Kal Penn, Indian American star of Mira Nair's
and a long time supporter of President Barack Obama, has started his new job as a liaison between the White House and Asian communities.
Born Kalpen Suresh Modi to Indian immigrant parents from Gujarat, the 31-year-old actor is taking a break from Hollywood to work as an associate director in the Office of Public Liaison. Penn said Monday his new job with a focus on connecting Obama with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as arts groups has nothing to do with his life as an actor.
In The Namesake, Penn plays American-born Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, wanting to fit in among his fellow New Yorkers, despite his family's unwillingness to let go of their traditional ways.
"I expect to be treated just like any other staff member," he told reporters on a conference call describing the public liaison office as the "front door to the White House."
His job would be engaging with constituent communities and making sure they feel that they have a seat at the table, he said.
He is even applying this quest for a fresh start to his identity, saying he will use his given name, Kalpen Modi, instead of his acting moniker while working for the Obama administration.
Penn had a recurring role on Fox's TV show House and starred in several films including National Lampoon's Van Wilder, Epic Movie, and Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.
At the time of his appointment, the actor 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 left 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," he then told Entertainment Weekly.