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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.