In Pedro Almodovar’s just-released Kika, Peter Coyote plays an American novelist adrift in Spain whose new book, A Lesbian Killer, may be all too autobiographical. And in Roman Polanski’s recent Bitter Moon, Coyote portrays another Hemingway-come-lately, writing his unpublishable prose in present-day Paris.
The 52-year-old actor didn’t set out to corner the foreign-film market on expatriate writers. But he certainly came to these roles well-prepared: Coyote, whose filmography includes E.T. and Jagged Edge, started out as a poet. He’s now writing his memoirs. ”Carla’s Story,” a chapter from the work- in-progress, earned a coveted place in the latest Pushcart Prize literary anthology as part of the ”Best of the Small Presses” Pushcart award it won last year. ”I’ve always been a writer,” Coyote says in a hotel interview in Manhattan, where he’s promoting Kika. ”Acting is the way I make my living.”
In ”Carla’s Story,” which begins on a Northern California commune in 1968, Coyote displays a fluid prose style, a keen narrative sense-and lots of personal experience. The air of seedy dissipation he brings to his latest movie roles clearly owes something to his years in the counterculture. Of the memoirs, which he has titled The Free- Fall Chronicles, Coyote says, ”It’s a hard but fair appraisal of what the pursuit of absolute freedom feels like and what you learn from it.”
Coyote’s own pursuit of freedom earned him three bouts of hepatitis-at least two brought on by shooting heroin and methedrine with dirty needles. Nowadays he lives a relatively quiet life in Mill Valley, Calif., writing every day and spending time with his 9-year-old son, who lives nearby. The actor and his wife are separated.
”The terrible thing about being an actor is that it’s not a solo occupation,” says Coyote, who tends to go long stretches between roles. ”Writing is something I can do by myself.”