April 7th, 2009
06:31 PM ET
8 years ago

Actor Kal Penn joining the Obama administration

Actor Kal Penn, shown in this file photo greeting Obama just days before his inauguration, will be joining the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Actor Kal Penn, shown in this file photo greeting Obama just days before his inauguration, will be joining the White House Office of Public Liaison.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Actor and longtime Obama supporter Kal Penn is joining the Obama administration, the White House confirmed to CNN Tuesday.

The actor will be part of the White House Office of Public Liaison, which is run by Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Penn will be primarily involved in dealing with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the arts community.

Read more on EW.com

Penn's new gig was first reported by EW.com, which shares parent company Time Warner with CNN.

Penn told EW.com 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'" Penn said he told the executive producers of the TV series "House" when he explained his decision to get involved with politics full-time.

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."

"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."

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 EW.com

Penn endorsed Obama's White House bid in late 2007, and was a frequent campaign surrogate on the trail last year.

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soundoff (266 Responses)
  1. Robin

    Obama is an actor's dream. When this white house thing does not work out for him, he can become an actor.

    April 7, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  2. AJ

    How's this for some qualifications: he has the social conscience to leave a very lucrative career in entertainment to take a government job because it's something he believes in. The guy isn't running FEMA, he's helping with government outreach to the Asian American, Pacific Islander, and arts communities. Seriously, good for him.

    April 7, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  3. tom

    well, we have known from the start that Mr. Obama believes being an actor qualifies you to work in public policy.

    April 7, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  4. MSNBC News

    If our great president selected him, you know he's going to be great also!

    April 7, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  5. Cody

    They're ending prohibition now for sure.

    Maybe Obama has changed his mind on the internet's #1 question for legislative changes, haha.

    April 7, 2009 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  6. Sabina

    Sorry to see him leave the show. Kutner was my fave. I don't agree with him politically but I admire his willingness to "let go of the edge of the pool". How many of us would leave similar success to jump into completely unknown waters ... ESPECIALLY in politics.

    April 7, 2009 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  7. Barb

    Now I was shocked last night watching House. I thought it was crazy they killed his character off, I personally loved him on the show! But hey...Good for him!! Good Luck!!

    April 7, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  8. Todd

    I'm sure he is just doing this to SAVE himself money. With Obama in the White House, the more money you make, the more money you lose. Obviously, you don't need the experience or any qualifications to do any job in this administration....from the President on down.

    April 7, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  9. Nimisha Shukla

    It is good for Kal that he found his calling (of sorts). I am sure a change, such as this, driven by his heart will guide him on his new journey. Being an avid House fan, Dr. Lawrence Kutner will be missed !

    April 7, 2009 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  10. Kristine

    For all those bashing him for being an actor – let's not forget Reagan was an actor too.

    April 7, 2009 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  11. Rick Kress

    U guys all do realize he was Van Wider's Public Liaison..
    He did a fantastic job for him, maybe he will do the same for the president... LOL........

    April 7, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  12. Vanessa

    He attended UCLA, where he double majored in film and sociology.

    April 7, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  13. House fan

    I don't know why CNN couldn't mention it, but Penn's qualifications do include being more than an Obama supporter. He's taught classes on Asian-American Studies at Penn University, and took his share of political science classes while in school.

    April 7, 2009 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  14. jeff

    this dude is smart- he teaches a course at Penn, an Ivy League university. He is articulate, and erudite. I like the move, from both ends.

    Oh yea, and he was a better actor than Reagan

    April 7, 2009 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  15. Oh brother

    Considering that most of America has seen his private parts, I'm not sure how we're supposed to take him seriously. And I'm not sure, other than being "famous," what qualifications he has that make him a good fit.

    April 7, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  16. Doug, New Jersey

    "Penn told EW.com that the new position comes after some soul-searching."

    Well then since he is joining the Obama administration his search obviously came up empty!

    April 7, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  17. Anna

    More actors in the White House, just what this country needs...

    April 7, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  18. Lori

    I wish Kumar the best. He's joining an excellent team. Coming from a white chick, I love the diversity of this new administration. It finally represents all members of our society. Women, people of color and I hear the President is looking to hire some staff with disabilities. I love this new President and this new path that America is going in.

    April 7, 2009 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  19. Rob

    Your telling me that the guy from Harold And Kumar go to white castle is going to be working for the president of the united states of america?

    April 7, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  20. Tony in Phoenix

    There are some right wing critics making light of this. However, what I seem to recall is that before he went into politics Ronald Reagan was a B-grade actor. How can you top "Bonzo Goes to College"?

    What struck me the most from Penn's comments was about his grandparents marching with Ghandi. That is quite a legacy to live up to.

    Good luck to you Mr Penn.

    April 7, 2009 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  21. Larry

    All of you who dont take this actor seriously i have two words for you..........Ronald Reagan

    April 7, 2009 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  22. Foxx

    I love the switch. From rising TV star to working for his beliefs. MAZAL TOV.

    April 7, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  23. Kevin Leo (Jonesboro, GA)

    While I am sure there will be a lot of naysayers and haters who comment on Penn's decision in a negative fashion, I am glad to see him step away fro Hollywood even if only for a short period of time and serve his country in this manner.

    April 7, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  24. Scrap5000

    What a circus Washington has become!

    April 7, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  25. Laura

    In response to the comments "what is Obama thinking hiring an actor", etc. – The position is not a policy position – he's basically a Public Relations guy, something an actor is well trained and qualified for. It's not like Obama hired him as chief strategist! Read the fine print!!

    April 7, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
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