Partner claims Sean Penn never said he was writing El Chapo story for Rolling Stone

It sounds like a story perfect for a telenovela starring Mexican actress Kate del Castillo.

But she swears that she didn't know Sean Penn was writing a story for Rolling Stone when they secretly met Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known known as El Chapo, the leader of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel.

del Castillo tells reporter Robert Draper exactly that in a New Yorker profile of the actress, "The Go-Between," that's largely about the origins and execution of the meeting with the subsequently recaptured drug lord.

For the actress, the ulterior motive was clear: some sort of partnership with the drug lord in a film project. For Penn, the self-interest would also seem to have been obvious, given his subsequent, controversial tale, "El Chapo Speaks," that raised questions about his modus operandi as a self-styled journalist.

The Draper piece, which will be in the print edition out Monday but went online Friday, states that when Penn and del Castillo covertly met the then-escaped and much-sought drug lord over tacos and tequila, Penn asked her to translate for him. He then said "he was there to write a story for Rolling Stone, and that he would like to do a series of interviews with the drug trafficker."

Del Castillo told Draper "that she was taken aback." She claims to have had no clue.

Penn later said in a statement, “Kate was a valued partner in our journey, which was embarked upon with total transparency and full knowledge of our collective interests. From our first meeting, I discussed with her my intention to interview Joaquín Guzmán for an article in connection with the meeting that she facilitated. We discussed it again during the flight and the trip to Mexico with our partners.” Others involved in the meeting told Draper that they "believed" Penn had broached it to her.

But "Del Castillo says that Penn’s claim that he told her about his idea for an article at their first meeting is 'total and complete bullshit,' and that his mention of the story to El Chapo was the first she had heard of it."

It also appears that she sought to pivot quickly and make potential virtue out of necessity, or at least out of a belated revelation.

“'This was not how I was expecting the night to be,' she told me," writes Draper. “'But at the moment I thought, Maybe we can base the movie on this article.'”

Del Castillo claims that El Chapo was curious about how much the American public knew about him. Penn said he wanted to hang with him for two days. The drug kingpin said no way but suggested a possible meeting later.

"Penn said that he would be happy to do so," Draper wrote. "He also offered to give their host final approval of the story."

That decision has gotten previous notice. As Rolling Stone Publisher Jann Wenner told The New York Times, “It was a small thing to do in exchange for what we got.”

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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