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Actor Kal Penn Joins Obama Administration

India West, News Report, Lisa Tsering Posted: Apr 10, 2009

Kumar is headed for the White House. Actor Kal Penn, 31, has been named to a high-profile position in the Obama administration, it was announced April 7.

Penn will serve as the associate director for the White House Office of Public Liaison and will do outreach to two often overlooked communities Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and nonprofit arts groups.

Given his background, its clear that he can speak to these two communities, a White House spokesperson told India-West April 7. He would not specify when the job would start.

Penns resume includes roles on the hit Fox shows House and 24; the actor was launched to Hollywood stardom in the stoner comedy Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and starred in its sequel, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, and Mira Nairs The Namesake. Penn has also appeared in Superman Returns, American Desi, Van Wilder and Van Wilder 2 and many other independent and Hollywood films.

But Penn who was born Kalpen Modi and raised in New Jersey has also followed other pursuits. He served as a visiting lecturer in Asian American studies, teaching a course on Images of Asian Americans in the Media, at the University of Pennsylvania, and has a bachelors degree in sociology. Penn also joined Stanford Universitys international studies program online in 2006.

He volunteered at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last August, and became a member of then-candidate Barack Obamas National Arts Policy Committee. He performed at the We Are One inauguration day celebration at the Washington, D.C., Lincoln Memorial.

He also won the AZN Asian Excellence Award in 2007 for his performance in The Namesake.

Penns role as Dr. Lawrence Kutner in the Fox series House came to an end April 6, when his character committed suicide. It was an unusual but effective way for Penn to wrap up his tenure with the show, and it was his idea, the actor told Entertainment Weekly.

I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House, Penn told EW. I got to know the president and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there.

According to Penn, the White House Office of Public Liaison does outreach with the American public and with different organizations. Theyre basically the front door of the White House. They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House.

He elaborated in an interview with Television Without Pity blog: What they try and do is take the administration itself out of Washington, so they go into communities across the country, continue the sorts of dialogue people had started during the campaign and basically ensure that a bunch of citizens views about their elected officials, about their government, are all happening and that they're working effectively.

[They] make sure that a lot of these new voices that have emerged especially during the campaign season are brought to the table, Democrats, Republicans, everyone in between.

A job like this represents a drastic cut in pay for Penn, but he told Entertainment Weekly he was willing to do it anyway.

Theres not a lot of financial reward in these jobs. But, obviously, the opportunity to serve in a capacity like this is an incredible honor, he said.

Politics was always something he was interested in, Penn told EW.

Probably from the time I was a kid, I really enjoyed that balance between the arts and public service. I went to a performing arts high school, but I still took a bunch of those dorky political science classes.

Its probably because of the value system my grandparents instilled in me. They marched with Gandhi in the Indian independence movement, and that was always in the back of my head. Penn says he will devote his time to his new job, which will mean he wont be performing. Whos to say where any path leads? I still have a passion for it. But for the time being, I wont be acting. Penn said he has no plans to run for public office.

The actors publicist did not return an India-West reporters call by press time.

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