Q&A From Hollywood to KC:

Actor Peter Coyote stars in a family movie filmed on a local horse farm

The Kansas City Star
Robert W. Butler

June 12, 2006

Peter Coyote, who is filming “Shadows of Atticus” at a horse ranch in south Kansas City, says that working with a bigger agency actually hurt his career for a while.

"I can honestly say I’ve never done a film that’s offended my ethical standards,” actor Peter Coyote said.

“But I’ve offended my aesthetic standards time and time again. I’m not going to tell my kid he can’t go to college because Dad won’t do a Disney movie.”

Coyote, 63, is in Kansas City this month filming “Shadows of Atticus.” It’s a family picture about a young girl on the outs with her widowed dad (Jason London) who goes to live with her grandfather (Coyote) on his horse farm.

Co-stars include Peter Boyle, Vivien Cardone, Evan Parke, comic Patton Oswalt, Vanessa Branch and April Bowlby.

Coyote is well-known for his roles in films like “E.T.” and TV series like “Commander in Chief” and “The 4400.” His voice can also be heard on dozens of TV commercials, as a narrator of documentaries and as a reader of books on tape.

During a break in filming “Shadows of Atticus” at the Stonecrest Farm, a sprawling horse ranch in south Kansas City, Coyote talked about his beliefs and career.

His history with Kansas City: “This is the first time I’ve been here in more than 30 years. I came to Kansas City because I was courting Jessie Benton, the daughter of painter Thomas Hart Benton. She ended up running off with some other guy.”

Launching an acting career at age 39: “Actually that’s misleading. I was an actor in my 20s with the San Francisco Mime Troupe. I acted, wrote and directed … in fact a piece I wrote called ‘Olive Pits’ won an Obie.”

The California Arts Council: “The council was formed in 1975 by Gov. Jerry Brown, and I got pulled in by my friend, the poet Gary Snyder. He was the first chairman of the council; a year later I was elected to succeed him … During my 3 1/2 years the budget went from $1 million to $16 million a year. The legislature finally passed a law to keep me from being re-elected. I was a troublemaker.

“But all my years in the counterculture had given me the ability to talk to all sorts of people, and that really whetted my appetite for politics.”

Getting into Hollywood: “I was doing the world premiere of ‘True West’ by Sam Shepard in San Francisco. An agent came up from L.A. to see the show and signed me. I started getting leading roles right away. But Hollywood only gives you two or three shots as a leading man. If your movies don’t make lots of money, you’re relegated to character actor. And that’s pretty much what happened to me.

Regrets: “At first I was with an honest, gutsy agent named Susan Smith who took me from nothing to being a leading man. But hers was a small agency and at age 48 I figured I’d better get to a much bigger agency with lots of directors and writers and actors. So I left Susan.

“Well, at the new agency they put me in a corner and basically let me rot until one of the partners took pity on me and told me to get out of there.”

Voiceovers: “When I was working for the California Arts Council … I was broke. So I started doing voiceover work and have been very successful at it.”

Coyote has narrated dozens of documentaries like “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election.”

“Then there are the celebrity voiceovers for commercials. I don’t have to appear on screen, just talk. I’ve been the voice of Oracle, General Motors, Cadillac, Acura, Mazda, Mutual of New York, Tylenol, Claritin … I make half my income from commercial voiceovers.”

Making “Shadows of Atticus”: “It’s a good story — no sex, no violence, but it still manages to be entertaining. Being a grandfather, it’s nice to be able to watch a movie you’re in with the kids and not have to wince at something that happens on screen.”


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