Gil Grissom of CSI
“Chicago is such a blue-collar, middle-American city. It's just real people, you know? Nobody has an agenda that fits into yours. I get recognized and stuff, but they don't give a s*** about that. They just want to know whether or not you're going to buy them a beer.” William Petersen
A veteran of the Chicago stage, William Petersen is popular among TV viewers as the protagonist Gilbert Arthur "Gil" Grissom on the CBS forensic drama series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." He has played the role since its pilot in 2000 and has been nominated for a Golden Globe and three Emmy Awards. Petersen recently announced in July 2008 that he would quit as a “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” regular, but will return for guest spots.
Meanwhile, the actor who made his film debut as a bartender in Michael Mann's 1981 film "Thief" (1981), has starred in such films as "To Live and Die in L.A." (1985), "Manhunter" (1986), "Cousins" (1989), "Young Guns II" (1990), "Mulholland Falls" (1996), "Fear" (1996), "Gunshy" (1998), "The Skulls" (2000) and "The Contender" (2000).
The 5' 10" handsome, athletic actor also appeared in the miniseries "The Kennedys of Massachusetts" (1990) and "Return to Lonesome Dove" (1993), as well as guest starred in the TV shows "The Twilight Zone," "Fallen Angels," "CSI: Miami" and "Without a Trace."
“Now I'm seen by more people in one episode than I was in 20 years of theatre and movies. It's gratifying to have an impact on 25 million people a night, but I can say goodbye to my lunch-pail life as a working actor. I'm scared I might be a celebrity.” William Petersen
Childhood and Family:
The youngest of six children to a Danish-American father and a German-American mother, William Louis Petersen, nicknamed Billy, was born on February 21, 1953, in Evanston, Illinois. He attended Bishop Kelly High School in Boise, Idaho, and graduated in 1972. In 1963, when he was 10 years old, Petersen was cast as John the Baptist in a Christmas pageant staged at his sister's all-girls high school.
“I was horrible at science and math. I couldn't pass a test to save my life! I'm surprised that it didn't take me until I was 20 to graduate. If I stayed a football player, my career would have been over 20 years ago. As it is, my knees are shot. I found I got the same good feeling in acting that I had in sports, but I found I could have a more profound impact on people.” William Petersen
After graduating from high school, Petersen enrolled at Idaho State University on a football scholarship. Although he excelled at sports, his academic grades were poor. He was advised to take acting classes to boost his grade point average. He later found out that he enjoyed acting and went on to sharpen his craft at the renowned Steppenwolf Theater Company.
In 1974, when he was 21, Petersen married Joanne Brady and had one daughter with her, Maite Petersen (born in 1975). They divorced in 1981 and in 1993, Petersen began a relationship with Gina Cirone, a biology teacher. They became engaged in February 2002 and were married on June 14, 2003, in Petrignano, Italy. Petersen has one grandchild named Mazrik William (born in October 2003).
To Live and Die in L.A.
"It was the first time that I understood that acting was an art form. It was not Clint Eastwood on a horse, Bob Hope in a road movie. It was not Don Knotts in 'The Incredible Mr. Limpet.' These are favorite movies of mine too. But when I sat in 'Last Tango in Paris,' the light bulb went on. To this day, Brando is the one I want to meet and the one I'm terrified to meet." William Petersen
After going to Spain where he started a Shakespeare company, William Petersen moved back to Evanston and ended up in Chicago. Since his Chicago theater debut in "Canticle of the Sun," he has acted regularly in various stage productions. He later earned his Actor's Equity card in 1979 at the Victory Gardens Theater.
In 1979, Petersen co-founded an ensemble acting group now called the Remains Theatre, alongside longtime friend Cindy Chvatal and actor Gary Cole. After his portrayal of Jack Henry Abbott in “Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison” earned him the Joseph Jefferson award for best actor, he reprised the role at the Kennedy Center and in London. He also received Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for his performances in a production of Sam Shepard's musical “The Tooth of the Crime” and Tennessee Williams' “The Night of the Iguana.”
“One of the things I love about theater, one of the reasons I'll never give it up, is that it's fifty percent the audience's responsibility.” William Petersen
He also appeared in several local productions, including William Saroyan's 1939 five-act stage play “The Time of Your Life,” David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Sam Shepard's “Fool for Love” and David Mamet's “Speed-the-Plow” (playing Bob Balaban).
William made his feature debut in Michael Mann's 1981 film based on the novel "The Home Invaders" by Frank Hohimer (the pen name of real-life jewel thief John Seybold), "Thief." In the film that stars James Caan, Tuesday Weld, James Belushi, Robert Prosky and Willie Nelson, Petersen played a bartender.
While portraying Stanley Kowalski in "A Steetcar Named Desire" at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, Petersen was "discovered" by Academy Award-winning American movie and television director, producer and screenwriter William Friedkin. Friedkin later asked him to read for his cop thriller movie “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), which was based on the novel written by former Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich.
“The greatest thing that ever happened to me in terms of my acting was the audition for 'To Live and Die in L.A.' After I read, William Friedkin put down the script and said, 'You got the part.' I really thought it was a joke. I went back to my hotel room and took a bath and they called and wanted to make a deal. I still didn't believe it.” William Petersen
The following year, Petersen was spotted as a guest in an episode of the series "The Twilight Zone." He also starred as Will Graham, a former FBI agent who captured the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (portrayed by Brian Cox), in Michael Mann's thriller film based on Thomas Harris's novel "Red Dragon," "Manhunter." His role in “Manhunter” (1986) was so emotionally exhausting that William did everything he could to rid himself of the Will Graham character after filming had been completed, which included cutting his hair, dyeing it blonde and shaving off his beard.
After turning down a role in writer/director Oliver Stone's Vietnam War film “Platoon” (1986), Petersen starred on an HBO baseball movie, "Long Gone" (1987). He also co-starred with Ted Danson, Isabella Rossellini, Sean Young, Lloyd Bridges and Keith Coogan in Joel
Schumacher's remake of the 1977 French comedy film "Cousin, Cousine" and co-starred with Joshua Zuehlke, Alex English, Jamie Lee Curtis, Gregory Peck and Michael Bowen in Mike Newell's 1987 film "Amazing Grace and Chuck" (1987).
Entering the '90s, Petersen portrayed the young Joseph P. Kennedy, a prominent American businessman and political figure and the father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, in the sweeping ABC miniseries "The Kennedys of Massachusetts." He then portrayed the role of Patrick "Pat" Floyd Garrett, the Old West lawman, bartender, and customs agent who was best known for killing Billy the Kid (played by Emilio Estevez), in Geoff Murphy's western film and the sequel to "Young Guns" (1988), "Young Guns II," which also features Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Christian Slater.
After forming a film production company called High Horse Productions with producer Cynthia Chvatal, Petersen produced and starred in the feature film "Hard Promises" (1991; with Sissy Spacek) and the TNT TV-movie "Keep the Change" (1992). He also co-starred in Charlie Peters' ensemble comedy film "Passed Away" (1992; opposite Bob Hoskins and Jack Warden) and "In the Kingdom of the Blind, the Man with One Eye Is King" (1995).
After turning down a major part in writer/director Michael Mann's epic crime drama film “Heat” (1995), Petersen played an unaccredited role in "Mulholland Falls" (1996; with Nick Nolte, Jennifer Connelly, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, and Melanie Griffith). He then played Reese Witherspoon's overprotective father, who dislikes her dating Mark Wahlberg's violent psychopath character, in James Foley's thriller movie "Fear" (1996).
He also starred opposite Diane Lane and Michael Wincott in Jeff Celentano's film "Gunshy" (1998) and teamed up with Gary Cole and Sheryl Lee in Roger Young's movie "Kiss the Sky" (1999).
Meanwhile, TV viewers could catch William starring in the made-for-television movies "Curacao" (1993), "Present Tense, Past Perfect" (1995), "The Beast" (1996), "12 Angry Men" (1997), "The Staircase" (1998) and "The Rat Pack" (1998), as well as in the miniseries "Return to Lonesome Dove" (1993) and in an episode of the TV show "Fallen Angels."
He also returned to the stage and made his Broadway debut in 1996 in the Robert Falls-directed revival of Tennessee Williams' “Night of the Iguana,” in which he portrayed Reverend Shannon, opposite Marsha Mason's Maxine and Cherry Jones' Hannah.
“I had the feeling that if I didn't get back on stage, I wouldn't want to go back. It's happened to a lot of actors where the further away from the theater you get, the more terrified of it you become.” William Petersen
Hitting the new millennium, Petersen began playing the lead role of Gilbert Arthur "Gil" Grissom, Ph.D., the brainy but quirky introvert night shift team supervisor for the Las Vegas CSI unit, on the CBS crime drama series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." He also served as a producer of the show but declined when he was offered a chance to produce "CSI: Miami" (2002), the spin-off of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (2000).
During his hefty stint on the show, Peterson had been nominated Screen Actors Guild Award's Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series four times, which he won one in 2005. He also received three Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Drama Series three times and one Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama. His character is ranked number 89 on Bravo's Greatest Television Characters of All Time.
Meanwhile, Petersen continued working in films. He could be seen alongside Joshua Jackson, Paul Walker and Leslie Bibb in Rob Cohen's "The Skulls" (2000). That same year, he acted opposite Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, Christian Slater and Sam Elliott in Rod Lurie's political thriller "The Contender" (2000), in which he portrayed Governor Jack Hathaway (D-VA). Petersen also appeared in the made-for-television movie "Haven" (2001), as well as guest-starred in an episode of the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" spin-off "CSI: Miami" and CBS' FBI drama "Without a Trace."
“I was a little bit of a snob in that way. I was afraid I'd lose my soul and my freedom. What I've discovered is that great drama can exist in any medium.” William Petersen (on acting on television)
In July 2008, Petersen confirmed he would be stepping down as a “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” regular, but will return for guest spots.
"Theater in Chicago will always be my first love. It started careers for me and about 50 of my friends. We all love coming back. As soon as the TV show is over, I'll be back in Chicago doing live theater." William Petersen (on what he plans to do after "CSI")
Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," 2005
Broadcast Film Critics Association: Alan J. Pakula Award, "The Contender," 2001