Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 3, 2008

Billy/William Petersen: “Who Are You?” (as the CSI themesong asks)

After a few years of not paying close attention, I’ve been watching the original (and resurgent) Vegas CSI again, plus catching some re-reruns in syndication. It gets a bit formulaic in its plots and pace now and then, but it’s still a taut, creative, well-written show with great characters. Chief among those complex characters is Gil Grissom, played by co-executive producer William H. Petersen.

“Billy” Petersen was known for some interesting movie roles before he took on this show, perhaps most notably his role in To Live and Die in L.A., or the cult favorite Manhunter  (it’s been years since I’ve seen either one). But Grissom is obviously his signature role. Yet this is the last season for him. We all gotta grow up sometime.

Petersen gets high marks, for starters, for not being a prima donna (he was clearly the best-known actor on CSI when it began, and could have strutted around like he knew it). He always got that CSI could be a franchise about more than just its “stars”. Humble, straightforward actors like Billy, John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, and former NYPD Blue star Dennis Franz are in fact a Chicago theater specialty. (That windbag Charlton Heston was from Wilmette, though, and from my alma mater, Northwestern… so no region can claim a perfect record).

Petersen was even somewhat protective of the CSI  franchise a few years back when they started the NY version. Apparently he thought too many of the same kind of show would water down the creativity, and he said so in the press. I think he’s right. While I do sometimes watch CSI: Miami and CSI: NY, I think they’re seldom as consistent as the original.

Billy’s also an excellent, Evanston-born stage actor that we knew about here in Chicago, long before Hollywood lured him. But apparently now we’ve lured him back… and Hurray for that!

On Dec. 2, I got the following email/press release sort of thing from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater (of which fellow CSI boss-man, Gary Sinise , is a founding member). It’s great news for Chicago-area fans of William Petersen, but not so much for his national or international fans (unless he’s also freed up to start making more movies again… which he very well may be).

Nyah-nyah, …we picked Billy for our team, and we ain’t givin’ him back!

(You can have that over-actor David Caruso… we don’t want him.)

William Petersen Joins the Steppenwolf Ensemble
I am delighted to announce that William Petersen has accepted our invitation to join the Steppenwolf ensemble. Many of you remember Billy from the early days of the ensemble when he acted with us in Balm in Gilead and Fool for Love.Billy was one of the founders of Remains Theatre, the original company of both Amy Morton and Gary Cole. Remains and Steppenwolf grew up together in the Chicago theater scene of the late 1970s and ’80s and many of our company members have known one another and worked together for years. Our founders, Gary, Jeffrey and Terry recently approached me to suggest that we extend the invitation to Billy to join Steppenwolf when it became clear that Billy would be concentrating, once again, on working on stage and maintaining a base in Chicago. As you know, Billy is now on our stage in our production of Dublin Carol and will be acting in Blackbird at Victory Gardens later this season.We are very fortunate to have our long-time friend officially a member of our company.Sincerely,

Martha Lavey
Aristic Director





  1. […] as both a person and an artist. So he’s coming home, to the Steppenwolf ensemble (I did a separate blog on this  about a month ago). Petersen’s still an exec producer on CSI, which is great, because […]

  2. 664499 beers on the wall. sck was here

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