Petersen's first actual full-blown Hollywood effort (also filmed at the Bavaria Studios complex in Germany), Enemy Mine (1985), was neither a critical nor a box office success. He finally hit his stride in 1993 with the assassination thriller In the Line of Fire. Starring Clint Eastwood as an angst-ridden presidential Secret Service guard, In the Line of Fire gave Petersen the box office clout he needed to direct another suspense thriller, Outbreak (1995), starring Dustin Hoffmann. The 1997 Petersen blockbuster, Air Force One, did very well at the box office, while getting a mix of opinions from movie critics. In another recent project, Petersen executive-produced (but did not direct) Red Corner starring Richard Gere. Now with The Perfect Storm (2000), the former small-town German kid has been on quite a roll!
Wolfgang Petersen (on left) and fellow-German
cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus, at work on Air Force One.
Photo: Expresso-Online/Sony Pictures
Wolfgang Petersen was born during World War II on 14 March 1941 in the small north German community of Emden, where the Ems River flows into the North Sea. From 1953 to 1960 Petersen attended the Johanneum school in Hamburg. In the 1960s he was directing plays at Hamburg's Ernst Deutsch Theater. After studying theater in Berlin and Hamburg, Petersen attended the Film and Television Academy in Berlin (1966-1970). His first film productions were for German television, and it was during his work on the popular German Tatort (Crime Scene) TV series that he first met and worked with the actor Jürgen Prochnow who would later appear as the U-boat captain in Das Boot.
By 1998 at the age of 57, Petersen was an established Hollywood director, with the power to both re-release his classic Das Boot in a new director's cut and to helm star-studded action-thrillers such as In the Line of Fire and Air Force One for Sony Pictures' Columbia/TriStar. For both Air Force One and Outbreak (but not for Storm) Petersen teamed up with the German cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who has also worked frequently with director Martin Scorsese.