Full name : William Louis Petersen
People call him : Billy or Bill
Birthdate : Feb. 21, 1953
Birthplace : Evanston, Illinois
Eye color : Blue
Height : 5’11″
Marital Status : Married to Gina Cirone, June 14, 2003
Children : Maite, born in 1975 and twins, born July 2011
Favorite residence : Chicago, Illinois “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 shit about that. They just want to know whether or not you’re going to buy them a beer.” – William Petersen
What is he like? : According to some who know him, he can be enigmatic and enjoys his solitude, but he is also well-liked with a generous, charming and magnanimous personality. Owning an adventurous spirit and sharp intellect, he is prone to restlessness and by his own admission, easily bored. He is an excellent horseman, experienced fisherman and avid sports fan, who is especially passionate about Chicago sports.
What some people he’s worked with have to say:
“It’s a dream and a joy to work with William Petersen. He is funny, he is very smart, and he is wild!” “William Petersen is maybe one of my all time heroes.” Jorja Fox
“Billy is very enigmatic. One day you think you know him, then the next day you realize you don’t.” Marg Helgenberger
“I add things (to scenes), so does everybody. We get it from Billy. Billy is the king of adding things to scenes. He’s a great guy.” George Eads.
Curt Columbus (Artist Director of Theatre on the Lake) recalls a time when he saw William Petersen, who already had gotten his big break in movies, hanging lights at the old Organic space in the 1980s. Columbus was impressed with Petersen’s lack of ego and commitment to the work at hand. “I thought, if Bill Petersen can hang lights, who am I to think I’m above doing that?” he points out. “I tell my students, don’t say no to anything that’s reasonable. Even terrible projects are a learning experience.”
“He’s friendly, serious, and very balanced. He cares – alot.” Karen Silas, co-star in The Beast
William Petersen is the youngest of 6 children born to 4th generation Danish immigrant furniture retailers. His parents owned a furniture store in Evanston. It was never really expected he would continue in the family business, as he says his father never really held out much hope he could ever hold down a job. He was so much younger than his siblings, he grew up nearly as an only child. He was an excellent athlete who played football, baseball and basketball in high school. He was an admittedly poor student with little interest in school. Possessing a gypsy soul, he moved to Boise Idaho when he was 15 to live with his brother. There he attended Bishop Kelly High School, a Catholic school, where he graduated in 1972. That is also where he met his first wife, Joanne. His energy not yet focused, he was a fairly wild young man who was into rock concerts, drinking and the usual pot smoking. “General brattiness” as he called it.
After graduating from high school, he attended Idaho State University in nearby Pocatello in the hopes of winning a football scholarship. His grades were too low to allow him to play, so they put him in the theater department in some stagecraft classes to try and raise his grade point average. It was a date with destiny, as he fell in love with the theater. (Lucky us!) He and Joanne followed a favorite professor to Spain, where they started a Shakespeare company in the Basque region. They married, and their daughter Maite was born later that year. (His unsettled lifestyle was hard on Joanne, and they divorced four years later. They remain friends to this day.)
The tiny family moved back to Idaho, where Billy went from job to job, including some logging work. He acted in plays at night at local colleges. Broke, the family packed up and moved back to Evanston, where they lived with his parents for a while. Burning with desire to be an actor, he pursued roles in the blossoming Chicago theater scene. He gained his Actor’s Equity card in 1978 at the Victory Gardens Theater in the title roll of Dillinger. He realized the best way to get cast in a play was to start his own theater company. (He hates auditioning.) Billy and some friends, including long time associate and friend Cindy Chvatal and fellow actor Gary Cole, founded the Remains Theater Company, where he not only acted, but was Artistic Director for many years. After financial difficulties and the death of Co-Artistic director Larry Sloan, the company was disbanded in 1995.
The small company produced experimental pieces that soon began to attract attention in Chicago theater circles. The Remains Theater was well on it’s way to legendary status and Billy on his way to the very top of the theater world in Chicago. His Joseph Jefferson award for best actor for his portrayal of Jack Henry Abbott in Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison, sealed his status. The Chicago theater scene at that time was bold, fresh, exciting and bursting with extraordinarily talented writers, actors and directors. Billy not only acted with Remains, but also the Wisdom Bridge, Goodman, Organic and the famed Steppenwolf. His talent also began to attract Hollywood. He was appearing in a Streetcar Named Desire at the Stratford Festival in Ontario Canada, where William Friedkin saw him and asked him to read for a new movie he was making called To Live and Die in LA. Billy read two lines and that was enough for Friedkin, who cast him immediately.
Possessing great talent, a charismatic personality, and boyish good looks, movie stardom was predicted for him, but never happened. This is partially due to the fact that To Live and Die in LA and Manhunter did poorly at the box office (they are both cult hits now), and partially due to the fact that theater is his first love and he has always preferred to do projects that speak to him artistically instead of commercially. He wanted to be an actor, not a star. Hollywood has always come to him, not the other way around. He and Cindy formed their own film company, called High Horse Films in 1990. Their first project was a movie titled Hard Promises, also starring Sissy Spacek. He has appeared in many theatrical and made for television movies, as well as dozens of plays through out his eclectic career, making him recognizable to some, but it wasn’t until he was cast as Gil Grissom in the smash television hit CSI that he became recognizable to millions. Staying true to his personality, he is not only the star of the show, but a producer as well.