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"It was an honor to serve": Kal Penn talks briefly swapping Hollywood for the White House

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Steve Iervolino/ABC News(NEW YORK) — Actor Kal Penn turned some heads back in 2009 when he traded his scrubs on the hit TV show House for a career in the White House.

Penn’s character on House was abruptly killed off to give the actor a chance to officially join Barack Obama’s administration, where the one-time campaign volunteer eventually served as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

While he was excited about the transition, Penn tells ABC Audio his agents and managers were less so.

They’re like, ‘So, you’re quitting?’ That’s it?’ I’m like, ‘No, no, no. I would like to call this a sabbatical. Is that what people do when they, like, go teach? Can we call it that?’ They’re like, ‘How long?'”

“‘Like a year,'” Penn recalled telling them. “And then I realized, you know, government works very slowly. And I was like, all these things I’m working on are not going to get done in a year. I need two years.

And then they’re like, “Look, do you want to still be an actor?”  “I’m like, ‘Yes, a hundred percent. That is my first love. I am not a career political person.’ They were like, “Two years is your max.”

True to his word, Penn jumped back into his movie and TV career two years later. Looking back, he said “It was an honor” working in the White House.

“You know, it’s not as rare as it seems. I know I came from the TV world. So there were a lot of eyes on, ‘Oh, look, look at what this guy’s doing.’ But there were so many people who left their respective private sector careers for anywhere from six months to eight years to serve their country. And that’s sort of the magic of of what we can do in America — not to sound overly cheesy about it,” he says with a laugh.

“But, you know, it was a very humbling experience.”

Penn’s just finished voicing a main character in the new Disney Junior series Mira, Royal Detective.  Though it doesn’t debut until March 20, it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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