"House" star Kal Penn’s much-heralded road from the Fox series to the White House seems to have hit a pothole, or at least taken a turn into a cul-de-sac.
Despite announcing in mid-April that Penn’s character had been killed off so he could accept a position as an Associate Director at the White House Office of Public Liaison, the actor, who was an early Obama supporter, has yet to actually start work for the administration.
"Though we look forward to him joining the team, Kal is not working for the administration at this time," Shin Inouye, White House director of Specialty Media told The Wrap.
In fact, Penn has no official start date with the Obama administration.
When the New Jersey-born actor, whose real name is Kalpen Suresh Modi, does start his gig at the White House, Penn will be the administration’s point man to the Pacific Islander community, which includes the aboriginal peoples of the President’s home state of Hawaii, and the Asian-American community.
By very nature of his celebrity, Penn’s position, like the announcement that he was joining the White House, will be extremely high profile — a height the 32-year old actor has found himself at for the last few years.
As well as staring in "House" for the past two years and in the successful stoner "Harold and Kumar" movie franchise, Penn made several appearances on cable news shows and elsewhere stumping for Obama during last year’s election.
He also spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the Jan. 19 "We Are One" pre-Inaugural concert that also featured Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen and U2.
The plan for Penn to join the Obama team in an official capacity in Washington was already in the bag by then. The actor, who had a position advising the candidate on Arts policy during the campaign, had expressed a desire to join the incoming administration late last year after the election.
A position came together not long afterwards.
Penn’s widely covered declaration in the second week of April that he was leaving "House" to serve in the Obama administration was handled on the show with death of his Kutner character in a sudden suicide.
Found dead in his apartment by other characters, the death was left unexplained in House, with Hugh Laurie’s lead character believing that Kutner’s gunshot to the head was an act of murder, not suicide. The episode, which was broadcast on April 6, was augmented online with an official memorial website for the character.
The site featured photographs of the actor, a fictional obituary, emotional notes from fellow characters, a forum for fans and a Facebook link. Recently the memorial site has been taken down and attempts to access it will take you to the main House site, where oddly there is still a bio page for Penn.
The exit of Penn’s character, or rather the reaction to it, is, according to the White House, why the pause button has been hit on Penn taking up his new position.
"The suicide of his character on House was quite shocking," Inouye says, "so everyone thought there should be a bit of timely delay before he takes up work for the administration
Though directly recommended by the White House, Penn’s representative did not respond to requests from TheWrap on Penn and his plans.
Undoubtly, however, part of those plans surely involved relocating from the West Coast to D.C. and, as almost everyone who goes into public service learns, taking a hefty pay cut. The Public Liaison position pays around $70,000 a year … or around what Penn was making per episode on House, give or take $15,000.
Beyond that, since the media conference call telling everyone that he was going to work for the administration, Penn has been, according to his Twitter account, busy.
In a non-administration capacity, he has been traveling in the Middle East, visiting American troops in the region. The actor, who was a visiting Asian American Studies lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania in the spring of 2008, has also been speaking on college campuses.
In recent weeks, Penn’s spoken at the University of Delaware and Albany’s Union College, where, as the school’s website stated, he planned to discuss "the political side of pop culture and talk about what it’s like to be a racial minority in the American film industry."
On May 26th, Penn gave a guest Media Studies lecture at Stanford, states the university’s events listings, on "how pop culture can reinforce, but also challenge and overturn, racial stereotypes."
The actor, who has a double major Film and Sociology degree from UCLA, is no stranger to Stanford. He’s presently in the process of completing a graduate program in International Security there.
Besides starring in "Under New Management," which is supposed to hit theaters later this year, the Times of India has stated that Penn was scheduled to be on the subcontinent either this July or August to "shoot the remaining portions of Ravi Kumar’s Bhopal – Prayer for Rain." And he’s already scheduled to team up again with John Cho to film "A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas" in the summer of 2010.
Still the White House maintains that Penn is their guy and that he’s on board… eventually. "We are very glad Kal is joining the administration," says spokesman Shin Inouye, "we just don’t know when that is going to be."