William Louis Petersen (born February 21, 1953) is an American actor and producer, best known for playing Dr. Gilbert "Gil" Grissom on the hit CBS series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
He has also portrayed President John F Kennedy in the 1998 TV film The Rat Pack. Petersen is notoriously selective about the film roles he chooses, and has turned down roles in several films that went on to become modern classics.
Petersen, the youngest of six children, was born in Evanston, Illinois, to parents who worked in the furniture business. His father was Danish-American Arthur Edward Petersen, Sr. (1907-2004) and his mother was German-American June Hoene Petersen (1909-2006). He has two brothers, Arthur, Jr. and Robert, plus three sisters: Anne, Mary Kay, and Elizabeth. He graduated from Bishop Kelly High School in Boise, Idaho, in 1972. He was accepted to Idaho State University on a football scholarship. While at Idaho State, Petersen took an acting course which changed the direction of his life. He left school along with his wife, Joanne, in 1974 and followed a drama professor to the Basque country (Spain) where he studied as a Shakespearean actor. Petersen was interested in Basque culture and he studied the Basque language, Euskera, and gave his daughter the Basque name Maite Nerea (meaning My Beloved). Petersen returned to Idaho intent on being an actor. Not wanting to work a non-acting job in Idaho, he returned to the Chicago area, living with relatives. He became active in the theater and earned his Actors' Equity card. He performed with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, of which he has been an ensemble member since 2008, and was a co-founder of the Remains Theater Ensemble which also included other prominent Chicago actors Gary Cole and Ted Levine.
He is usually credited without his middle initial (i.e. "William Petersen" and not "William L. Petersen").
Petersen starred in the first Hannibal Lecter film, Manhunter, playing FBI agent Will Graham. Because his role in Michael Mann's Manhunter was so emotionally exhausting, he did everything he could to rid himself of Graham after finishing principal photography. He shaved off his beard, cut his hair and dyed it blonde. He also claims to have done this because, while rehearsing for a play in Chicago, his dialogue was always coming out like Graham's; he dyed his hair so he could look in the mirror and see a different person.
In a move perhaps indicative of his career choices, Petersen declined a part in Oliver Stone's Platoon, as it would have kept him in the Philippines, away from his family. Instead, he worked on the 1987 HBO made-for-TV movie Long Gone as a minor league baseball player and manager.
He played a Secret Service Agent gone rogue to avenge his mentor in William Friedkin's 1985 action film To Live and Die in L.A.. Petersen was offered the role of Henry Hill in the movie Goodfellas but turned it down.
In a 1990 ABC three-part miniseries, The Kennedys of Massachusetts, Petersen played U.S. President John F. Kennedy's enormously powerful father, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy. This film won an Emmy, and a Golden Globe from eight and two nominations, respectively. In 1993, Petersen appeared in another miniseries, Return to Lonesome Dove, and in 1996's Fear. Both projects featured him as a character with the surname "Walker."
Having already portrayed Joseph and John F. Kennedy, another political character came his way with the 2000 release The Contender. Petersen played the role of Governor Jack Hathaway, an unscrupulous candidate for vice president following the death of the incumbent.
He appeared uncredited in the noir thriller Mulholland Falls as a character who finds himself on the violent receiving end of a Los Angeles police squad's tactics. He starred in Kiss the Sky and also appeared as part of an all-star cast in a remake of the film "12 Angry Men" with Courtney B. Vance, George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon, and Mykelti Williamson.
Since 2000, Petersen has gained his greatest fame starring as Dr. Gil Grissom in the CBS crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Petersen took a break from CSI to appear in a five-week run of the Trinity Repertory Company production of Dublin Carol in Providence, Rhode Island. On the evening of Wednesday, May 30, 2007 Petersen was at Wrigley Field to join WGN radio sportscasters covering a Chicago Cubs – Florida Marlins game and he mentioned he had seen CSI: The Experience at the Museum of Science and Industry on the South Side of Chicago. He was on a nine-week break from the show at the time, and he expressed how he and his castmates were "blessed" to have such a successful series when he had seen shows starring friends cancelled after only a few episodes.
Petersen renewed his contract with CBS to appear on CSI for the 2008-2009 season, reportedly for $600,000 per episode. On July 15, 2008, the Associated Press reported that Petersen was leaving the show as a regular following Season 9's tenth episode in order to pursue more stage acting opportunities, but that he may return for guest spots. He also said that, if offered, he will reprise his role as Grissom as a regular again. He remains an executive producer of the show.
On February 3, 2009, Petersen was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Most of the cast and crew of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation came out for the ceremony. Petersen's star is located at 6667 Hollywood Blvd, directly in front of the legendary Musso and Frank's Grill.
|To Live and Die in L.A.||Richard Chance||1985|
|Young Guns II||Patrick Floyd 'Pat' Garrett||1990|
|Mulholland Falls||Jack Flynn||1996|
|The Beast||Whip Dalton||1996|
|12 Angry Men||Juror 12||1997|
|The Skulls||Ames Levritt||2000|
|Detachment||Mr. Sarge Kepler||2011|
|Seeking a Friend for the End of the World||Trucker||2012|