Actor, activist Penn to talk balancing art, advocacy



Few people make the leap from acting to public service; fewer still leave a role on a successful TV show to do it. Kal Penn did both.

Penn will bring his unique perspective as both an actor and public servant to Chautauqua Institution this week. He will give the morning lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, discussing the Week Five theme, “Art & Politics.”

Most famous for his role in the “Harold & Kumar” comedy films, Penn starred as Dr. Lawrence Kutner on the hit medical drama “House: M.D.” from 2007 to 2009, when he was offered a job in President Barack Obama’s administration as associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. He accepted, and his character was written out of the show.

“I loved my time in Washington, D.C., I loved my time on the most bizarre film and TV sets,” Penn said in his May 18 commencement address at Quinnipiac University. “To everyone, the decision to be an actor and the decision to work in Washington, D.C., was crazy. But part of my desire to do both was because they were both things I loved, but also because of the belief that, if you are going to have an opinion about something, you should also act on it.”

During his White House tenure, he returned to using his birth name, Kalpen Modi, and was responsible for outreach with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.

He took a brief break in 2010 to film the third “Harold & Kumar” movie and left the post in July 2011. He served as a co-chair on Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and serves on the President’s Committee of the Arts and Humanities.

He remains active as an actor, most recently on the recently canceled CBS drama “Battle Creek.” In March, he began hosting National Geographic’s “The Big Picture,” a data-driven show analyzing topics from sports to crime to sex.

Penn has several upcoming film roles, but is unsure about re-entering politics for the coming presidential election.

“I haven’t really thought about the 2016 election just yet,” Penn said in a March interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I think it’s still pretty far out there. I haven’t really decided.”