'I got out of the El Chapo business': Why a high-profile Hollywood director turned down a project about the Sinaloa kingpin

Peter Berg Hollywood director

Erstwhile Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is currently languishing in a jail near Ciudad Juarez, in northern Mexico.

While Guzmán is unlikely to go anywhere but a US jail in the near future, some of his henchmen appear to have been shopping the cartel boss’ legacy around Hollywood.

Peter Berg, director of such muscular action movies as Patriots Day, Lone Survivor, The Kingdom, and Friday Night Lights, was attached to an adaptation of a New Yorker article documenting the hunt for the Mexican kingpin.

Berg was reportedly slated to direct “The Hunt for El Chapo” after Universal picked up the rights to the movie in late 2014. But Berg says he has stepped away from the project — a decision prompted by the characters such a movie would involve.

“I got out of the El Chapo business,” Berg told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview earlier this month. According to Berg, his Los Angeles boxing gym, Wild Card West, put him in contact with some of Guzmán’s associates after the kingpin’s jailbreak in July 2015:

“At the boxing gym, we have a lot of Hispanic fighters from Mexico. Two days after [El Chapo’s] escape, two of my fighters came in and asked if they could talk to me, and then told me that El Chapo wanted to meet with me. That’s when I realized, Hollywood thinks it’s a cool idea to make a movie.”

“[But] this is a very dangerous group of individuals. And this is my gym, where I work out and train, and my child comes in. I said, ‘Tell Mr. Chapo, first of all, good job on your escape. I will not be making a film. I wish him all the best.'”

Among dysfunctional Hollywood projects, the “El Chapo” movie is a special case.

The kingpin himself, who received movie offers while he was in prison, decided to pursue the project on his own. He reportedly played a major role in pushing the film, contacting producers while he was on the run between July 2015 and his capture in January 2016.

el chapo kate del castillo sean penn

Guzmán contacted Kate del Castillo, an Mexican actress best known for her portrayal of a woman cartel boss, after she expressed support for him on Twitter. She was the only person the Sinaloa chief trusted to guide the project. Sean Penn heard of del Castillo’s connections to Guzmán through a mutual friend and contacted her about interviewing Guzmán.

Penn was roundly excoriated for the uncritical nature of the interview, and he himself expressed “terrible regret” for failing to start a conversation about the drug war.

The sordid details around the “El Chapo” movie also touched on other Sinaloa cartel members and Hollywood denizens. Mauricio Sanchez Garza, who’s accused of money laundering on behalf of the cartel, was arrested in January 2016 came out of the investigation into Guzmán’s efforts to produce his own biopic while on the lam.

Sanchez Garza had his own nefarious silver-screen ambitions, however. He and a partner orchestrated a kidnapping scheme to force a business partner to sign over their rights to the screenplay to “Mary, Mother of Christ,” a prequel to “The Passion of the Christ.”

SEE ALSO: ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s henchmen were able to build not one, but 2 tunnels to break the kingpin out of jail

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NOW WATCH: 1 YEAR LATER: Here’s what may come next for ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán

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