Kate del Castillo is Famouser Than Sean Penn

Kate del castillo la reinaOn Monday, television star, Kate del Castillo made the US news cycle. Did she earn a spot on an American sit com where viewers will come to love her crazy Latina ways and adorable mangling of the English?

Sorry, quota filled.

Sorry, quota filled.

Nope, no sitcom in her future though she’s been featured on shows from the classy American Family that you never heard of because it was on PBS, through Weeds, and more recently Jane, The Virgin. But she finally got the kind of publicity that money can’t buy by teaming up and joining Sean Penn on his most excellent recent adventure.

Yeah, we know Spicoli isn't the "excellent adventure" guy, but he's pretty close.

Yeah, we know Spicoli isn’t the “excellent adventure” guy, but he’s pretty close.

It’s not every day a female actor hovering near her unfuckability date in her fourth decade gets a shout out on page one of The New York Times. Not that Kate, looks undoable. At 43, she’s still smoking hot, but her remarkably unlined face is beginning to take on that mask of its former self quality so common in Hollywood. (A little less filler wouldn’t hurt, is all I’m saying.)

The details have been splashed all over every form of media. So much Sean Penn hate! You’d think he was the one responsible for mass killings in Mexico and not just defacating on the English language in 10,000 plus words.


Kate is mentioned as an after thought. She’s the mysterious “Mexican soap-opera actress” who connected Penn to El Chapo. While the word “spitfire” hasn’t been used, it’s somehow dog-whistled into the prose. The articles don’t say she’s Chappy’s squeeze (which she isn’t) but the headlines kind of do. I get it. More people in the US know who Sean Penn is even if they can’t name a movie he’s been in in the last five years, and implying there’s a love connection between the actress and the crime boss sexes up the story, but it still feels like an indignity the star of Ramona and La Reina del Sur should not have to suffer.

Kate del Castillo is Famouser Than Sean Penn

The show was actually even trippier than this poster for it.

Let’s get this straight, even if CNN’s Latino reporters say so, telenovelas are not “soap operas” or soap opera equivalents. Sure they’re serial television dramas that often rely on outrageous plot twists and tropes that might include kidnapping, secret twins, amnesia, long-term comas, Oedipal situations, miracle recoveries, secret pregnancies, faked deaths, and sibling rivalry. But you know what other kinds of TV shows use the same tropes? All of them, including high class serials like Downton Abbey which hits at least a trifecta. Does that make Dame Maggie Smith a “soap opera actress”? Telenovelas are simply the predominant form of television drama and sometimes (intentional) comedy in Latin America. They aren’t “daytime television.” They’re prime time. Kate del Castillo isn’t Susan Lucci famous. She’s real famous.

Sorry, Susan and yes, we know they finally gave you that statue,

Sorry, Susan and yes, we know they finally gave you that statue.

How famous? Well, for one thing she’s the daughter of a Mexican movie star, so she was kind of born famous. For another she’s been around more than twenty-years, and has played the lead in several mega-hits.

The main difference between telenovelas and most American dramas is that telenovelas are finite. They have a beginning a middle and an end. They are usually broadcast two to five times per week with no hiatus. It took us five and a half years to get through 62 episodes of Breaking Bad. Skylar was having the same baby for the first three seasons. God knows how long Scandal will stretch out the Fitz and Olivia most epic love story ever, but on a telenovela everything is resolved in months – usually with a happy ending. If How to Get Away with Murder was a telenovela we’d already know that Annalise is Waiting List’s mother or whatever her big secret regarding him is, which we probably won’t get to till 2018.

Because the runs are short, stars may play several iconic roles though usually they play similar types. Kate del Castillo’s type,starts out innocent, but then plot happens and she ends up ruling the world and/or upturning it. She carries the shows she’s on. Labeling her a “soap opera actress”is like calling Kerry Washington, or Juliana Margulies, or Miss Viola Davis soap-opera actresses. Like her, all three of them star in prime time dramas with continuing story lines, in which their characters have gone through several lifetimes worth of soap-opera tropes, but she’s done it five nights a week, and she’s done it five times.


This is not to say she doesn’t deserve  jail time criticism for her role in Sean Penn’s folly, but at least she didn’t write the thing. Sending out provocative tweets that compare Mexico’s most notorious drug lord to its political ruling-class is exactly what a Kate del Castillo-type heroine would do. Using her charm to mediate between the narco-trafficker and the movie star is in character for her characters, especially if she actually believes the most successful cocaine dealer on the planet is an underdog folk hero, who does more good than the corrupt elite running her country.

Was her tweeting a cynical ploy by a fading star desperate for publicity? Possibly, but she couldn’t have foreseen that a celebrity “journalist” would decide to use her as an intermediary, and what 40-something television star, still not a household name in the US, would have turned down that offer?.

And so, Kate del Castillo, you may be only a “soap opera actress” to New York’s gray lady what nobody reads anymore, but to your legions of fans, you will always be Ramona, the strong willed young woman who runs off with her native-American lover, and fights for his people – who are actually her people in one of those wacky twists, and then she winds up marrying the man she thought was her brother. You’ll always be Maria Elena in El Derecho de Nacer, the strong-willed daughter of an oppressive father who fights to find and keep the baby that was  supposed to be dead but was actually scurried away by the loyal house servant. You’ll be Teresa in La Reina del Sur, a strong-willed, but simple lottery ticket seller who becomes an international drug kingpin, and winds up with immunity and a baby.  You’ll be, no, never mind the last one in which you also played a drug kingpin, and it was terrible, and clearly you’ve got to find a life and career outside of Telemundo.

Good luck with that, and I really hope you don’t get deported, but either way, I’ll be watching your new series Ingobernable, coming to Netflix, in which you’re playing a strong-willed Mexican first lady. Sounds a little like another show on Netflix that also has a (distant) Sean Penn connection.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

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