Two weeks after it was revealed that notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán met with Hollywood stars Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo in a bid to have a movie made about his life, another leading narco-trafficker might soon be following him to the screen.
And the story of Edgar Valdez Villarreal aka “La Barbie” is more unusual than most.
When he was presented to the media flanked by heavily-armed federal police in August 2010, the world laid its eyes on a blond-haired, green-eyed American-born crime lord whose rise in the Mexican underworld during the country’s brutal drug wars was unprecedented.
Notoriously ruthless, La Barbie symbolized a new generation of stylish young narcos whose ambition, lifestyles, and appetite for violence apparently eclipsed the traditional drug lords of rural Mexico, such as El Chapo.
U.S. actor Armie Hammer told BuzzFeed this week that he has secured exclusive permission from La Barbie to tell the story of his life, stating, “We knew that having direct access to him meant access to stories that were never intended to see the light of day.”
Valdez, 42, who was extradited to the U.S. last year and recently pled guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges in Atlanta, grew up in Laredo, Texas, in a middle-class suburban family, played high school football, and was encouraged by his parents to go to college.
“They’re regular Ozzie and Harriets,” a U.S. law enforcement official was quoted as saying of Barbie’s family in a 2011 profile on the drug lord published in Rolling Stone. “They’re business owners, PTA, morning-jog people.”
An eccentric character…
In 1998, already deeply involved in the cross-border drug trade and looking to flee U.S. justice, Valdez wound up in Mexico where his future mentor Arturo Beltrán Leyva reportedly hired him as a sicario, or gunman. He worked for the Beltráns during the notoriously bloodthirsty cartel conflict in the border city of Nuevo Laredo in the mid-2000s.
Yet La Barbie had greater ambitions, ultimately betraying his paymasters and striking out alone to form the Independent Acapulco Cartel in the Pacific coast resort of the same name. He was briefly the most powerful crime lord in the city, but found himself attacked on all sides by his rivals and was finally captured in 2010.
Rumors of La Barbie’s eccentricities circulated widely during his career. He allegedly traveled with a personal beautician, rabidly collected video games, and had long wanted his story committed to the screen. His trademark polo shirts – one of which he was wearing upon his arrest – subsequently became a sought-after fashion item in Mexico.
Hammer told BuzzFeed that he met La Barbie’s lawyer while serving his own brief jail sentence for marijuana possession in 2012. The actor said that he would like to produce either a TV series or movie about Valdez’ life, and might even play the lead role himself.
“It was very serendipitous that our paths would cross with Edgar,” Hammer was quoted as saying, “but once we heard more, we knew this was something we had to jump on.”