Kal Penn biography
Kal Penn was born Kalpen Suresh Modi in Montclair, New Jersey, on April 23, 1977. He grew up in a traditional Indian family and aspired to be an actor. After attending UCLA, he got small parts in films and television. In the 2000s, he acted in the films American Desi, National Lampoon's Van Wilder and Harold and Kumar, as well as on the television shows House and 24. In 2009, Penn entered public service as President Barack Obama's associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Indian-American actor Kal Penn was born Kalpen Suresh Modi on April 23, 1977, in Montclair, New Jersey. His father, Suresh, was an engineer, and his mother, Asmita, was a chemist for a perfume company. Both parents were Gujarati immigrants from India and dreamed of their son becoming a doctor or lawyer. However, young Kalpen yearned to be a performer. Sensitive to Indian stereotypes, he rejected his friends' pressure to join the soccer team, and instead joined the school's drama class. His first school performance showed his family and firends that he had made the right decision.
Following his passion, Kalpen Modi attended Howell High School, for its Fine and Performing Arts Specialized Learning Center. He completed his senior year at Freehold Township High School. He then attended the University of California, Los Angeles, majoring in sociology and performance. While performing in several school productions in the 1990s, he simultaneously landed television parts in such programs as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spin City and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
However, work was sporadic and often limited to comedic ethnic roles. Though reluctant at first, Kalpen took the advice of friends and family and anglicized his name, changing it to Kal Penn. As a result, his job offers escalated by 50 percent.
In 2001, Kal Penn had a supporting role in the film American Desi, a romantic comedy that explored race and identity of young ethnic Americans. Then came National Lampoon’s Van Wilder in 2002. Through the critics dubbed it "unfunny" and it proved dismal at the box office, the film provided Penn with good exposure.
This was followed up with Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, a surprise sleeper hit that spawned two sequels, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and A Very Merry Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas. In 2006, Penn had a brief but important supporting role as Stanford, the henchman of Lex Luthor, in Superman Returns.
In January 2007, Penn appeared in a role he initially turned down because he thought it supported racial profiling. Cast as Ahmed Amar, a teenage terrorist, in the sixth season of 24, Kal Penn eventually accepted the role and went on to appear in four episodes. That same year, Penn joined the cast of medical drama House, playing a member of Dr. House's medical diagnostic team. He appeared for the next two seasons, until he was called for a very different role.
During Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Penn was a strong supporter and a member of Obama's National Arts Policy Committee.
In early 2009, he was offered and accepted the position of associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. During this time, Penn went back to his original name of Kalpen Modi, and served as a liaison with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.
In June 2010, he briefly left his post in the Obama Administration to fulfill a precious commitment as Kal Penn, completing the film A Very Merry Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. He returned to his office as associate director of public engagement in November 2010.