Kate del Castillo became a Latina superstar thanks to her roles in Mexican telenovelas, and at times you may be forgiven for thinking her own life was a scripted soap opera. There is for instance the time in which she brokered an interview between Sean Penn and Mexico’s most wanted cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman which led to her investigation by Mexican authorities. In some ways that real-life intrigue echoes the storyline of her latest project for Netflix Ingobernable, in which she plays a Mexican First Lady accused of killing her husband.
Long before she starred in the Spanish version of Queen of the South, the record breaking soap opera produced by Telemundo in the US, Kate del Castillo owned her own crown as the most beloved figure in the lucrative telenovela market. She also played the lead in Patricia Riggen's Under the Same Moon, an unusual Spanish spoken hit which premiered at Sundance in 2008. But after the capture of El Chapo, in the Fall of 2015 her notoriety skyrocketed when it was revealed she had been instrumental in arranging Sean Penn’s “Rolling Stone” interview with the wanted drug dealer. The trafficker had twice escaped from maximum security prisons in Mexico and while he was on the lam – to the chagrin and considerable embarrassment of the authorities undertaking a massive manhunt - Del Castillo had met with him at a jungle hideout for talks about producing the movie of his life story. Del Castillo has not been formally charged but currently resides in Los Angeles and has opted not return to Mexico for fear of being detained for questioning
At the time Del Castillo had been ready to start filming on Ingobernable, about the First Lady of Mexico who is herself forced to flee after the death of her husband in suspicious circumstances. But her own legal troubles suddenly prevented her from filming in her own country. The studio decided to move the shooting to San Diego, sending a body double on location whenever her character, Emilia Urquiza, had to be seen walking the streets that surround El Zocalo, where the presidential palace is. We had the chance to talk to Kate about her new show, how sometimes fiction becomes very similar to reality and the way her life changed when she went from most famous to persecuted star in Mexico.
How different was it for you to shoot this series? The character’s circumstances resemble situations from your real life…
That’s true. Emilia Urquiza is accused of something she didn’t do and she spends the entire first episode trying to prove her innocence and in that sense, yes, she and I are similar and went down that road hand in hand, found many obstacles and, yes, there’s an analogy because that’s how it went, it was very similar to what happened to me, at a different level, of course, but I believe the timing of Netflix of making a series like Ingobernable was incredible. I made the deal with them long before what then happened to me, or with Trump, which was a mere coincidence.
Do you think that if you tried to hide in Mexico City like Emilia does, you would be so lucky?
If I had friends like hers, that would have my back like that, maybe. Look, we actors suddenly can go to places where we want to pass unnoticed, there are a thousand ways to hide your face, avoid people’s looks, for instance, and not look them in the eye. There are a lot of tricks we can use and that’s why I think that what the series suggests could actually happen. I was also wondering, the most famous face that there is has to be the First Lady’s, and more so if she’s a fugitive, but I believe that it came out very well, that it’s very credible, and I know this because, as an actress, sometimes I do want to go incognito and I know it’s possible.
How surreal was taping in San Diego as if it was Mexico?
It was interesting, to tell you the truth I’ve seen the series, I’ve only watched the first six episodes, and it’s incredible that you can’t tell who is the double and who is me. It was a very tough job that they had to do in pre and in post production, and the poor actors had to come back and forth constantly, because all my scenes were shot in San Diego, but this made it a great challenge.
What attracted you to this project, previous to your situation of being yourself persecuted?
First I wanted to work with Epigmenio Ibarra, and we had a couple of chances to do so but for one reason or another it never came to fruition. Also, of course, having a company like Netflix behind us, to be able to do a quality product was also a factor. They always up the ante, even if only a little, as far as quality is concerned. I loved the concept of the series because nobody had ever played the First Lady of Mexico and, as you know, we have had many decades of very difficult times, politically speaking. Besides, as an actress, it’s very delicious to play the First Lady of a country.
What was the impact in your career, when also, all of a sudden you became a target of something that had nothing to do with acting? You’ve mentioned that it hurt you. Can you tell us in which way and why?
Well, it did hurt me because, first, it was a very strong attack, and a very obvious one, to me personally. Because they exploited my image, they manipulated a lot of other things, and they obtained evidence in an illegal fashion. My presumption of innocence was completely violated, from the get go. All that obviously affects me as an actress, because I lost a couple of contracts for that reason, because I can’t go to my country, if I had to go work there. For a lot of other reasons, but in the end I believe all would be for good. Right now I’m in a different situation, Netflix supported me 100% the entire time and even though they had to change the schedule and change the production and bring it from Mexico to the U.S. so I have nothing but great appreciation for Netflix.
When you began with the Guzmán project, did you ever suspect that it would become such a problem?
I knew it would be problematic, only I never imagined how much and to what extent. Look, I’m an actress, I’m a female, I’m in a country that’s not my own, in a language that’s not mine, trying to make interesting projects, so when they offered me this movie project that no one had sought before, to have it in my hands was too incredible for me, and just as I’m capable of look for that type of project, that I never really sought out, it ended up finding me, it means I will keep on working and looking for other types of projects, that are just as interesting because I won’t spend the days sitting in my home, waiting for people to call me to make movies or to bring the next project. I have to move because I can’t remain static in a situation like this, because it’s not the who I am, and so I will continue to fight for any other role. This one in particular was a little risky, no doubt, but it seemed like a fascinating character and it was a great opportunity that he gave me his life rights.
Do you think it’s going to get made any time soon?
Yes, of course it will, no doubt about it. There’s a lot of people that are interested, and the only thing I need to do is solve my legal issues to go ahead with the project, but it will happen, of course.