When most actors talk about beefing up their resumes with variety, they typically mean accepting a role unexpected of them. Think of Patrick Stewart, a classically trained thespian, choosing to play the captain of a Star Fleet spaceship, or the leader of a group of mutants. Kal Penn, however, might have the most eclectic experience a casting director will ever see on a resume.
Penn first shot to fame in the quintessential stoner comedy Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. In recent years, he has also worked as a student on 24, a doctor on House, and a mid-level staffer in the White House. The difference being that the last job was not a role, it was reality.
Since 2004, Penn found himself interested in Obama’s campaign. He believed in the future president’s plan for the country. In 2007, when the acting industry was frozen by the writer’s strike, Penn made the decision to back up his sentiments and statements with action. He left Hollywood for Des Moines, Iowa, to work towards the Iowa caucus with Obama’s team. A hard worker, Penn overcame the preconceived notions many fellow staffers may have had of him and won their respect. When the writer’s strike ended, he returned to his job on the medical drama House, but continued to help the campaign when he wasn’t shooting. After Obama’s victory in 2008, Penn became interested in working in the White House.
“I think there’s always a risk that goes with taking time off,” Penn said. But “no actor in their right mind moves to either L.A. or New York … because you think you’re going to have job or financial security. That’s just stupid. This amazing opportunity came along, and what are you going to say — ‘No’?”
He originally intended to take a break from his role on House, but after conversations with his manager, agent, and show’s producers, Penn found out that the writers decided to have his character commit suicide, ending the possibility of returning.
He accepted a job to work for an Obama adviser, where he would occasionally brief the president before meetings. “When you’re working there, you always think, ‘What is the best time to tell the president that you played a stoner who escaped from Guantanamo Bay? Is it before his national security meeting? Is it after the education meeting?'” Penn recalls with a smile.
After two years, Penn was again ready for a change of scenery and returned to Hollywood and his previous career. He is currently guest-starring alongside Harold & Kumar cohort Neil Patrick Harris on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. In addition, he’s returning to his roots with A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, due in theaters November 4th.
He has no plans at this time to return to politics, but it’s obvious that no one will ever really know what to expect from Kal Penn.
Written by Jillian Sara Santella