Kal Penn, Indian American star of Mira Nair’s The Namesake and a long time supporter of President Barack Obama, is joining the White House as a liaison between the administration and Asian constituents.
According to reports, the 31-year-old actor who had a recurring role on Fox’s popular TV show House would join the White House staff as an associate director in the Office of Public Liaison.
Penn, who plays American-born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, wanting to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers, despite his family’s unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways, will in his new role connect Obama with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as arts groups.
Apart from The Namesake, Penn has had starring roles in the films National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, Epic Movie, and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.
Penn endorsed Obama’s White House bid in late 2007, and was a frequent campaign surrogate on the trail last year.
The White House says a start date for Penn hasn’t been set. The White House did not reveal what Penn would be paid. Aides with similar titles earned between $41,000 and $91,000 last year.
The hire was first reported by Entertainment Weekly.
Penn told sources that the new position comes after some soul-searching. “There was something aching in me to do something completely different and take a break from the acting thing for a while.”
The actor also said his interest in politics has deep roots. “I’ve been thinking about [moving into politics] for a while. I love what I do as an actor. I couldn’t love it more. …probably from the time I was a kid, I really enjoyed that balance between the arts and public service,” he said.
“It’s 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. So the past couple of years I thought about it a little more,” Penn added.
But Penn also is leaving the door open to returning to acting at some later point. “Who’s to say where any path leads? I still have a passion for it. But for the time being, I won’t be acting,” Penn told sources.
His House character, Dr Lawrence Kutner, committed suicide in a recent episode. It was the writers’ decision to have Dr. Kutner commit suicide and this ensures Penn will not return to the show, although he said he left on good terms.
He felt “more than a little bit of shock and loss” to learn that his character would die in his final episode, Penn told sources.
Even though he spoke no lines in the episode – and only his legs are seen when his body is found – he was on the set for the filming, he said.