Actor Kal Penn, who kept the Obama administration on pins and needles for about three months when he was going to join them, finally showed up in a sleek, slim-cut charcoal black Washington power suit on Monday for his first day on the job as associate director in the Office of Public Liaison.
The Indian American heartthrob said he is expecting to be treated like any other staff member and is downplaying his star power. For starters, he is asking White House colleagues to call him Kalpen Modi, his real name, instead of his Hollywood moniker. He's also renting, not buying, a house in Washington and taking the bus to work.
"I'm a pretty normal guy if you remember," he told reporters at a conference call.
Normal he may be but make no mistake, Penn's earnings put him in the Hollywood big league. The Obama administration's Public Liaison position pays $70,000 a year, or what Penn made until recently per episode on Fox's popular House series. Penn's declaration in April that he was leaving the riches of House to serve in Washington was handled on the show with his character Lawrence Kutner being killed in a suicide that traumatised his fans.
Penn has been on a winning box office streak with the Harold & Kumar series. But, instead of playing the pot-smoking, anti-hero on the lam, as he did in the $58 million grosser Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, Penn will push papers and connect president Obama with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as arts groups.
"The job is very different, as you can imagine. I'm wearing a suit... and a tie," Penn, 32 joked. The Gujarati heritage actor described the public liaison office as the "front door to the White House" and said his role was to ensure Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders feel they have a seat at the high table.
Penn is taking a hiatus from acting, although he is scheduled to team up with John Cho to make their third stoner movie, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, in 2010.
"I have no timeline," Penn said. "At the moment, I've taken a sabbatical."
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