Mexican Actress Kate Del Castillo Finally Feels Safe Going Home After Her 3-Year Exile In LA

Kate del Castillo returns as Teresa Mendoza in season 2 of "La Reina del Sur." (Courtesy of Telemundo)

By Andrea Gutierrez with John Horn

The telenovela that catapulted Kate del Castillo to international fame in 2011 — La Reina del Sur — is back for a new season this week, and after three years of living in exile in Los Angeles, she finally feels safe to return home to Mexico again.

"I'm happy I'm alive," she told The Frame. "It changed — in so many ways — my life. Yes, I'm stronger, but also I am much more vulnerable."

She's talking about her fateful 2015 meeting between her, actor Sean Penn, and Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera — aka El Chapo.

According to Netflix documentary The Day I Met El Chapo (del Castillo is credited as an executive producer), her texts with El Chapo were leaked to the press, and the Mexican government investigated her for money laundering — accusations she maintains were unfounded and likely stemmed from the government's embarrassment about El Chapo's jail escape and recapture. Fearing arrest in Mexico, she retreated to her home in Los Angeles to wait out the storm.

In a case of art imitating life imitating art, del Castillo has played women on the run in both La Reina del Sur and Netflix's Ingobernable. But she insists it's entirely coincidental.

She signed on for Netflix's Ingobernable in 2015 — she plays Mexico's First Lady, who goes on the run after being framed for her husband's murder — before she met El Chapo, and before she fled her home country.

Though Ingobernable takes place in Mexico, she filmed her scenes in California while a body double took her place on location in Mexico. She did the same for Mexico-based scenes in the news season of La Reina del Sur.

The revival of La Reina del Sur — this time with English subtitles — comes after she returned home to Mexico for Christmas following the election of a new president.

Del Castillo first came to Hollywood in the early 2000s after becoming famous in Mexico for her starring roles in popular telenovelas like Muchachitas and La Mentira. But even she has to push back against typecasting — especially as she's attempted to move beyond telenovelas.

"I've been here for 19 years," she said, "and I'm still struggling to to get the roles that I want to get. And not only that, but that they're not stereotyped."

She has often be told to darken her hair to appear "more Latina."

"You cannot put us, all of the Latinas, in one can," she said. "You need to learn about diversity and about salvadoreños, ecuatorianos, puertorriqueños, cubanos, mexicanos, you know?"

So what appeals to del Castillo about playing badass characters? She thinks that maybe it's her own character.

"Silence is so dangerous," she said. "People see a character like that, and they want to be like them, because you can literally say what you think, you can do what you want, you can fight for what you want, and still not be dead."

La Reina del Sur airs weeknights on Telemundo.

Editor's note: A version of this story was also on KPCC's The Frame.