In Sean Penn’s star-powered, 10,000-word, gigante get for Rolling Stone about his clandestine huddle with Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, we learn that, with startling predictability, Guzmán was yielding to Hollywood’s siren call. And that receptivity didn’t just consist of his willingness to be interviewed by actor and activist Penn, either.

It was “the industry,” after all, that provided the impetus for Penn’s encounter with Guzmán. As the actor detailed in his sprawling article, Penn was ushered into the fugitive cartel leader’s inner circles, a couple months after Guzmán’s big-screen-ready jailbreak last summer, with help from Mexican actress Kate del Castillo (per Rolling Stone):

Two years later, in February 2014, a detachment of Mexican marines captured El Chapo in a Mazatlán hotel following a 13-year manhunt. The images of that arrest were flashed across the world’s televisions. While he was incarcerated at Altiplano prison, El Chapo’s attorneys were flooded with overtures from Hollywood studios. With his dramatic capture, and, perhaps, the illusion of safe dealings now that El Chapo was locked up, the gringos were scrambling to tell his story. The seed was planted, and El Chapo, awakened to the prospect, made plans of his own. He was interested in seeing the story of his life told on film, but would entrust its telling only to Kate. The same lawyer again tracked her down, this time through the Mexican equivalent of the Screen Actors Guild, and the imprisoned drug lord and the actress began to correspond in handwritten letters and BBM messages.

It was at a social event in Los Angeles when Kate met Espinoza. She learned he was well connected to financial sources, including those that funded film projects, and she proposed a partnership to make a film about El Chapo. This was when Espinoza included our mutual colleague and friend El Alto. I learned of their intention to make the film, but I did not know Kate or have any involvement with the project. The three of them met with El Chapo’s lawyer to explore their approach, but it was ultimately determined that direct access to El Chapo would still be too restricted for their authorized pursuit to rise above competitive “Chapo” projects that Hollywood would pursue with or without his participation.

The big reveal Saturday night of the Penn-Guzmán summit instantly became a media event in and of itself, and after the first wave of headlines, another bit of news came down the wires that simultaneously enhanced the meta-factor (e.g., Hollywood actor meets with wanted man on the lam, film projects are in play, plot twist ensues) and guaranteed this story will make it to the multiplex, even if its protagonist might not care for the next act.

In short, Penn’s involvement played some part in leading law enforcement officials to Guzmán, culminating in his arrest Friday. The Associated Press tweeted that piece of the evolving story later Saturday:

Rory Carroll of The Guardian delivered details and analysis on Sunday:

The image of Guzmán which ricocheted around the world – a shackled, dazed figure in a filthy T-shirt – may have suggested a spent force and a fall foretold. But, with a little bit of luck, Mexico’s most wanted man might once again have escaped into the wooded sierras of Sinaloa and continued to run a vast, underworld empire.

Had he done so, the world would be asking anew about Mexican state corruption and ineptitude. Instead it is asking if the fugitive’s desire to mould his image through an interview with the actor Sean Penn and a possible biopic was self-destructive hubris.

An impoverished orange seller who rose to infamy and fortune, a Houdini who made not one but two spectacular jail breaks, most recently last July, Guzmán certainly had a compelling story to tell.

Doing so may have helped betrayed his location. “He contacted actresses and producers, which was part of one line of investigation,” said Mexico’s attorney general, Arely Gómez. She did not mention names but Penn, along with fellow actor Kate del Castillo, who acted as the American’s translator, are the only film people known to have met Guzmán in recent months.

If confirmed it will be a rich irony: summoning Hollywood to tell his story only to trigger an ending he did not want – Argo in reverse.

Meanwhile, back in L.A., the pitches are flying fast.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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