White Castle star turned White House adviser Kal Penn has recalled how accepting an invitation from his House co-star Olivia Wilde to an event for then-Senator Barack Obama led him to ditch acting for a period and go work for the former president.
The author of the new book You Can’t Be Serious told Molly Jong-Fast and Andy Levy how he tried to outsmart the presidential candidate at the event in 2007 by asking about his biofuels policy after reading a piece on how using corn would drive-up the cost of food prices in developing nations.
“He gave me that smirk and he goes, ‘oh yeah, I read that article in Foreign Affairs too,” Penn said. “If you had read my website carefully you would’ve seen that I’m proposing investing in corn-based ethanol as a bridge to cellulosic ethanol so that we can make fuel from things like our grass clippings and the leaves that we rake in our front yards. And he gives me another smirk and walks off and Olivia is loving every fucking minute of this. She’s like, ‘you just got schooled by Barack Obama.’”
Penn was so impressed that he went on to campaign for Obama and when the Illinois senator was elected president the actor decided he would apply for a job—submitting his resume on the change.gov website. He never heard back.
When he got the chance to attend another event with the newly-elected president and Michelle Obama, Penn’s acting manager told the first lady how he had unsuccessfully applied to work in the White House.
“I told her I put my resume on change.gov like the email said and she looked at me like I was the biggest idiot in the whole world and I realized probably how ridiculous it sounded,” Penn said. “She was so weirded out by this she called the president-elect over… and then looks at me and says, ‘Tell him what you just told me.’”
“I said, ‘Well, sir, you know, I did apply for a job at the White House in case there was anything that I would be qualified doing.’ And he looks at me and says, ‘Who did you apply with?’ And then I was like oh God, this again. I said ‘I applied on change.gov.’ And unlike his wife he smirked at me and it was the same idea though, the smirk was like, ‘God, you idiot’ and he said something like, ‘Why didn’t you reach out to anybody?’”
Penn got a call the next day and ended up working in the White House Office of Public Engagement for a couple of years before he returned to acting.
“My biggest takeaway from that experience was I’m a gigantic idiot,” he joked.