About BillyWilliam 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 attented 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 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 (pronounced mah-tay) 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 1979 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 Toronto, 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.
Posessing 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 alway 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 ecletic 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.