Kal Penn brings insight, perspective to Jorgensen
Published: Friday, September 6, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 6, 2013 01:09
Actor, activist and professor Kal Penn, shared life stories, advice and jokes to a full house at the Jorgensen on Thursday night in celebration of UConn’s Asian American Studies Institute’s 20th anniversary.
Set up like a talk show set with two chairs and a small table with water in the center, the Jorgensen stage first graced Vincent Cardinal, the department head of Dramatic Arts. As host of the night, he first thanked those that made the night possible. Two ladies responsible for the event were Cathy Schlund-Vials, director of the Asian American Studies Institute, and Angela Rola, director of the Asian American Cultural Center. With the help of the Asian American Cultural Center, the Student Union Board of Governors, the Alumni Association and the UConn Foundation, as well as longtime friend Scott Wolfman, Rola and Schlund-Vials were able to contact award-winning actor Penn and have him come to UConn.
“Wait, was this billed as ‘An Evening with Kal Penn?’” he asked the audience as soon as he entered stage. “That sounds so shady.”
Though Penn is most known for his comedic roles in movies like the “Harold and Kumar” series and “The Namesake,” as well as shows like “How I Met Your Mother” and “House,” he has ventured far beyond the acting world in recent years.
While answering questions asked by Cardinal, Penn revealed a lot about his experiences working with President Obama during his election campaign and as the associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Having read works by Obama, he decided to travel to Iowa for a few days where he was surprised by the young, smart and energetic campaigners helping with the election. He informed the cast and crew of “House” that he would be taking a two-year hiatus working in politics and interviewed for a job at the White House.
“Always shave your face,” he advised men, sharing how the president took notice. While students had a chance to line up and ask him questions during the second half of the evening, Penn gave more advice based on his experiences, encouraging acting students to go out and do a lot on their own and search for roles in student films on websites like backstage.com.
“Had I turned down auditions because of certain fears I’ve had, I wouldn’t have landed some jobs,” he said. Friendly and humorous, Penn didn’t hesitate to give out handshakes and hugs to whomever asked.
Relating to a lot of Asian American students in the crowd, Penn explained how he was raised by two immigrant parents who both studied in fields of science. He is the only actor in his family, but he has represented Asian Americans in many small films in his early career. He most enjoyed his role in “The Namesake,” a film directed by Mira Nair adapted from the book by Jhumpa Lahiri. Nair was an inspiration for Penn since he was young and he went through considerable effort to land an audition with her for the role, which had already been cast before he had the opportunity. But Penn ultimately was chosen the play the lead and won received the Asian Excellence Award for Outstanding Actor.
Both Schlund-Vials and Rola were very happy with the turn out of the night, referring to the full house. In celebration of 20 years of the Asian American Studies Institute and the Asian American Cultural Center, this event showcased the Asian American community’s prevalence on campus.