"This is what the modern actor's life looks like," Peter Coyote said in late February, guiding a reporter through a West Hollywood hotel suite and the three cases worth of possessions that follow him around the world. "It's life on the road."
The road--and Neil Simon's play, "Jake's Women"--had taken Coyote from his Marin County home to rehearsals in Los Angeles, and he was about to move on to San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. Although several weeks later Simon canceled the show's scheduled Broadway run, at this point Coyote was planning to be away from home nine months and had packed accordingly.
Coyote's custom-made metal luggage is designed to recreate home wherever he goes. One piece contains his Zenith Supersport 286 computer, a printer and the modem he uses to communicate with his secretary back in Marin County. A second, which carries the sign "Live Virus," holds his stereo amplifier, speakers, tapes, a Walkman and other sound equipment. And the third, "his office," weighs 75 pounds when loaded. Most of that weight is books. Coyote, who got his first library card at age 6, said he usually is reading five books at a time. The books traveling with him now include Peter Drucker's "New Realities," Elias Canetti's "Crowds & Power," Stella Adler's book on acting, Henry James' "The Tragic Muse," Javier Garcia Sanchez's "Lady of the South Wind" and Milorad Pavic's "Dictionary of the Khazars." When his wife, Marilyn, came to visit, she brought him "Art of the Northern Tlingit" by Aldona Jonaitis.
(He also uses books for privacy on movie sets, he said, putting them "around me like a shield." It doesn't take him out of character, and he can hear what's going on around him. During the filming of "Outrageous Fortune," he said, he reread all of Shakespeare's plays.)
But the books are just the start. His largest case also carries such things as stationery, a lunch pail full of stage makeup, and an extra-long telephone cord, in case the hotel's phone outlet is too far away from the computer. A Zen student for 15 years, Coyote also travels with a special meditation pillow.
Little is left to chance. The actor brings only black, gray and blue clothes with him, for instance, so everything matches and he can just reach into his closet, grab something and wear it. He even packs his own scrap paper, made from fragments of his old scripts and manuscripts. The bound scraps, on which he takes notes, include a copy of a 6,800-word article he did for Vogue Homme, which flew him to Paris to review men's ready-to-wear last spring.
Consider also the thick leather binder he calls "my bible." It is divided into four sections--Los Angeles, New York, London and A to Z for the rest of the world. Each section has a city map and his most-used numbers. It is complemented by his computerized notebook of 3,500 names and addresses. He hired somebody to combine 10 address books, he said, and everything's coded.
"Because I know I'm an absent-minded person, I pay close attention to systematizing certain things that make travel easy and graceful," he said. "It's fun to get good at what you do."