Sunday, April 4, 2010
Kalpen Suresh Modi stage name Kal Penn, is an American film actor and politician
As an actor, he is known for roles on the television programs House and 24, and for the Harold and Kumar comedy films. Modi also taught at the University of Pennsylvania as a visiting lecturer in the Cinema Studies Program.
On April 8, 2009, it was announced that Modi would join the Obama White House as an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. This necessitated that his character Lawrence Kutner be written out of the TV series House.
Modi was born as Kalpen Suresh Modi in Montclair, New Jersey, the son of Asmita, a fragrance evaluator for a perfume company, and Suresh Modi, an engineer. Both of his parents are Gujarati immigrants from India. He has stated that stories of his grandparents marching with Mahatma Gandhi for Indian independence were a significant influence on his interest in politics. Suresh is a vegetarian.
He attended middle school at Marlboro Middle School in Marlboro, NJ and played baritone saxophone in the jazz band there. Modi attended The Fine and Performing Arts Academy (a magnet program) at Howell High School for freshman, sophomore, and junior years; he transferred to Freehold Township High School for senior year; both schools are part of the Freehold Regional High School District. He was active in the schools' theater productions. He attended UCLA, where he double majored in film and sociology.
Modi's feature film debut came in 1998 in Express: Aisle to Glory. He has since appeared in American Desi, National Lampoon's Van Wilder, Malibu's Most Wanted, A Lot Like Love, Dude, Where's the Party?, Love Don't Cost a Thing, Superman Returns, National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, Epic Movie, The Namesake, the Harold and Kumar series, and an uncredited appearance in Deck the Halls. Penn was featured in the The Lonely Island's rejected MTV comedy pilot for Awesometown.
Modi says that he derived his acting name, Kal Penn, as a lark: “Almost as a joke to prove friends wrong, and half as an attempt to see if what I was told would work (that anglicized names appeal more to a white-dominated industry), I put ‘Kal Penn’ on my resume and photos." His audition callbacks rose by 50 percent. Modi has stated that he prefers his birth name and uses "Kal Penn" only for professional purposes.
In January 2007, Modi appeared in the first four episodes of the sixth season of 24 as Ahmed Amar, a teenage terrorist. Modi says he nearly turned down the role due to personal ethics, stating, "I have a huge political problem with the role. It was essentially accepting a form of racial profiling. I think it’s repulsive. But it was the first time I had a chance to blow stuff up and take a family hostage. As an actor, why shouldn’t I have that opportunity? Because I'm brown and I should be scared about the connection between media images and people's thought processes?"
In fall 2007, Modi joined the cast of the Fox medical drama House as a fellowship applicant. E! reported that Penn had signed on as a regular on the show along with Olivia Wilde and Peter Jacobson and this was confirmed in the plot of the episode "Games". Modi continued with the series through to the episode "Simple Explanation", which aired April 6, 2009. He made an additional appearance as Kutner on the fifth season finale, "Both Sides Now", that aired on May 11, 2009. However, due to his new job at the White House, Kal Modi could not be present for the filming of this episode. The clip of him saying "Too bad it isn't true" was taken from a previous filming.
Modi was an advocate for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008 and a member of Obama's National Arts Policy Committee. He appears in the Barack Obama video "Sí Se Puede Cambiar" by Andres Useche and appeared with comedian George Lopez on January 18, 2009, at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial".
In early 2009, Modi was offered the position of Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in the Obama administration, which he accepted. This necessitated his character Lawrence Kutner being written out of the TV series House. In his new role with the Obama administration, Modi serves as a liaison with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. He has gone back to using his birth name, Kalpen Modi.
In April 2010, it was confirmed Modi would leave his post as Barack Obama's associate director of public engagement to return to his acting career.
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