Actress involved in Sean Penn-'El Chapo' meeting is known for social activism

Mexican film and TV actress Kate del Castillo has long been a household name in her home country, known for playing tough female roles and speaking out on social issues.

She also has openly expressed admiration for drug kingpins — she played one in her most famous role — and once urged Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to use his power and ill-gotten gains for good.

That plea apparently led to communication between Del Castillo and Guzman's representatives, and ultimately to a meeting between the fugitive drug lord and actor Sean Penn. Those contacts, Mexican authorities say, helped advance the investigation that ultimately led to Guzman's capture in a shootout Friday in the seaside town of Los Mochis, in his native state of Sinaloa.

Born in Mexico City in 1972, Del Castillo is the daughter of a famous Mexican matinee idol, Eric del Castillo, and she first started acting as a child alongside him. Like many of her Mexican admirers, she grew up steeped in the narco culture so ubiquitous in Mexican society.

Kate del Castillo came to fame in the early 1990s on the TV soap opera “Muchachitas,” produced by Televisa. She played Leticia, a young middle-class woman pursuing fame through acting and singing with three of her friends in an arts academy.

But she is perhaps best known for her portrayal of drug boss Teresa Mendoza in the 2011 telenovela “La Reina del Sur” (“The Queen of the South”), produced by Telemundo and broadcast in the U.S. The drama was based on the novel of the same name by Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte.

In the show, Del Castillo's character starts off as the girlfriend of a rising star in the Sinaloa cartel. He is killed by the cartel’s fictional leader (in real life, Guzman is the head of the cartel).

The killing of her boyfriend prompts her to flee to Spain, where she eventually toughens up and becomes one of the most powerful drug bosses in the southern region of the country.

The Spanish-language soap sometimes beat English-language network ratings in the United States, and its final episode — broadcast May 30, 2011 — attracted 4.2 million viewers.

That year, Del Castillo appeared on the cover of People En Espanol’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue, and the magazine ranked her as one of the 25 most powerful women.

Del Castillo also played another forceful role: In Season 5 of “Weeds,” she portrayed Pilar Zuazo, who threatens to kill the family of Nancy Botwin, the lead character played by Mary-Louise Parker. That prompts Botwin’s son Shane to put an end to her by taking a croquet mallet to her head, leaving her floating facedown in a swimming pool.

The actress received recognition for her role in director Patricia Riggen’s heartfelt 2007 movie about immigration, “Under the Same Moon.” She played Rosario, a mother who crosses the border illegally into the United States, leaving her young son, Carlitos, behind with his grandmother. Carlitos eventually travels to the U.S. with the help of smugglers in search of his mother.

Del Castillo has been outspoken about a number of social issues, and in 2009, she was appointed ambassador for the Mexican Commission on Human Rights. She played the character Laura in the movie “Trade,” starring Kevin Kline, which follows the fate of a 13-year-old girl kidnapped by sex traffickers in Mexico City. After that, she helped launch the Blue Heart campaign to generate awareness and help combat human trafficking.

At the time, Del Castillo told Fox News Latino: “People-trafficking affects all of us. There is no doubt about it. It is harming our society every day and will continue to do so as long as we all do not work together to raise awareness, inform and protect the most vulnerable people in Mexico: children, young people and women.”

And she has long been open about her admiration for some of the drug bosses who ran things in her country — most specifically, “El Chapo” Guzman.

She sent him a public letter in January 2012 via her Twitter account — which has 2.5 million followers — imploring him “to traffic for good,” adding that she “believes more in Chapo Guzman than in governments that hide the truth, however painful those truths may be, who hide the cure for cancer and AIDS etc for their own benefit and enrichment.”

Del Castillo goes on to implore Guzman to help feed children living on the streets and provide old people passing their last years in institutions with the alcohol they might want to get them through to the end. After that letter, Guzman’s representatives reached out to the actress.

According to the newspaper El Universal, Guzman or his representatives asked Del Castillo to try to stop the release of a film by a Mexican production company, “El Chapo: The Escape of the Century.” It isn’t clear whether she tried, but if so, she wasn’t successful: The film is reportedly scheduled for release in Mexico on Friday.

It probably came as no surprise to Mexican authorities that Del Castillo turned out to be the broker of a meeting between Guzman and Penn for an interview published Saturday night in Rolling Stone magazine. The actress says she has received “private intimidations” for her public views from “high-ranking officials” in Mexico, and no doubt her declarations put her on their watch list.

Although there are conflicting reports, it appears possible that liaisons between Del Castillo and Guzman’s lawyers may have helped lead Mexican authorities to the drug lord, who had been on the lam since July 11, when he carried out a spectacular escape from the high-security Altiplano prison.

Neither Del Castillo nor her representatives could be reached for comment Sunday.

Bonello is a special correspondent.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

6:37 p.m.: This article has been updated with El Universal's report on a movie about El Chapo and to reflect that Del Castillo was not available for comment.

It was first published at 11:27 a.m.

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