Though he had a tough time breaking into Hollywood due to his ethnicity and non-Anglican given name, actor Kal Penn - originally Kalpen Suresh Modi - managed for the most part to avoid playing stereot...
Montclair, New Jersey, USA
|Under New Management||Actor||n/a||7|
|Under New Management||Executive Producer||n/a||1|
|Where's the Party Yaar?||2003||Actor||Mohan||20037|
|Dancing in Twilight||2013||Actor||n/a||20137|
|How I Met Your Mother||2013 2004 - 2013||Actor||Kevin||20137|
|The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius||2012 2011 - 2012||Host||n/a||20125|
|National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj||2006||Actor||Taj||20067|
|We Are Men||2013 2012 - 2013||Actor||Gil Bartis||20137|
|Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay||2008||Actor||Kumar Patel||20087|
|Sisterhood of the Night||2013||Actor||n/a||20137|
|Battle Creek||2014 2013 - 2014||Actor||Detective Funkhauser||20147|
|A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas||2011||Actor||Kumar||20117|
|Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle||2004||Actor||Kumar Patel||20047|
|CBS Fall Preview||2013 2012 - 2013||Host||n/a||20135|
|All About the Andersons||2003 2002 - 2003||Actor||Doctor George||20037|
|American Made||Actor||Jagdesh Singh||7|
|A Lot Like Love||2005||Actor||Jeeter||20057|
|National Lampoon's Van Wilder||2002||Actor||Taj Mahal Badalandabad||20027|
|Man About Town||2005||Actor||Alan||20057|
|Hollywood Game Night||2013 2011 - 2013||Actor||Celebrity Guest||20137|
|American Desi||2001||Actor||Ajay Pandya||20017|
|Six Feet Under||2004 1999 - 2004||Actor||n/a||20047|
|Son of the Mask||2005||Actor||Jorge||20057|
|Tru Calling||2004 2002 - 2004||Actor||Steven||20047|
|24||2009 2000 - 2009||Actor||Ahmed Amar||20097|
|Angel||2003 1998 - 2003||Actor||Young Man in Fez||20037|
|Love Don't Cost a Thing||2003||Actor||Kenneth Warman||20037|
|The Agency||2002 2000 - 2002||Actor||Malek Siham||20027|
|Malibu's Most Wanted||2003||Actor||Hadji||20037|
|Buffy the Vampire Slayer||2002 1995 - 2002||Actor||Hunt||20027|
|Law & Order: Special Victims Unit||2013 1998 - 2013||Actor||Henry||20137|
|ER||2008 1993 - 2008||Actor||Narajan||20087|
|We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial (HBO)||2008 2007 - 2008||Actor||n/a||20087|
|Spin City||2001 1995 - 2001||Actor||Buddy||20017|
|NYPD Blue||2004 1992 - 2004||Actor||Solomon Al-Ramahi||20047|
|The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius||2012 2011 - 2012||Producer||n/a||3|
|National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj||2006||Executive Producer||n/a||1|
|Cast opposite John Cho, as two roomates whose overwhelming case of the munchies leads them on a wild search in "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle"|
|Reprised role of Kumar for the sequel "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay"|
|Had a supporting role in HBO Films' Emmy-Award winning comedy "Express: Aisle to Glory"|
|Made feature debut in the culture-clash drama "Freshmen"|
|Returned to acting with a recurring guest appearance on "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS)|
|Cast opposite Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet in the romantic comedy "A Lot Like Love"|
|Cast in the hit comedy "Malibu's Most Wanted" with Jamie Kennedy|
|Appeared on four episodes of Fox's "24" as a teenage terrorist|
|Cast as Lex Luthor's lackey in "Superman Returns"|
|Starred in the 9/11 NBC drama "Homeland Security"|
|Played an American-born son of Indian immigrants in director Mira Nair's "The Namesake"|
|Joined the cast of the Fox medical drama "House" as one of Dr. House's new fellowship applicants|
|Had a supporting role in the Indian-American-themed romantic comedy "American Desi"|
|Breakthrough role as Taj opposite Ryan Reynolds in the comedy "National Lampoon's Van Wilder"|
|Reprised the role of Taj for "National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj"|
|Took a leave from acting and accepted a position as the associate director in the White House's Office of Public Liaison & Intergovernmental Affairs|
|Reprised role of Kumar for third film "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas"|
|Co-starred in the spoof/parody film "Epic Movie"|
|Had a starring role in the independent film "Where's the Party Yaar?"|
Born Kalpen Suresh Modi on April 23, 1977 in Montclair, NJ, Penn was raised a first generation Indian-American by his father, an engineer, and his mother, a chemist for a perfume company; both were Gujarati immigrants from India. Yearning to perform since he was a child - something his parents had hoped was a passing phase - the young aspiring actor attended the Fine and Performing Arts Specialized Learning Center in Farmingdale, where he learned acting, dance, movement and vocal training. His parents' dream of a life for their son geared more toward becoming a doctor or lawyer or some other respectable profession saw a glimmer of hope when he attended the University of California, Los Angeles as a sociology major, though he also double majored in film while performing in several school productions. With a resume full of school productions and community theater, he began the arduous process of submitting head shots and going on auditions. But response to his efforts was tepid at best. Recognizing the problem, his agent persuaded him to Anglicize his name, which Penn initially dismissed. He eventually relented and was surprised to see a drastic rise in auditions and callbacks.
After appearing in episodes of "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (ABC/The WB, 1996-2003) and "Spin City" (ABC, 1996-2002), he made his feature film debut in "American Desi" (2001), in which he played the hip-hop obsessed roommate of a college student (Deep Katdare) from a traditional Indian family. In the meantime, his profile on television increased when he showed up in episodes of "Angel" (WB, 1999-2004), "Tru Calling" (Fox, 2003-05), "The Agency" (CBS, 2001-03) and "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005). Penn next made the disparaging choice of playing the Indian exchange student, Taj Mahal, in "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" (2002). Originally uninterested in the part because of the character's name and thick Indian accent, Penn was convinced by his agent to take it anyway. But despite the promises of rampant sex, ample gross-outs and the star power of Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid, "Van Wilder" received a critical drubbing and soon whimpered out of theaters. Nonetheless, it did prove to be a breakthrough for the young performer.
In 2003, Penn scored roles in three theatrically released movies. He appeared in the Indian-made comedy, "Where's the Party Yaar?" and played a brash first generation Indian-American whose cousin arrives from India to attend his college, putting a crimp in his hard-partying style. After portraying an Arab who shows off a rocket-powered grenade launcher that he received as a Christmas gift in "Malibu's Most Wanted," he appeared in the mediocre and ultimately forgettable romantic comedy, "Love Don't Cost a Thing." On television, he was a medical student renting a room from the parents of a struggling actor (Anthony Anderson), who returns home to raise his eight-year-old son (Damani Roberts) in "All About the Andersons" (WB, 2003-04). Originally replacing actor Paul Bartholomew after the pilot episode, Penn himself was later replaced by Aimee Garcia.
Penn's major break arrived in the form of his next movie, "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" (2004), a college-age comedy with plenty of sex and gross-out humor, but also possessing three-dimensional main characters who long for more than just tiny burgers after a few bong tokes. Penn and co-star John Cho played Ivy League-educated roommates who, after indulging in some Cannabis sativa, have a sudden craving for White Castle hamburgers. The quest for the mythical sandwiches becomes a wild journey of self-discovery, as the two underdogs learn more in one night than they ever did in college, thanks in part to a surprise run-in with a hitchhiking Neil Patrick Harris as himself. Though perfect for the part, Penn had to earn his spot despite meeting and impressing the screenwriters at a party. Producers scoured the country and beyond for the right Harold and Kumar in an extensive audition process. After several auditions over the course of three months, Penn landed the part and was thrilled to finally play a character devoid of the stereotypical trappings that had plagued earlier roles. The small-budget film was a surprise hit at the box office and went on to earn a widespread cult fan base.
The exposure from "Harold and Kumar" allowed Penn to play more diverse roles in larger projects. He appeared in an episode of "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2001-05) and was cast in a few Hollywood blockbusters, including the decade-late sequel, "Son of the Mask" (2005), with Jamie Kennedy, and the underwhelming romantic comedy "A Lot Like Love" (2005), both of which failed to spark much interest with critics and audiences. Meanwhile, Penn was cast as the genius lackey of Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) in the long-awaited cinematic return of the Man of Steel (Brandon Routh), "Superman Returns" (2006), a role that went largely unnoticed. Meanwhile, Penn starred in the sequel "National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj" (2006), reviving his character to take center stage as Taj attends Oxford University to study and show the uptight student body how to have a good time. The project was an unmitigated bomb after failing to crack $5 million at the box office. Penn ventured into more dramatic territory with his next film, "The Namesake" (2007), in which he played the son of Indian immigrants whose search for his own unique identity might cause him to lose touch with his heritage. Though not a hit with audiences or critics, Penn did earn respect for his nuanced performance.
Not leaving his frat house persona behind just yet, Penn also starred that year in "Epic Movie" (2007), a disastrous spoof-du-jour on hit Hollywood movies that many felt was better left unmade. Turning back to television, he had a recurring role as teenage terrorist Ahmed Amar during the sixth season of "24" (Fox, 2001- ). After appearing in the straight-to-DVD road comedy "Vegas Baby" (2008), he revived the perpetually stoned Kumar for "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" (2008), which focused on their breakout from the infamous detention camp after being mistaken for terrorists onboard an airplane. Though not as well-received as the original, the movie did feature a funny scene with Harold and Kumar sharing a cocaine-laced joint with President George W. Bush (James Adomian). Starting in season four, Penn joined the cast of the popular medical procedural, "House" (Fox, 2004- ), playing a sports medicine specialist who more often than not is enthusiastic about taking risks with the irascible Dr. House (Hugh Laurie). But during season five, his character committed suicide in order for Penn to take a real-life job working for President Barack Obama, for whom he spent two years campaigning tirelessly.
Inspired by his grandparents, who had marched with Mahatma Gandhi during India's push for independence during the first half of the twentieth century, Penn entered into public service in 2009, working for the administration as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he focused on youth, arts and Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. In order to devote himself fully to the cause, Penn put his acting career on indefinite hiatus while also returning to his original name, Kalpen Modi. Little over a year into President Obama's administration, however, Penn's representatives announced he would be leaving his post to appear in a Christmas-themed movie as his signature stoner character. Though the administration had little comment, Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee suggested to ABC News that money may have been a factor.
|The Fine and Performing Arts Specialized Learning Center|
|University of California, Los Angeles|
|University of California, Los Angeles|
|Kal Penn was invited to be a guest instructor at the University of Pennsylvania during the spring 2008 semester. Penn taught two undergraduate courses, "Images of Asian Americans in the Media" and "Contemporary American Teen Films."|
|"I find that when you define a character by ethnicity, you end up with a very boring story. So ultimately that can never really be the driving force behind a compelling character." - Penn to Interview magazine, April 2007|
|In 2009, Penn took a job as as an associate director in the Office of Public Liaison, with a focus on connecting President Obama with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as arts groups.|
|Penn on taking a leave from acting to take a job with the White House: "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 thought this might be the right time to go off and do something else." - quoted in Entertainment Weekly, April 7, 2009|
|On April 20, 2010, Penn was robbed at gunpoint in Washington, D.C. at 1:30 a.m. by an unidentified man who took his wallet and cell phone. Penn alerted White House authorities after the incident, while the U.S. Secret Service have reportedly joined the D.C. Metro Police Department to find the offender.|
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