Kal was born and raised in New Jersey, US. His parents immigrated to America from India. His mother works for a perfume company, as a fragrance evaluator, and his father is an engineer.
He attended the Freehold Regional High School District's Performing Arts High School where he participated in the school's theater productions. In 1995, he moved to Los Angeles to study at the UCLA's prestigious School of Theatre, Film and Television. He majored in film and sociology.
He began his acting career in several indie films. His breakthrough film role came in the comedy Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004). Several Harold & Kumar films have followed. He went on to appear for 2 years in the television series "House M.D." (2004).
He developed an interest in politics from his grandparents who marched for India's independence. In 2009, he joined the Obama administration as an Associate Director.
Born in New Jersey, now resides in L.A.
He and the other students were banned from using the word "like" in his acting classes, this was to make them sound more intelligent during auditions.
He attended the Fine and Performing Arts Center at Howell High School in Farmingdale, New Jersey where he went though an intense study of the arts in acting, dance/movement, and vocal training.
Once directed Jason Allentoff in a short film for a college project.
Is a vegetarian, contrary to the role that he plays in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004).
Has one younger brother.
His father is an engineer and his mother, who has a master's in chemistry, worked as a fragrance evaluator for a perfume company.
When he was in 8th grade he was in a school production of the musical "The Wiz".
Is of Gujarati Indian descent.
Although he attended Howell High School's performing arts program, he later transferred to Freehold Township (NJ) High School, where he graduated in 1995.
Lives in same Los Angeles apartment building as director Christian Levatino.
Began using the name Kal Penn, a variation on his first name Kalpen, to get more roles; he believed that his difficult foreign name would scare away potential employers.
His favorite book is "The Namesake" and used to check into hotels under the pseudonym of "Gogol Ganguli", the lead character of the book. When found out that Mira Nair was making a film out of it, despite her having already cast an actor in the part, Penn lobbied for the role and eventually won it.
Studied acting under the same teacher (Reynold Forman) as Anthony Bradford.
During the Spring 2008 semester, he was an adjunct faculty member in the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania (familiarly called "Penn") in Philadelphia. He taught a lecture course, "Images of Asian Americans in the Media," and a seminar, "Contemporary American Teen Films," both of which were cross-listed in the Cinema Studies department. His faculty listing on the Asian American Studies Program website gave his name as Kalpen Modi (his real name) first, with his stage name, Kal Penn, in parentheses.
Is in the process of earning a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University.
In April 2009, Penn told Entertainment Weekly Magazine that the writers killed off his character on "House M.D." (2004) because he had asked to be allowed to leave the show to go work for the Barack Obama Administration as the Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Liaison.
Accepted a position as the associate director in the White House's Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs [April 7, 2009].
Kal Penn was invited for an audition for the role of "Gogol Ganguly" in the movie The Namesake (2006), because director Mira Nair's son, Zohan, and her agent's son, Sam, were big fans of Kal Penn's earlier movie - Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004).
The brother of one of Peta 2's senior coordinator Pulin Modi.
Close friends with Olivia Wilde.
He was a member of the Freehold Township High School Forensics Speech & Debate Team. His lucky shirt is the team shirt which depicts the "Fighting Opi".
Was robbed at gunpoint at 1:20 a.m. in Washington D.C. His wallet and other belongings were stolen. [Late April 2010]
Played saxophone in his school's marching band.
[in New York Magazine, commenting about his recurring role as a terrorist on TV's "24" (2001)] 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?
(2005) My friend and I will drive down to Tijuana just for lunch -- it's a 2 1/2-hour drive if you leave early. We go over the border and get these great tacos. There's no sign on the place, so we don't even know the name of it. Behind the shops where all the tourists go, there are these two alleys, and it's there. Half of the appeal, honestly, is that we're going to Mexico for tacos. We're here in Southern California and it's so close to another country, it's awesome that we can just go down there for lunch.
[in "New York" Magazine, discussing the dissimilarity between his real life and the "Kumar" character] I don't smoke weed. That's not something that I generally offer up in terms of talking points about the movie, because there are a lot of stoners that like the movie and you never want to make them feel like something's disingenuous. But for me, it was always a buddy comedy or, you know, if it was a stoner movie, it was probably equal parts a hamburger movie.
(October 2002) L.A.
(January 2008) Currently teaches a course at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. The course is entitled "Asian-Americans in the Media".
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