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Why Emin Grigoryan From Clarice Looks So Familiar

Decades later and it's clear the horrors and intrigue inspired by The Silence of the Lambs continue to fascinate audiences. This can be readily seen in the massive fandom surrounding the cancelled-but-not-forgotten series Hannibal, starring Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, and Caroline Dhavernas. While hope's still out there a fourth season of Hannibal could come to fruition, at least fans have a bit more backstory into the psychotic mind of Hannibal Lecter. 

Now, fans will have a chance to dive into the other half of The Silence of the Lambs when Clarice airs on CBS on February 11. The psychological thriller series sees Rebecca Breeds as Clarice Starling, the role Jodie Foster popularized in the original film, and picks up some time after the events of the film, so we'll be introduced to a new cast of characters, some of whom may look a bit familiar.  Arguably the most familiar face on the series to general audiences will be Kal Penn, who plays FBI agent Emin Grigoryan. He's acted consistently over the last two decades; from stoner comedies to medical dramas, he's proven he fits in pretty much everywhere. If you find yourself wondering where you've seen Penn before, here's your answer. 

Van Wilder was Penn's first big role

As IMDb will tell you, Kal Penn's been acting since the 1990s, when he had small roles on the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It was 2002's Van Wilder: Party Liaison, however, that really put him on the map and showed his talent for comedic acting in the straight man position. Penn appears as foreign exchange student Taj Mahal Badalandabad, who the title character, a popular slacker and professional student played by Ryan Reynolds, hires to serve as his assistant in the hopes of bringing the awkward, naive, and inexperienced wallflower out of his shell. In exchange, Taj must help Van navigate his financial shortcomings to stay in school at Coolidge College, as well as his mutual interest in coed Gwen Pearson, a journalism major intent on telling the story of the campus legend himself.

Penn went onto play the role of Taj again in a sans-Reynolds sequel, the thus-awkwardly-titled Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj, in 2006. Now the student has become the master and is in school in England, trying to groom his own crop of outcasts to become superstars.

Penn's breakthrough role was in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

After making a name for himself as a supporting actor in Van Wilder, Penn broke out in a big way as a co-lead in the instant comedy classic Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. It's about two stoners who get the munchies and just want to grab a bite to eat at White Castle. Along the way, they get into various mishaps and learn what they really want to do with their lives, which, in Kumar's case, involves telling his parents how he really doesn't want to go to medical school and become a doctor. 

The film was a reasonable hit when it first came out, grossing over $23 million, which isn't bad considering it only had a budget of $9 million. The appeal of the film was immediate, which is why it spawned two sequels: Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas. Penn proved he had plenty of comedic chops with his role in this franchise, which he put to use in other comedies like Epic Movie. However, there are many sides to Penn, and he had a chance to showcase more of his dramatic abilities on TV. 

Kal Penn then landed the recurring role of Dr. Lawrence Kutner on House

House was one of the hottest shows on television from 2004 to 2012. Viewers just couldn't get enough of watching Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) put other doctors in their place by diagnosig people's ailments all while battling demons of his own. His abrasive attitude was often contrasted with the more docile demeanors of his various co-workers over the years, especially Dr. Lawrence Kutner, played by Penn. His character was introduced to the main cast in season 4. With an emphasis in sports medicine, Dr. Kutner is hired by House as one of the hospital's new fellows. While he had plenty of interesting story lines during his time on the show, the most intriguing story of all is the one regarding why Penn left the show one season later. 

The real-life reason behind Penn's departure was his position within the Obama administration, serving as a liaison to reach out to younger voters. This resulted in his character being killed off in season 5, but he returned as a hallucination in the House series finale. It was during this time he took a break from acting, but once his role in politics was finished, he went right back into acting and ended up with another prominent role in a series that put his time in the White House to good use. 

His next recurring role was that of Seth Wright on Designated Survivor

Penn has a knack for effortlessly going back and forth from comedic projects to more serious ones. After his time in the White House was done, he could be seen in various sitcoms, such as New GirlHow I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory. These all involved guest spots, but the next recurring gig he received would utilize his time in the Office of Public Engagement more so than his time playing Kumar. Penn was soon cast as Seth Wright in the political drama Designated Survivor. The series follows Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), who finds himself as President of the United States when an explosion kills the current president and everyone ahead of him in the line of succession. Seth is his Communications Director, offering support to the new president as he navigates the murky, dangerous waters associated with Washington, D.C. Penn didn't just show up to read some lines in front of a camera for this show; he also worked as a consultant (via TVLine). 

Penn's had a fascinatingly eclectic career. Soon, he'll jump into further unfamiliar territory with the crime thriller Clarice. If one thing's clear from Penn's filmography thus far, it's to always expect the unexpected from the actor.