Actor Kal Penn's Surprise Suicide on 'House' Opens Way to Job With Obama White House

Penn will become associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

+ More

BY Michael Saul
DAILY NEWS POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

New Jersey-born actor Kal Penn, who played a stoner Guantanamo Bay escapee in the movies and a doctor on TV's "House," has scored a job in the White House. Way to go, dude!

Penn, 31, will become associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison, administration officials confirmed Tuesday. The Indian-American film star will be an emissary to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, along with arts and entertainment groups.

Penn campaigned extensively throughout the country for President Obama last year and was a hit on college campuses.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Penn explained why he decided to leave "House." His character inexplicably committed suicide in an episode that aired Monday night.

"I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House," Penn explained. "I got to know the President and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there."

Penn described the office as the "front door" of the White House, saying he'll be responsible for doing outreach with the American public.

"They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House," he said. "It's similar to what I was doing on the campaign."

Penn gained fame as the co-star of the raucous and profane "Harold and Kumar" stoner comedies that have become a cult favorite with fans worldwide. The first installment, "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle," followed the misadventures of two New Jersey guys with a pot-stoked craving for their favorite burgers.

He famously smoked weed with a fictional President Bush in the sequel, "Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay,"

Penn also starred in Mira Nair's 'The Namesake,' and played a terrorist in a recurring role on "24."

Penn acknowledged that ditching Hollywood for Washington comes with a massive pay cut.

"There's not a lot of financial reward in these jobs," he said. "But, obviously, the opportunity to serve in a capacity like this is an incredible honor."

As it turns out, Penn will not be working in the White House, per se. His office will be in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, located next to the West Wing and housing most of the White House staff.

Penn, born in Montclair, New Jersey, said he's long been interested in both the arts and public service. His grandparents marched with Gandhi in the Indian independence movement, "and that was always in the back of my head."

A UCLA graduate, Penn has been taking courses in international security at Stanford University.

On the campaign trail, Kumar helped get actor friend Brendan Rough, aka Superman in "Superman Returns," to stump for Obama. On occasion, they campaigned together.

Asked if he's giving up acting, Penn replied, "Not necessarily."

"Who's to say where any path leads?" he said. "I still have a passion for it. But for the time being, I won't be acting."