The actor was born Kalpen Suresh Modi and changed his stage moniker after moving to California from New Jersey for college.
“Half of it was curiosity to see if it would make a difference, and the other half was as a joke to friends of mine. We read something that said that 40 percent of actors have screen names, and we were sitting at this place called Jose Bernsteins… and they were just berating me with things like, ‘What about ‘Kal Pucino?’” he recalled. “I was rejecting all of their awful suggestions, and thought, everyone calls me Kal anyway. My first name is Kalpen, so it’s sort of how Joseph becomes Joe… And it did increase auditions.”
“To this day, I’ve never been completely sure whether it was [because it was]less ethnic sounding or just [because it was]monosyllabic and that was easier.” Going back and forth between his acting career and political gig, Penn has found time to make several film and TV appearances since assuming his post in 2009.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, the third installment in the franchise about the exploits of a pair of stoners, stars Penn alongside John Cho and hits theaters Friday, November 4.