Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Kal Penn Trades Acting for Politics. Seriously.

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Oh Mah Gawd. You will never believe who is (temporarily at least) leaving acting for a career in politics. Kal Penn! Yes, Kal Penn as in Kumar. Although while many of you probably see Penn as a goofy, slapstick sort of guy, I think his more serious work in dramas such as The Namesake and House have proven that if there's one thing we can expect from this dude, it's the unexpected. In an interview with the Ausiello Files, Penn discusses his new job with the Obama administration, his feelings on leaving House, and why (seriously, why?!?) he decided to change careers. Wierd!!!
Ausielo Files: I understand it was your decision to leave House. True?
KAL PENN: Yes. I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House. I got to know the President and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there, so I'm going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison. They do outreach with the American public and with different organizations. They're basically the front door of the White House. They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House. It's similar to what I was doing on the campaign.
AF: Will you actually be working in the White House?
PENN: This particular office is in the executive building. The White House has two buildings: the actual White House and an old Navy building called the Old Executive Office.

AF: Are you there as long as Obama's in office?
PENN: A lot of that stuff is up in the air. This is a relatively recent development. AF: Safe to say you're taking a huge pay cut?
PENN: Oh, yeah. There's not a lot of financial reward in these jobs. But, obviously, the opportunity to serve in a capacity like this is an incredible honor.
AF: How long has this been in the works?
PENN: 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. But probably from the time I was a kid, I really enjoyed that balance between the arts and public service. I went to a performing arts high school, but I still took a bunch of those dorky political science classes. 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. And in '06 I started this international studies program at Stanford, where they actually let you do most of the course work online. So it was something I could do while I was acting. And I thought this might be the right time to go off and do something else. The ultimate irony, of course, is that I love being on House. There's not a smarter group of people that I've been surrounded by in television. So I thought about it for a very long time before I went and talked to David and Katie.
AF: What was that conversation like?
PENN: We had a very long discussion. And I remember David saying, "Are you telling me that you're unhappy with the show and that you want to leave so you can go off and do a different show?" And I was like, "Not at all. I'm actually saying the exact opposite, which is I'm having an incredible time, but there's something aching in me to do something completely different and take a break from the acting thing for a while." And with their blessing, we were able to work it out.
AF: Are you retiring from acting?
PENN: Not necessarily. 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.
AF: How did you react when you found out how they were writing Kutner out? PENN: One of the things I love about our show is you never know what's going to happen. So that news struck me in the same way we hope it strikes the audience: there was a little bit of anger and some depression. You really go through those emotions, especially when somebody dies in that fashion. Ultimately, it was a really interesting choice for them to make. We don't really know why he did it, unless it's resolved in the episodes after [I left], which, of course, I'm not privy to anymore. At least in [last night's] episode, we don't really know why he did it. There's no note. There's no explanation. And as a testament to David and Katie, that's a huge risk. 'Cause it is going to make people upset, and it is going to piss off some of the audience. And, ultimately, in my opinion, that's what art really is -- when you can conjure up those kinds of emotions. And it's rare nowadays to be able to do that on network television, but they managed to.
AF: Were you disappointed that you didn't get to shoot the requisite good-bye scenes with your co-stars?
PENN: From my selfish perspective, you want one last scene with Hugh, you want one awesome bantering scene with Peter, you want something where you and Olivia [Wilde] are doing a diagnostic together. But I had known a couple weeks beforehand [that Kutner would just abruptly commit suicide], so I was conscious in previous episodes of, 'Okay, this is probably the last time I'm going to get to do a scene with Peter, and this is the last time I'm going to be on screen with Robert.' And, of course, we're all still really close friends, so I've seen them a ton of times since I stopped shooting.
AF: What were your emotions like on your last day?
PENN: It's always emotional when something incredible comes to an end. The feeling would have been very different if I was not enjoying myself, and if I didn't love the job. But because I loved the job and the character and the people I'm working with, I think bittersweet is the probably the best way to describe it. The contrast of knowing that I want to move on and do something completely different, with the incredibly violent and incredibly depressing thing that happens to my character... I think bittersweet is the only way to describe it.
AF: Are you bummed you won't be around to experience firsthand the fallout from Cuddy and House having sex?
PENN: Do they really?
AF: That's the buzz.
PENN: See, I didn't even know that. If that's the case, yeah, it's a bummer to not be involved in an episode like that. It's the emotional stuff that really gets the characters riled up, so if that's actually happening, it would be neat to see. [Pauses] Well, not see. To be part of scenes like that. [Laughs]

Again I say WIERD!!! My brain is going to need time to adjust.

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