Actor Kal Penn Trades 'House' For White House

Since the new season of House, M.D., Fox's medical mystery hit, began, there had been buzz about a plot twist that would shock the audience. But even with that knowledge, devoted House watchers were thunderstruck when one of the series' mainstays, the irreverent Dr. Lawrence Kutner, played by Indian-American actor Kal Penn, was discovered dead at the beginning of Monday's episode.

"He didn't slit his wrists and peacefully drift away," an anguished Dr. House snapped to Kutner's grieving colleagues. "He shot himself."

What a way to leave.

Penn had made a hard decision: He was leaving House — a job he loved — to go to the White House as the new associate director of the Office of Public Liaison.

It was, Penn told reporters during a phone conference Tuesday, a unique opportunity to engage in one of two lifelong passions. The first is acting; the second, public service.

When Penn told his family and friends the news, some friends thought he was crazy to trade a successful actor's salary and fame for the tedium of government work. Penn has become a cult favorite for his role as half of a dope-smoking, hamburger-scarfing duo in the Harold and Kumar series and received critical acclaim in the lead role of Mira Nair's adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's best-seller The Namesake.

He was going to leave Hollywood for a midlevel public servant's job? Really?

His parents, he said, weren't so surprised. They had watched him deeply immerse himself in the Obama campaign and suspected he might make the switch to politics at some point.

Working at the Office of Public Liaison, Penn explained, would allow him to continue the work he had done as a member of candidate Obama's arts advisory council: reach out to Asian-American audiences, the arts community and young people.

And he won't be a government drone forever: Penn said he intends to get back to acting at some point.

A couple of years in D.C. might be the right prescription to cure him of Potomac Fever. And then, maybe we'll get Harold and Kumar Go To Washington. After all, he'll have done all the research.

Correction May 6, 2009

In some broadcasts, we said, "Penn volunteered for the Obama campaign during the Iowa primaries." We should have said the Iowa caucuses.

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