Even though, like any chief executive, he worked around the clock perfecting his product, maintaining his supply lines, and doing battle—literally, at times—with his competitors, the drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán always found time for his favorite pet project: trying to make a movie about his life.

I first heard about the would-be film last year while covering Guzmán’s criminal trial in Brooklyn. There, on the witness stand, the kingpin’s friend and fellow narco Alex Cifuentes testified that his girlfriend, a young Colombian actress, had encouraged Guzmán in 2007 to turn his tale into a major motion picture—no doubt looking for a role in it. Enthralled by the idea, the drug lord hired a writer, and in between making cocaine deals and dodging the authorities, he began to sit for interviews, mostly at his heavily guarded hideouts high in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains.