El Chapo Wanted to Know How Much Sean Penn Was Being Paid for Rolling Stone Interview

By Chris Ariens 

He had no recording devices, not even a pen and paper. So Sean Penn‘s interview with the most wanted man in the world, conducted in a Mexican jungle last October, and turned into a 10,000-word article for Rolling Stone, was done by memory–and that was after some tequila.

In the first-person account, Penn writes about how–if the interview were to happen–where would it end up: “I called Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone,” Penn writes. He and two friends got the assignment and would join forces with Mexican actress, Kate del Castillo, who played a drug kingpin herself in the 2013-14 Telemundo telenovella La Reina del Sur.

del Castillo had established a relationship with El Chapo and would organize the interview. Rolling Stone is quick to note that “an understanding was brokered” with El Chapo that he would be able to approve it before publication, which happened earlier tonight online.


“With a letter from Jann officiating it, we would join Kate, who was our ticket to El Chapo’s trust, then put ourselves in the hands of representatives of the Sinaloa cartel to coordinate our journey,” Penn writes.

You can read about the exhaustive lengths the team had to go through, as well as what it took to get a crucial follow-up interview, but here, we’ll highlight some of the details interesting to TVNewser readers:

He asks me if many people in the United States know about him. “Oh, yeah,” I say, and inform him that the night before leaving for Mexico, I had seen that the Fusion Channel was repeating its special-edition Chasing El Chapo. He seems to delight in the absurdity of this, and as he and his cohorts share a chuckle, I look to the sky and wonder how funny it would be if there were a weaponized drone above us.

“How much money will you make writing this article?” he asks. I answer that when I do journalism, I take no payment. I could see that, to him, the idea of doing any kind of work without payment is a fool’s game.

I am reminded of press accounts alleging a hundred-million-dollar bounty the man across from me is said to have put on Donald Trump’s life. I mention Trump. El Chapo smiles, ironically saying, “Ah! Mi amigo!”

My colleagues would be leaving in the morning but I offer to stay behind to record our conversations. He pauses before responding. He says, “I just met you. I will do it in eight days. Can you come back in eight days?” I say I can. I ask to take a photograph together so that I could verify to my editors at Rolling Stone that the planned meeting had taken place. “Adelante,” he says. We all rise from the table as a group and follow Chapo into one of the bungalows. Once inside, we see the first sign of heavy arms. An M16 lies on a couch opposite the neutral white wall against which we would take the photograph. I explain that, for authentication purposes, it would be best if we are shaking hands, looking into the camera, but not smiling. He obliges. The picture is taken on Alfredo’s cellphone. It would be sent to me at a later date.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was captured by Mexican marines Friday. Proceedings are now underway to extradite him to the U.S. The meeting with Penn and del Castillo aided in his capture, Mexican authorities say.