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The White-Castle Ceiling

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Penn and his parent-distressing girlfriend (Jacinda Barrett) in The Namesake.  

Yet Penn is eager to brush off comparisons between Gogol’s upbringing and his own childhood in suburban New Jersey—for one thing, he and his parents have always gotten along. “It’s sort of like saying, ‘Gogol drank a lot of coffee growing up, I drank a lot of coffee, therefore I relate to Gogol,’ ” he says. “Gogol to me is interesting because he’s tormented by being named after a Russian author who died a virgin. I mean, his being Indian isn’t interesting in the least.”

Just before we say good-bye, Penn stops to tell a story he says he’s never told before. It’s about the last movie he shot before The Namesake, “this awful movie called Son of the Mask.” The character was named Jorge, not written as an Indian, but Penn says the director insisted he do a really thick Indian accent. There were meetings and arguments, but Penn met him halfway. Then after the film wrapped, the studio flew him back for what was supposed to be routine dubbing owing to incidental noise, only to inform him that he had to redo all his lines in a thicker accent. Penn made up a story about a meeting he couldn’t miss, did the routine dubbing, and got out. “I was livid in the car, like, Why the hell am I wasting my time being an actor if these doors are constantly going to be shut in my face?! I walk into my manager’s office and am just like, ‘Don’t ever send me back to that place again!!!’ Then I spouted off a bunch of profanities about, you know, the state of things. He’s just looking at me with this smug look, and he’s like, ‘Are you done?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ And he goes, ‘Good, because Mira just called, and you’ve booked The Namesake.’ ”


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