What we learned from Sean Penn’s Rolling Stone interview with El Chapo

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor
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US actor Sean Penn wrote that the 58-year-old Guzman gave him a big hug when they met at a Mexican jungle clearing and had a seven-hour sitdown followed by phone and video interviews

US actor Sean Penn wrote that the 58-year-old Guzman gave him a big hug when they met at a Mexican jungle clearing and had a seven-hour sitdown followed by phone and video interviews (AFP Photo/Eric Feferberg)

Actor Sean Penn secretly interviewed Joaquín “El Chapo Guzmán for a Rolling Stone article as the world's most notorious drug kingpin was on the run from Mexican authorities three months after escaping a maximum security prison. Penn’s 10,000-word piece was published online Saturday, a day after El Chapo was recaptured in Mexico following a six-month international manhunt.

Here are six things we learned from Penn’s visit with El Chapo.

• El Chapo is well-aware he’s the world’s No. 1 supplier of drugs.

“I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world,” he told Penn. “I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.

• El Chapo doesn’t think he’s at all to blame for the global epidemic of drug addiction.

“Because drug trafficking does not depend on just one person. It depends on a lot of people, he told Penn. “If there was no consumption, there would be no sales. It is true that consumption, day after day, becomes bigger and bigger. So it sells and sells.”

Penn tends to agree.

“Are we, the American public, not indeed complicit in what we demonize?” Penn writes. “We are the consumers, and as such, we are complicit in every murder, and in every corruption of an institution’s ability to protect the quality of life for citizens of Mexico and the United States that comes as a result of our insatiable appetite for illicit narcotics.

• El Chapo doesn’t consider himself a violent person.

“Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more, he told Penn. But do I start trouble? Never.

Again, Penn tends to agree.

“Unlike many of his counterparts who engage in gratuitous kidnapping and murder, El Chapo is a businessman first, Penn writes, “and only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests.

•  El Chapo says he doesn’t use drugs — and hasn’t for decades.

“Many years ago, yes, I did try them, he tells Penn. “But an addict? No ... I haven’t done any drugs in the last 20 years.

“I don’t usually drink, El Chapo told Penn at their initial meeting, “but I want to drink with you.

The pair drank tequila together before Guzman agreed to Penn’s formal interview.

• Penn wasn’t paid by Rolling Stone.

“When I do journalism,” Penn writes, “I take no payment.

• El Chapo approved the article before it was published.

Penn pitched the idea to Rolling Stone. Kate del Castillo, a Mexican actress who had been “intermittently receiving contact from Chapo even after the escape, brokered the meeting, which was conducted in an undisclosed location in the Mexican jungle on Oct. 2. And according to the editor’s note, the article had to be submitted for El Chapo’s approval before publication. According to the magazine, the drug lord “did not ask for any changes.”



A Mexican law enforcement official told the Associated Press that Penn’s meeting helped lead them to Guzmán. But according to Agence France-Presse, Mexican authorities still want to question Penn and del Castillo about their interview.

Back in the United States, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough called Guzmán’s boasts about global drug monopoly maddening but declined to comment on possible repercussions for Penn.

“One thing I will tell you is that this braggadocious action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including the United States, is maddening, McDonough said on CNN’s State of the Union.

On ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he found Penn’s interview “grotesque but not a violation of law.



“If one of these American actors who have benefited from the greatness of this country, who have made money from our free enterprise system, want to go fawn all over a criminal and a drug trafficker in their interviews, they have a constitutional right to do it, Rubio said. I find it grotesque.

Online, the reaction to Penn’s piece united often-partisan users in their mockery of the 55-year-old actor — and disdain for Rolling Stone's decision to publish it.