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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Filed under: Obama administration • Popular Posts
soundoff (266 Responses)
  1. robert rush

    george murphy ronald reagan steve largent jim bunning robert k dornan fred thompson-( I except Arnold because Maria, and political reality, have forced him to approach humanity); kal has to be better than this sad sad array of famous pinheads; as a lifetime white castle guy- (Queens division) and of your work, I say good for you, kal 🙂

    April 7, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  2. No More Incumbents

    They are all just actors!

    April 7, 2009 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  3. jaime

    This man is putting aside big hollywood $$ to help serve America in the best way he can. I do not se how people can be so dismissive of this man's actions and those that accepted his contribution. To those that criticize: put up or shut up.

    April 7, 2009 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  4. Michael

    Oh my god! An ACTOR, working in the White House?

    What won't those crazy Dems think of next?

    April 7, 2009 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  5. younes

    Granted, Kal made several "stoner" movies. However, he was also in the "Namesake" and he was quite amazing in it. I say let's give the guy a chance. It seems like conversion from stoners to political activists is recurrent for Penn's.

    April 7, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  6. Dan, IL

    Never heard of Kal Penn until now. I don't watch House. Well, I guess he is about as qualified to serve in this administration as anyone else there. Nuff said.

    April 7, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  7. Lynn West Bloomfield, Michigan

    This is just another example of how President Obama inspires all different types of people to be better and do more. Good for you, Mr. Penn! May God bless you in this and all of your endeavors.

    The haters will continue to hate while the world just passes them by. It's a shame.

    April 7, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  8. RR

    "Penn will be primarily involved in dealing with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the arts community."

    Are taxpayer dollars being spent to pay him? Given our national debt, I hope he's doing this pro bono or with private funds!

    April 7, 2009 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  9. Rio

    Congrats to a young man with great potential. Unlike Reagen and Schwazenegger, Kal Penn is much more than just an actor. He is also an educator, having taught classes in the Asian American Studies department of the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. He is a bright star, very intelligent, and he definitely possesses the ability to succeed in this new position. Bravo, Mr. Penn!

    April 7, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  10. BP

    Funny how the republicans complain about an actor working for the White House. How about Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Penn can't be worse.

    April 7, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  11. Jon

    I see that the President's affirmative action (or is it pandering) program is still going strong. Minorities please apply, qualifications not necessary.

    April 7, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  12. David

    I don't understand people are taking issue with Mr. Penn's sense of civic dutie. We never hear you shout "Hollywood" when it comes to Thompson or Reagan.

    April 7, 2009 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  13. Shadysider

    This movie is going to be horrible if Neil Patrick Harris isn't involved.

    Wait, what?

    Not sure if a Hollywood liason is necessary, but at least Penn seems to be knowledgeable and interested as to national and world politics at least to some degree.

    April 7, 2009 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  14. Charla - TX

    Ok, so.......why is that because Kal Penn is an actor, that means he is of little substance or quality? He has the genuine want-to, that should be enough.

    April 7, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  15. kyle

    He has taught at UPenn and is working on a grad certificate in International Security from Stanford.

    Not sure why they left that out of the article.

    April 7, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  16. John in Ohio

    He attended UCLA, where he double majored in film and sociology.
    ...
    In spring 2008, Penn served as visiting lecturer in Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He taught a course titled “Images of Asian Americans in the Media”.

    Penn is currently working on a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University.

    April 7, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  17. Shannon

    Congratulations to Penn.

    April 7, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  18. BK

    Why would people think that is paybacks? That job is neither powerful nor does it sound particularly grand in any other way. It sounds like something anyone could walk up and apply for. Is it even something that the President 'appoints' or just another job at the state department?

    April 7, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  19. ac

    I'm not surprised......another bad choice made by an unqualified president. Maybe it would have been better for Mr. Obama to leave Washington and go to Hollywood!!!!!!!!~

    April 7, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  20. Observer

    Why all the fuss about an actor taking up polictics.....Many actors have side-stepped into the political arena and have been very successful at it. All the best Kal.

    April 7, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  21. Rinsewind

    For all you Republicans out there trash-talking Penn and Obama for this appointment, I seem to recall another actor in Washington that you are ever-so-fond of. What was his name? Oh, yeah. Ronald Reagan.

    April 7, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  22. Ella

    Hm. You're all right. What in the world is this guy from both an Asian American community and an Arts community DOING being a liason for Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities and the Arts community?!?! Clearly he isn't qualified!!

    April 7, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  23. Doug

    The celebrity First Family has spoken and the envelope please, a new celebrity administration. O's popularity goes up as his CREDIBILITY goes down. This sickens me having campaigned for him to bring qualified people to government.

    April 7, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  24. Mary

    Maybe he doesn't care about his career and thinks he can do more meaningful work in Washington. Not like a high profile position. He is to be admired.

    April 7, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  25. sfcali

    y'all need to stop hating his new direction and his acting abilities. I'm happy to see that as a young ethnic minority in this country, he is doing a great deal of service by giving up his hollywood salary to work for you. I think it's an admirable choice and just the fact that he's of south asian descent and a household name proves how successful he can be. He's doing a lot of outreach, and I think his background provides enough qualification for that position. Much luck and love to him.

    April 7, 2009 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
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