There’s fame, and infamy, and Kate del Castillo has survived both.
The Mexican-born actress shot to Latin-American superstardom with the 2011 telenovela “La Reina del Sur” (“Queen of the South”). Her portrayal of a sexy, tequila-swilling drug trafficker earned her countless fans, including notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, who contacted her to discuss a movie deal. Del Castillo brought along Sean Penn and met Guzmán in 2015. Shortly after, authorities apprehended him, and he was convicted earlier this year in the United States for drug trafficking and other charges. Del Castillo was investigated for possible money laundering and was unable to return to Mexico for three years though, ultimately, no charges were ever filed against her.
Fans can now see her making her English-speaking stage debut in Off-Broadway’s “the way she spoke, by Isaac Gomez, opening at the Minetta Lane Theatre on July 18 and running through Aug. 18.
Directed by Jo Bonney, the one-woman-show illuminates the plight of Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican border town where thousands of women have been murdered — an epidemic that continues. The play is based on interviews the playwright conducted with real women from the region.
Del Castillo, 46, now calls Los Angeles home. She recently starred in a “Reina” reboot this spring. She spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
The storyline here follows an actress reading a play about Juarez and becoming engrossed in this world. What was reading the play like for you?
Kind of the same. I knew about (these crimes) but details are always devastating. In the play, it says, “Once you know, you can’t un-know.” That’s what happened to me. I thought, I need to do something. That’s why I took this job.
You have a word for the homicide of women in Spanish—feminicidio.
We don’t really have a word in English for that.
What do you mean? “Feminicide”— it doesn’t exist?
Well, technically, but nobody uses it. Which is telling—it’s the kind of crime people often ignore.
Wow. That’s crazy.
In the script, the playwright insists your character, a Mexican actress, be played by a Mexican. “Not Puerto Rican, not Colombian, not Cuban…,” he writes. Why is that so important?
For Mexicans, it’s so close to us, to our hearts, we know who these women are…. (Also) it’s very different for us to come here. People ask, “Are you Brazilian? Are you Argentinian?” No, I’m Mexican. Sometimes Americans don’t care — well, it’s that they don’t know the difference. Now…I cannot tell the difference of someone from Wisconsin and someone from Los Angeles — those (different) accents, But these are not just different accents, these are different countries.
Fair point. Is it harder to memorize lines in English compared to your native Spanish?
My brain is going crazy. I mean, I’ve done movies and TV shows in English…
But this has much more dialogue.
You have no idea. So I’m using my head more than before…and I think that’s a good thing.
I’ve read about your meeting with El Chapo, and the turmoil after — you called the money-laundering investigations “unjustified,” basically revenge by embarrassed officials because you found El Chapo before they did. Do you wish you’d never met him?
No, Joe, I’d do it again. It’s something that’ll stay with me forever. It was an opportunity and I took it. Sometimes we’re so focused on goals in life that we don’t see opportunities…. I grew up so much as a woman. So, no, I’d do it again.
No. Well, I wish I wouldn’t have took, uh, Sean Penn. (Her Netflix documentary, “The Day I Met El Chapo,” suggests Penn gave information to authorities that led to El Chapo’s capture and inadvertently made her the focus of several investigations, damaging her reputation. Penn has denied this.) I don’t know. I take responsibility for the options I took. But I cannot be responsible for the circumstances beyond my own knowledge.
Let’s lighten up — I love Mexican food.
Ohhh! I miss (it). Here in New York, it’s all Tex-Mex, it’s not the best.
Yeah. But I love a food truck parked on the corner of 96th Street and Broadway, called Super Tacos. They have dishes I’d never tried, like “tlacoyo.”
Ah, sí, I love tlacoyo.
Sí…Gorditas. (She chuckles.) I love that you know how to say that.
What do you miss from Mexico — maybe something your mother makes?
She does the BEST pozole (hominy stew)…. And fideo seco. That’s like a dry ramen noodle, with chipotle (peppers) and crema —Mexican cream, which is like sour cream but slightly different — and queso fresco (shredded Mexican cheese) on top. My mother is amaaaazing at that. It makes you very, very happy. And it’s not THAT spicy. It’s just a good spicy.