Updated; spoiler alert
The “Harold and Kumar” and “House” star will be working as associate director in the office of public liaison, he tells Entertainment Weekly. (via Politico’s Shenanigans).
“I was incredibly honored a couple of months ago to get the opportunity to go work in the White House. I got to know the President and some of the staff during the campaign and had expressed interest in working there, so I’m going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison. They do outreach with the American public and with different organizations. They’re basically the front door of the White House. They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House. It’s similar to what I was doing on the campaign.”
Of all the actors who went out on the trail for Obama, Penn may have been the most dogged, working the phones in Iowa, traveling across states by bus and volunteering on the floor of the Democratic National Convention. Obama was wary of getting too wrapped up in Hollywood glitter, but he did give shout outs to Penn at campaign rallies.
No word yet on what type of pay cut he’ll be taking, but it will be plenty. Penn’s character was written out of “House” on last night’s episode, when his character, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, committed suicide.
Penn said on a conference call with reporters this morning that he talked about the job briefly with Obama at an inaugural ball. “We discussed it briefly. I was trying to find the right fit and see if I could be helpful and be of service.” He added that he then followed up with special adviser Valerie Jarrett and her chief of staff, Michael Strautmanis.
He said that while it is an unusual career move, “I am not packing up and saying, ‘I am leaving Hollywood’ and all this stuff. It is just pursuing another passion right now. We’ll see for how long and under what circumstances.”
Financial concerns were a consideration, as “there is a huge pay cut.” Penn said he’s trying to figure out what to do about his Los Angeles home in a dire real estate market, and plans to go to Washington next week to look for an apartment. There is no time frame for the job, but he said he “definitely intends to go out there for at least a year or two to figure it out.”
Penn will have particular responsibility in the job as a liaison to the arts world and to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, mirroring his role during the campaign. But he also expressed a desire to engage the entertainment community in ways other than fund-raising. In fact, Penn first met Obama at a fund-raiser late in 2007, when he was inspired enough to work for the candidate and even move to Iowa for a month to work on the caucus efforts.
Speaking as someone who has lived there for the past 10 or 12 years, my colleagues aren’t engaged frequently in the day to day outreach aspect of things. We would like that to change. We would like to engage people in the arts community.”
The Office of Public Liaison includes several others who worked on Obama’s campaign in Los Angeles and Hollywood, such as David Washington, who consulted Jennifer Lopez on political and philanthropic pursuits, and Yosi Sergant, the entertainment industry publicist who was instrumental in getting Shepard Fairey to paint the iconic Obama “Hope” poster. Also working at 1600 is Bim Ayandele, a philanthropic consultant who help spearhead the Generation Obama group of young entertainment industry professionals during the campaign.
Asked if he had any plans to pursue political office, Penn chuckled and said, “No.”