I felt increasingly that I had arrived as a curiosity to him.
From there, El Chapo seems “to delight in the absurdity” of Penn assuring the kingpin that “many people in the United States know about him.” El Chapo, Penn, and Kate del Castillo visit for dinner until she retires for the evening. Then El Chapo and his men “are fast and furious into body armor, strapping long-barrel weapons and hip-clipped grenades.” Penn describes the move as a “Clark Kent-into-Superman extravaganza.” He also mentions his own “flatulence.”
Long after Penn’s departure, the interview happens by remote video, and El Chapo appears very polite and humble. Lots of “sirs” drop from his mouth. Here’s a smidgen of the interview:
Do you consider yourself a violent person?
Are you prone to violence, or do you use it as a last resort?
Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more. But do I start trouble? Never.