- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Actor Kal Penn is trading Hollywood for politics, taking a job with the White House doing outreach to Asian-Americans and the arts community.

The Indian-American, whose given name is Kalpenn Modi, said Tuesday he would be joining President Obama's administration and will not take any acting gigs while he holds the full-time position.

The actor announced his new role in an interview with Entertainment Weekly magazine, timed as his character on Fox's “House” left the show.

“I thought this might be the right time to go off and do something else,” he told EW, adding that he told his bosses on the show that “there's something aching in me to do something completely different and take a break from the acting thing for a while.”

Mr. Penn is best known for playing Kumar in the comedy “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” and its sequel, “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.”

But Mr. Penn, 31, also was one of the most reliable surrogates for the Obama campaign since the beginning.

Campaign aides said in 2007 the actor called them to offer his unsolicited help for Mr. Obama's then long-shot candidacy.

Some were hesitant at first because Mr. Penn's best-known role was playing a marijuana-loving burnout, but he surpassed their best expectations and attracted young voters across the nation.

He was instrumental in the Obama strategy of getting students as young as 17 to participate in the Iowa caucus, the Democrat's first victory.

Mr. Penn starred in at least 14 campaign videos on YouTube and appeared at multiple events on the candidate's behalf.

On a yet-to-be determined start date, he will serve as an associate director in the Office of Public Liaison, coordinating outreach to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, along with the arts community.

He described the office to Entertainment Weekly as “the front door to the White House.” The office was responsible for the recent celebrations in honor of St. Patrick's Day and Greek Independence Day.

Though Mr. Penn is best known for comedies, he also took a serious role, playing a critically acclaimed lead character in the film adaptation of his favorite book “The Namesake.”

Among the little known facts about the actor: He was a guest lecturer teaching Asian-American studies at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008, and he is doing an online program to earn a graduate degree in international studies from Stanford University.

In the EW interview, Mr. Penn described his new office thusly: “They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House.”

He also acknowledged it will result in a large pay cut: “There's not a lot of financial reward in these jobs. But, obviously, the opportunity to serve in a capacity like this is an incredible honor.”

Articles announcing the move contained a spoiler about the “House” episode, which aired Monday night, which was recorded by many who were watching the NCAA tournament.

His character committed suicide, and the show honored him Tuesday with an online “memorial.”

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