These days, Kal Penn is a famous, accomplished actor who’s headlined three “Harold & Kumar” movies, appeared in such TV series as “House” and, of course, currently stars alongside Kiefer Sutherland in “Designated Survivor”. Early in his career, however, when he was just a struggling actor looking to break into the business, roles for actors of Indian descent were few and far between.
As for the ones that were available — well, Penn shares some old scripts in a series of tweets highlighting depictions of Indian characters that, at best, exploited ethnic stereotypes and at worst were downright racist.
“Found a bunch of old scripts from some of my first years trying to be an actor,” Penn wrote alongside a photo of a casting call seeking actors to play a “Gandhi Lookalike,” “Snake Charmers” and “Fire Eaters.”
In another tweet, Penn shared another “awful” script, recalling that casting directors’ requests to make “his accent a little more AUTHENTIC… usually meant they wanted Apu [of “The Simpsons”].
In another tweet, he shares a photo of a pilot script for a sitcom called “The Stones”, remarking that he “tried to convince them to let me speak without an accent & make it funny on the merits (was told no).”
In a series of subsequent tweets, Penn shared some of his more cringe-inducing experiences, including auditioning for a character the writers were too lazy to name (he was called “Foreign Student”), as well as another role for which “the makeup people would use Vaseline to get the sweaty unwashed look going.”
He concludes by noting that “there are too many in this stack to tweet, I’ll be here all day. That said, there were also some wonderful 1st audition & work experiences.”