His film career began with a small part in the 1981 film Thief, and in 1986 he starred as Will Graham in Manhunter (later to be remade as Red Dragon). In a move perhaps indicative of his career choices, Petersen is alleged to have passed on a part in Oliver Stone's Platoon, as it would have kept him away from his family. Instead, he worked on the 1987 made for TV movie Long Gone. In the 2000 release The Contender, Petersen played the role of Governor Jack Hathway. Hathaway is a candidate for Vice President following the death of the incumbent.
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