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The Designated Survivor star, 44, shared the story behind his first permanent ink during an appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, where he explained that he had been wanting to get a tattoo for a while and ultimately decided he would get one right before he turned 40.
“Right before I turned 40, I was like: ‘I’m gonna do it. I’ve wanted them for so long,’” he recalled, adding that he decided on the idea for his first tattoo while appearing on the PBS ancestry show Finding Your Roots.
According to Penn, he decided that, whatever he learned on the show about his DNA he would have tattooed on his body, with the actor noting that he went on the series hoping that he would find out an interesting aspect of his heritage.
“I went on that show thinking: ‘I want to find out that I’m a third Scottish and I can get a family crest,’” he said. “You know what I mean? Like, in your head, you’re like: ‘There’s going to be something cool.’ All these commercials say that you’re going to find out something random.”
However, Penn was ultimately informed by the show’s host that he is “99.9 per cent South Asian,” with the actor recalling how the crew had then asked: “How do you feel?” about the results.
“I was like: ‘Yeah, I know, it’s so disappointing,’” the actor joked, before revealing that the show did show him a map with the number R1a-M147, which he said refers to a maternal haplogroup that he shares with millions of other people and it’s “basically your DNA ancestry”.
While explaining the number to Clarkson, the actor pointed to the area inside of his arm, where he has the code tattooed, adding how he’d thought at the time: “That’s going to be my first tattoo because it’s science.”
However, according to Penn, he later learned that the number tattooed on his arm isn’t actually his maternal haplogroup, as he purchased his own DNA kit a few months later to see what else he could find out about his heritage, only to discover that his actual maternal haplogroup is R1a-M417.
At the time, the actor said he’d called over his fiancé Josh to confirm what he was seeing, but that his partner’s reaction had just been one of amusement.
“I was like: ‘Dude, come over here. What is the deal with this? Is this real?’ And the gleeful look on his face, like I have never seen him happier,” Penn recalled of his partner of 11 years. “And then I emailed them all and was like: ‘What’s the deal with this?’”
While two of the numbers tattooed on Penn’s arm are inverted, he told Clarkson that he ultimately decided to keep it “because it’s a good story”.
The Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle star’s tattoo saga prompted Clarkson to share the story of her own first tattoo, with the singer explaining how she’d gotten a Japanese kanji character for “blessed” when she was 18, but later learned during a trip to Japan that it “also means, like, someone’s surname”.
“So I just have someone’s family name on my body,” she added while laughing.