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. Tavi

    I think it is a good fit. As an appointee he is basically representing someone else's policy (i.e. the President's) and not his own and he will have access to civil service staff (including communications officers a.k.a. writers) to do the actual implementation of anything so his job as an appointee to the Office of Public Liaison is almost purely public relations so it is an acceptable fit for an actor.

    April 7, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  2. Dazzle

    Those of you clamoring about qualifications, read the article – This is a Liaison job, and it tends to be well suited for people who are already in the public domain and easily recognizable. So what's the problem exactly?

    And don't project the roles onto what an actor is like as a person. (By that count, where were all the objections to Huckabee hanging out with Chuck Norris?) I've seen this fellow speak and he's extremely smart and articulate, and will no doubt do a good job.

    April 7, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  3. Kevin co springs

    Politics isn't public service anymore, its pure self serving. He'll probably make more through politics then he did acting. Not to mention he gets to work under one of the best actors of our time. Obama!

    April 7, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  4. Theone76

    I was floored last night watch HOUSE, but now i see why... This is a awesome move for Mr. Penn and the Obama Administration. Mr Penn is a Public Servant . Good Luck wish you well

    April 7, 2009 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  5. gibbo

    ...harkening back to the day of tommy chong's role in the carter administration and chris tucker's work under former president clinton.

    April 7, 2009 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  6. Observer

    I can't wait until he decides to take a "leave of absence" from his job to film a movie, a guest spot on a TV show, or something similar. The rest of us don't have that luxury, but I guess Obama makes all dreams come true!

    April 7, 2009 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  7. Glennis

    How many more people are they going to cram into the White House? Will we be seeing those mobile classroom type buildings jutting out into the rose garden to house all these advisors and their little helpers? Good grief!

    April 7, 2009 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  8. Roberta

    Congrats Mr. Penn on your newest of endeavours!! I'm so happy that you've taken a step forward in your life and doing something that you truly want to do. To help move the US forward and taking a stand in your own life. Good on You!!! Congratulations and Lots of Luck in your newest chosen field.

    April 7, 2009 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  9. YR

    you people love to bash Obama. yeah, what was he thinking hiring an asian american actor to work in the arts and with other asians/pacific islanders...you know the arts? what actors work in? its inconceivable. the horror. and "Kumar" is a CHARACTER he played people not the person he is. i mean being an actor automatically disqualifies you from working in government, oh wait what was that guys name, i think he was president of somewhere, um Ronald Reagan is it? get a grip people.geesh

    April 7, 2009 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  10. Mona

    Martha & All the Other Critics,

    Whats the big deal with Mr. Penn becoming part of the new administration? You obviously dealt with the fact for the past eight years we had Mr. Bush "acting" as president. At least this time around the actor in the White House has acting credentials and is not the one making critical decisions. And yes we do need the Lord to help us all out of this mess that the previous "actor in charge" help lead us into. Ignorance is definately alive and kicking

    April 7, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  11. pam Eugene OR

    It seems that a lot of Republicans have forgotten that their beloved President Regan was a Hollywood actor.
    I think it is very admirable for this man to go from a number 1 hit show as a highly paid actor to a life of public service. He probably made more money acting in House per week than he will make in a year in politics.
    We need more people who feel a calling to public service rather than all the self serving ones we currently have.

    April 7, 2009 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  12. Murali

    Wow – leaving a high paying job for public service. Kudos that you could make that move Mr. Kal Penn. Good luck to you!

    April 7, 2009 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  13. Alan

    Let's think for a second if it was a McCain administration. An actor from a TV show randomly leaves Hollywood and becomes part of the McCain staff. I don't think the media would think too highly of it. I, as an American, not a democrat or republican, am concerned with the Obama administration's decisions to put Hollywood on the staff, Obama on Leno, several tax cheats on the staff, etc...all while the economy is in shambles.

    There is a double standard in this country. If the media thinks Obama can do no wrong and praises him by dismissing this as "not a big deal" then America will barrel roll into dimensions where the media "selects" the President and "makes" the news. Thus...shaping public opinion.

    April 7, 2009 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  14. Boehner has a hard on for Obama

    Before anyone goes into a tirade over his past movies, take a look at Gov. schwartznegger in Pumping Iron, he was smoking Pot(and real pot mind you) right on camera.

    April 7, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  15. Jazzkidscoins

    I only have this to say...

    Ronald Reagan was an actor...

    April 7, 2009 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  16. matt

    Good Move, Wish him all the VERY BEST !!

    Public service call at its best

    April 7, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  17. Jeanne

    This is such an important position for this admin to add at this time. Pretty soon our government will dictate content for Hollywood! Absolutely ridiculous!

    April 7, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  18. FoolKiller

    Leaving one crazy to work for another...
    Now THAT'S qualified.

    April 7, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  19. Sharon

    I was upset that he left the show, especially the way he did, but really happy for him that he is doing this. Good for you, Kal. I really will miss that character, though.

    April 7, 2009 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  20. phoenix86

    Actually not a bad pair.
    Penn can memorize and deliver lines well.
    Obama can read a telepromter well.
    Together they can tell each other what a great difference they're making in Asia (and how much the US has come to resemble Sri Lanka during the Obama years).

    April 7, 2009 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  21. Chris

    Before everyone starts getting Obama's case about hiring an actor look at what he did before acting. He graduated with a double major at UCLA in film and sociology. In addition, he's apparently working on a graduate certificate at Stanford and help during Obama's presidential campaign. While he may be an actor I also think he's an intelligent individual who will do fine in his new position. It's not like he is taking the post of Secretary of State. He's a public liason which his sociology degree might help him in. He's not even running the office. People need to stop looking for a problem where there is none.

    April 7, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  22. Voice of Reason

    People who think actors don't make good public servants are forgetting about Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schartznegger. Good for you Kal. It's a brave move but it's exemplary.

    April 7, 2009 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  23. Actors?

    What's with the actor digs? Ronald Reagan and Ahhhnold were actors. And what about Fred Thompson? They all just happen to be Republicans, so......what's the beef?

    April 7, 2009 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  24. Allen

    Nothing suprises me from President Obama. The only good news in this is Mr. Penn had to COMPETE to become a fixture on House. He has also made alot of money.....that President Obama will tax. I guess Sean Penn will be the next Sec. of State.

    April 7, 2009 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  25. John

    For those upset over an "actor in the White House," let's remember Ronald Reagan's beginnings. Penn's an envoy, not the President.

    April 7, 2009 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
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