Kate del Castillo Describes Her and Sean Penn's Meeting With 'El Chapo'

She also talks about Sean Penn's Rolling Stone magazine article.

ByABC News
March 19, 2016, 6:39 PM

— -- Mexican actress Kate del Castillo became a television superstar after she played Teresa Mendoza, an ordinary woman who transforms into a fearless drug kingpin in the telenovela, "La Reina del Sur" ("The Queen of the South").

But she never expected to become entangled in that world in real life, and especially not with the biggest drug kingpin in history, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Guzman had been the object of the biggest manhunt since Osama bin Laden when he escaped from prison in July 2015. The fact that del Castillo and Hollywood actor Sean Penn were able to connect with and meet Guzman while he was on the lam created an international furor.

Del Castillo sat down with ABC News’s Diane Sawyer at her home in Los Angeles -- she is now an American citizen -- to share what she said is the truth about how she met the drug lord. She spoke about her struggles with Mexican authorities and the media since their meeting.

"I am an honorable woman. My family is honorable, and this does not define who I am," del Castillo told Sawyer. "I'm just an actor that wanted a great story. Yes, selfish probably, but a great story that will help us understand the organized crime. That was it."

When asked if she thought it had been crazy or naïve to meet with a powerful drug kingpin, del Castillo said, "It was naïve, for sure.”

PHOTO: Diane Sawyer interviews actress Kate del Castillo on the ‘El Chapo’ controversy.
Diane Sawyer interviews actress Kate del Castillo on the ‘El Chapo’ controversy.

Del Castillo said Guzman’s lawyers first got in touch with her in summer 2014 and she flew to Mexico City to meet with them in June 2015. At the time, Guzman was still in a federal prison in Mexico.

"And they say, 'Well, Señor Guzmán wants you to do a movie about him. He wants to give you the rights of his life,' and I was, 'Why me? Why me?'" del Castillo said. "And they say, 'Well, because he is a fan of yours. He loved your character. He loved your character in 'La Reina del Sur.' But he loves your family. He knows your family are honorable family, and you tell the truth. You're brave."

She said she told the lawyers she would handle financing the film and refused to accept any money from them for the project.

"Not a penny from him," del Castillo said. "They asked me, and so, 'Do we have to put money? Are we charging for the—' and I'm like, 'No! Not-- no. No. Nothing.'"

Then, on July 11, 2015, Guzman made a daring escape from Mexico's most secure prison. The floor of his cell's shower opened to a masterfully built mile-long tunnel, complete with a motorcycle on rails.

Del Castillo insists that she had no idea Guzman was planning an escape and worried about what it meant for her film project.

"I said, 'Oh my God, my copyright just vanished,'" she said.

By now, del Castillo said she had two movie producers join her for the Guzman movie project. She said one of the producers told her Guzman's escape would actually make their story even better.

The two producers were also friends with actor Sean Penn. Del Castillo said Penn wanted to meet with her and she says she thought it was to join the movie project.

Del Castillo agreed to bring Penn on because she told Sawyer she thought "this big Hollywood actor will give me more credibility" for the movie.

In October 2015, del Castillo, Sean Penn and the two movie producers boarded a plane for Mexico. What del Castillo said she didn't know at the time was that the Mexican government had them under surveillance.

"If I knew I was being followed, I would've never gone down there,” she said. “Because it's a lot of risk. Not only my life, but everybody's life."

When they finally arrived at Guzman’s hideout in the mountains, del Castillo said it was so dark outside that she couldn't immediately tell that the drug kingpin was the one who opened her car door to greet her.

"And he said, 'Amiga,' and that how I knew it was him, because he called 'Amiga' … and I was like, 'Oh, My God,' she said. "My heart started pounding. I couldn't believe that we were there."

"He kissed me on the cheek and embraced me," she continued. "We all do that in Mexico. That's the way we say hello."

As she looked at the drug lord for the first time, she said she was struck by his appearance.

"He's actually taller than I thought, because they call him 'Chapo' for 'Shorty,'" she said. "His eyes just penetrate you like a dagger… they're just like mesmerizing in a way that you cannot just turn around, and but scary.”

Del Castillo said they walked to a clearing and sat down at a huge table filled with food. They talked for the next several hours. Del Castillo said Guzman did not discuss the details of his business but talked about his family, protecting his sons, and his mother and how he wanted del Castillo to meet her.

When asked if Guzman said, "I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world," as Sean Penn noted in his Rolling Stone magazine article about the meeting, del Castillo said, "Yes, but he still loves his kids, and he still loves his mom so there's something-- love inside there somewhere."

Throughout the meeting, Penn relied on del Castillo to translate for him, and during dinner, she said Penn suddenly brought up the fact that he was doing an interview with Guzman for Rolling Stone. Del Castillo said Penn had never mentioned a Rolling Stone article to her before bringing it up in front of the drug lord, though Penn and the producers told ABC News in a statement that del Castillo knew about the article ahead of time.

But when Penn asked del Castillo to tell Guzman about his article, del Castillo told Sawyer she was afraid to look alarmed because she didn't want Guzman to think she was uncomfortable, fearing what could happen to Penn.

"I was just like, 'Okay. This is new for me,'" she said. "But I'm thinking-- I'm scrambling inside of me like, 'Okay. Okay. Okay.' … I wanted to grab Sean and put him aside. And ask him, 'Excuse me. Why didn't you tell me this?' … it's like there was no way I was going to do that."

Next, del Castillo said Penn asked for a photo with Guzman by himself. They took another photo with the three of them together. She said Guzman and his sons drank the bottle of her tequila -- Tequila Honor del Castillo -- that she had brought Guzman at his request.

Hours into the dinner, del Castillo said the drug lord said to her, "I think you have to go to bed."

"I said, 'Yes, I think it's time,'" del Castillo said. "I was not drunk. But I was not in my entire five senses."

She said Guzman walked her to the room where she would spend the night and for a few moments she was alone with the most wanted man on Earth.

"It was the only time that we were alone," she said. "That was really scary… when we turned around and we were alone out of anybody's sight, I was waiting for him to make a move or just to grab me probably in a different way."

Woozy and terrified, she said at one point Guzman gently put his hand on her elbow to steady her.

"Just in the way that he grabbed my arm, when we were totally out of sight from anybody else, I knew he was not going to try to make a move or something that would harm me," she said.

"I actually got the guts to tell him. I said, 'This is now or never and if I don't say it right now, I might not have another opportunity. And if I say it, this might be my last words.' So I ask him. I said, 'Amigo,' while we were walking, 'Amigo, just don't forget what I said on my tweet originally. You're a powerful man. You can do something good.'"

She claims she went on to tell him that she wanted him to find a way to acknowledge the victims of organized crime.

"I was literally dying inside," she said. "And I thought, you know, I said if he gets mad, if I don't know what I'm going to do...I thought I was going to faint. But I didn't took my eyes off of him and he didn't took his eyes off of mine… and he said, 'That's good, amiga. You have a great heart. Do it.'"

"And he said, 'I'm not staying here. You won't see me tomorrow. I never stay where my guests are for their security and mine, as well. So you won't see me again. Thank you so much for giving me one of the best days. Thank you.' And then when we said goodbye, he hugged me and he gave me a kiss," she said.

Del Castillo said she went into the room where all four guests had beds to lay down, but about an hour later, she said the lawyer came in and told her to get up. There was a storm coming, and the threat of being discovered, so del Castillo, Penn and the two movie producers rushed to get out.

Eventually, a package arrived with a cell phone in it. On the cell phone, she found a video from Guzman answering questions she had sent him on behalf of Sean Penn. His first words on camera were, "This is for Kate del Castillo." On the video, Guzman answered one question saying in Spanish that drug trafficking was necessary for Mexico's economic survival and that his violence is self-defense.

Seeing it, del Castillo said she had an emotional reaction.

"I was moved by him doing this for me," she said. "And then sending it to me and all the risks that, you know-- it's just crazy. We've never seen a video of him."

In January, three months after del Castillo's secret visit, Mexican troops re-captured Guzman. Then del Castillo said the Mexican government began implicating her, saying the ability to track her trip was a contributing factor to Guzman's capture. Del Castillo denied that she in any way helped Mexican authorities capture Guzman.

"I'm not a law enforcement agent or I don't work in the government, so I cannot-- you know, betray someone like that. Plus, it would be stupid. I mean, it's my life at risk and my family," she said. "I wanted to die. I was very afraid."

PHOTO: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is made to face the press as he is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016.
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is made to face the press as he is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines at a federal hangar in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto announced that Guzman had been recaptured six months after escaping from a maximum security prison.

Del Castillo said her troubles have only been made worse since Sean Penn's article appeared in Rolling Stone the day after Guzman's capture.

She said she didn't approve the final version, especially one inflammatory passage where Penn described stopping at a military checkpoint on the way to meet Guzman, but then being waved through once the soldiers recognized Guzman’s son behind the wheel. Del Castillo said that never happened, and it's an issue because if it had been true, it would have been humiliating for the Mexican government. In a statement to ABC News, Penn maintains the checkpoint incident did happen.

Also in the article, Penn referred to himself as a journalist and called del Castillo "our ticket to Guzman's trust."

"He got it right in that way, because he wouldn't be there if it was not for me," said del Castillo.

"I think he was never interested in the movie," she continued. "I'm angry at myself because I believe in people. And I didn't know Sean Penn."

But she and Guzman are still in touch, "through our lawyers," she said, and she added that he agreed to go forward with the movie project. Guzman is being held in the same Mexican prison he escaped from last year.

When asked if she felt sorry for him, del Castillo said “no, I think he's a big guy. I think he knows what he's doing. And I think he knows what's his choosing this life is like."

As for herself after this whole experience, she said, "I'm going to become stronger."

"My adrenaline, my being brave has to be a little more thoughtful," del Castillo said. "But fear... it's a bad word."