On Saturday, drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was captured in a near-seamless operation (reports say not a single shot was fired during the bust) in the Mexican resort city of Mazatlán, where the 59-year-old wanted man was allegedly enjoying some fun in the sun.
Guzman — one of the world’s richest outlaws and the head of a drug cartel responsible for a reported 25 percent of all illegal drugs brought into the United States via Mexico — had evaded capture for years. That is, unless you count a brief imprisonment in 2001, which ended when El Chapo — translated, the nickname means “Shorty” — escaped from Mexico’s maximum-security Puente Grande prison in a laundry cart or simply by walking out dressed as a policeman (depending on whether you believe Mexico’s official report; we’ll let you decide). El Chapo has lived a life full of crime, drugs, and sex (his wife is 20-something beauty queen Emma Coronel), and making a movie based on his life is the stuff screenwriters and action directors dream of.
And why not? El Chapo’s rags-to-riches story would be the perfect Oscar-bait movie (or Univision novela: The top-rated Spanish network announced in January it had ordered a 60-episode miniseries based on the drug lord). The 56-year-old — whom Forbes estimates is worth a whopping $1 billion — is the eldest of seven children born into a poor family in the rural town of La Tuna. The kingpin’s entry into the drug business began at age 15, when he began to grow his own marijuana for distribution. Now, the man known as “Public Enemy No. 1” by Chicago authorities — a title that until now, was only used for Al Capone — may be close to a final chapter fit for the big screen, which begs the question: What would a movie based on his life look like? Beginning, of course, with a leading man worthy of El Chapo’s luxuriously thick handlebar mustache.
Benicio del Toro
Del Toro, a film veteran, is expert at channeling the type of attributes that would make for a compelling portrayal of El Chapo. He’s an actor who can tap into a startling sense of brutality — keep in mind that El Chapo’s particular brand of terror resulted in what the Wall Street Journal called a “trail of tombstones that act as milestones” — but can also bring an emotional vulnerability that smacks of the abuse El Chapo suffered in his younger years. And let’s not forget the Puerto Rican actor has the whole drug lord character down pat, thanks to memorable performances in films like Savages and Traffic.
While a variety of cinematic styles would work in bringing El Chapo’s story to theaters — Quentin Tarantino’s trademark comic book gore or Steven Soderbergh’s tight-knit, expressive storytelling could both do the trick — Isaac is an actor whose grave expression and brooding would prove electric in this role. Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) has proven he can be a leading man; perhaps with a biopic based on El Chapo, he could cement his reputation as a star worthy of a place in the big leagues.
Bichir, a native of Mexico City, has spent the last few years seemingly trying to portray a Mexico that’s defined by more than its war on drugs. But that’s perhaps why he might be best to explore how El Chapo created a drug syndicate that eventually found its way into a reported 23 countries. And Bichir, 50, has the maturity — as well as the charisma — to portray a man called “part Al Capone and part Jesse James.”
Diego Luna is part of a growing number of Mexican actors (think Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Boneta) with deep roots — and increasingly high-profile careers — in the United States, giving him a south-of-the-border perspective. He could have just the right amount of gravitas to tackle what would undoubtedly be a complicated, multi-faceted role. And let’s not forget that the 34-year-old is also a director (Chavez), which would give added authenticity to a potential film.
As imaginary casting directors with a list of talented Latino actors who could all play El Chapo, we’d also give Christian Bale an audition. Why? Skipping the fact that Ben Affleck depicted Hispanic Tony Mendez in Argo — thereby giving any white actor a free pass at playing a Latino character — Bale is a talent who has proved time and time again that he’s a master at personifying a range of complex characters, complete with accents and tortured histories. And by virtue of his A-list status, Bale alone could turn a film on El Chapo into a serious project worthy of other top-notch talent.
So who do you think should play El Chapo? Choose one of our options, or select “other” and make your pick in the comments.