For about 50 years in the early 1990s, William Petersen was ubiquitous on Chicago’s theater scene. He took every lead in every production of every play by every company. I was a young writer doing P.R. work for the old Halsted Theatre Centre, so you can trust me: it was my business to know the landscape. And I saw William Petersen tackle every iconic role in the western repertoire, except Lady Bracknell, and I was probably just sick that day. Kings and killers, vice-lords and varsity-men—William Petersen, William Petersen, William Petersen, William Petersen. All over Chicago struggling actors scrutinized themselves in their mirrors and asked, “What has William Petersen got that I haven’t got? What elusive quality does he possess that I don’t seem to generate? Is it already too late for me? What is the point of going on?”
Which makes you wonder what William Petersen thought when he looked in his mirror. Possibly something like...“What has John Malkovich got that I haven’t got? Why does John Malkovich get on magazine covers? I am so much hotter. Why does John Malkovich get to do movies? Why does John Malkovich get to do movies about 18th century French aristocrats? Is there an actor alive less like an 18th century French aristocrat than John Malkovich? Why does John Malkovich get to do movies about being John Malkovich? Why have I stalled out at this regional level? Why am I only a local phenomenon? Would it help if I grew a beard? Why did I turn down Platoon? Is it already too late for me? What is the point of going on?”
And then you have to wonder what John Malkovich thought when he looked in his mirror. Probably something like…“Ohhh yeah. Mmmm-hm. It’s all good. I am so glad I turned down Platoon.”
Photo by Jerry Schulman.