Kal Penn's Excellent Adventure
Summers, Nick, Newsweek
Byline: Nick Summers
Fresh from the White House, Obama's champion is back in a new stoner comedy.
In the 2008 presidential race, plenty of Hollywood A-listers lent their names to Barack Obama's election effort--Scarlett Johansson, Robert De Niro, and Jay-Z, to name just a few. But no one took devotion as far as actor Kal Penn, who is best known for starring as a pothead in the Harold & Kumar franchise. He stumped heavily through Iowa and then, after Obama's inauguration, landed a wonky job in his administration as a public liaison. On his first day, the president's approval rating was nearly 60 percent.
By the spring of 2010, though, with a beaten-up health-care bill just signed into law, the cinema-grade hope of Obama's campaign had faded into the realities of governance. At 1:30 a.m., walking home after a very long day at work, Penn found himself at gunpoint, handing a mugger his wallet and phone. "Right after that happened, at least 12 other White House staffers either emailed me or called me and said, 'Hey, just so you know, the same thing happened to me,'?" Penn recalls--real-life danger that grotesquely echoed the grimness of political setbacks in Washington.
Penn left the administration once because of a contractual obligation to film a movie, and then returned to the Obama fold; this July, he resigned again. During his Beltway days, Penn tried to keep a healthy distance between the acting and politicking parts of his life--he never discussed his oeuvre with Obama, if that's what you're wondering. "The president's got eclectic tastes in movies and is obviously pop-culture savvy," he says. "But when is the appropriate time to bring up that you were in a stoner comedy about Guantanamo? …