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tv-now.com: The "X-Files" (William B. Davis)

The “X-Files” (William B. Davis)
Maelee McBee

“Bill Davis was hired to smoke a cigarette. That’s what his job was.”-Former Co-Executive Producer Bob Goodwin on CSM.

We are literally down to days before the series finale of FOX’s long running The X-Files. I recently had the opportunity to speak with William B. Davis (the Cigarette Smoking Man, aka CSM) about his run on the show, the finale and what’s next for him.

For a character who started out lurking in the background of all his scenes smoking cigarettes, the Cigarette Smoking Man became the central figure in The X-Files Mythology. A shadowy figure that we gradually discover controls the destiny of not only Mulder and Scully, but also mankind.

Generally regarded as the devil incarnate with no redeeming qualities, CSM’s portrayer, William B. Davis, prefers to believe that CSM is “doing what he thinks he has to do, not necessarily what he wants to do.” When asked if that makes him more misunderstood than evil, Davis replies, “he’s both. In a sense nobody’s ever really evil, I suppose.” When I point out that American serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims might disagree with that assessment, Davis asks who Dahmer is, and after he is filled in with the details of his crimes, Davis responds with, “yeah, it’s kind of hard to find a positive side to that.” He goes on to draw a parallel between CSM and two other notorious men in history. “I usually use somebody like Sadaam Hussein or Adolf Hitler. You can find why they think they are doing the right thing.”

In the case of CSM he believes “he was an ambitious man faced with a diabolical situation when he knew they (the aliens) were going to be invading the planet. And in effect he essentially made a pact with the devil, the devil being the aliens. In a sort of way the Vichy government did with Hitler. It seemed like it was making the best deal that could be made in the circumstances. But then it got worse and worse. The aliens wanted more and more and he became more and more ruthless. He was on a track he couldn’t get off, and eventually he kind of hollowed out his insides.”

The hollowing of those insides includes having Scully abducted, being subjected to medical testing that left her allegedly barren and gave her cancer, shooting his own son, Special Agent Jeffrey Spender, sleeping with the likes of Diana Fowley , and undergoing a brain surgery that he believes will leave his other son, Fox Mulder, dead. That’s not counting any of the back-story we are given on the character in the fourth season episode CSM, written by Glenn Morgan and James Wong. If that episode is to be believed, the man has killed presidents, rigged an Olympic hockey game and doomed the Buffalo Bills to never win a Superbowl as long as he’s alive. And speaking of alive, he’s also been killed and resurrected twice, most recently for the finale. He previously rose from the ashes after what should have been a fatal gunshot wound in the early fifth season and this time he managed to survive a tumble down the steps in a wheelchair at the hands of Alex Krycek at the end of season seven. Oh, just prior to the tumble, he is seen smoking his trademark cigarette through a tracheotomy.

On the topic of the much ballyhooed series finale, Davis, who is in one scene that is shown in two parts, is a bit tight lipped, asking, “am I allowed to tell you these things?” When asked if he is indeed alive or merely a part of a vision Mulder has, all he will say is ” here’s a clue-my make-up took four and a half hours.” After a bit of needling and wheedling, he finally confirms that CSM is indeed alive, and being taken care of “by someone new.”

When asked if he believes the finale answers all of the questions Mulder and the fans have ever had, he pauses before answering. “You see, it’s funny. Some of the questions, they get asked, they get answered and you think ‘I’m not sure about that.’ So I find myself thinking ‘I don’t know if I believe what I heard.’ So, I don’t know if the questions get answered. It’s almost like the questions get asked and answered to get the information out there, let’s move on. I thought any information that comes that easy, I’m suspect of.” When asked if CSM has any redeeming moments before he gets blown to bits in the finale, he merely laughs.

Davis counts among the highs of working on The X-Files getting to write an episode, En Ami. Davis came up with the idea to do an episode based on Richard III, in which he would pull Scully to his side, or at least make her tempted to go to his side. He took the idea to Co-Executive Producer Frank Spotnitz who then took it to Chris Carter. The idea then went through the story machine, where changes were made. In the end, “the basic structure of the story was mine and the dialogue was Chris’.”

“I wrote the script because I had never really gotten to work with Gillian, but then they wouldn’t let Scully go as far as I wanted her to. CSM was a little hung-up on Scully, and she effected him so that in the end, when he got what he thought he wanted, the CD-ROM that would give him all this power, it didn’t matter. That’s why he threw it in the lake.”

Davis says he enjoyed the episode Talitha Cumi because it allowed him to “have intellectual debates with Mrs. Mulder and we find out she had had an intimate relationship with him.” Another favorite episode of his was the sixth season “Two Fathers, One Son” arc, where he shoots his son, Special Agent Jeffrey Spender, played by Chris Owens.

“I always loved working with Chris. I was sorry to be told I had to shoot him. I always pretended, thought I didn’t shoot him, but I scared him. I guess I did actually shoot him. Those were all good times.”

Life beyond The X-Files has been busy for Davis, who plays a doctor in the upcoming ShowTime film, Damaged Care with Laura Dern, scheduled to run the day after the finale airs and based on a true story. Davis describes his character as a doctor who is caught in the middle. “I’m trying to play both sides and Laura Dern’s character comes in as a rebel and tries to fix things. We try to make things more fair for the patients, but on the business side we are trying to make a profit. And I’m stuck in the middle.” Sounds a bit like CSM.

This summer Davis will also be directing a short film that he has written and is producing called Exchange. “It’s a very tightly focused conflict about sexual power between a professor and his student.” Davis does not have a role in the film, but adds that well regarded Canadian actor Jay Brizzo has been cast as the male lead.

Davis worked the last day the show filmed on the lot. “That was kind of nice because everybody came over, Chris was there, people came and just sat around and chatted. David and Gillian were in very good form. It was just really very pleasant.” When asked how Gillian Anderson seemed to be holding up he remarked, “she seemed fine. I mean, they hadn’t finished working because they had another week to go working on location. She seemed in great form. She had her video camera out shooting pictures all over the place. She certainly wasn’t moping about.”

When asked about his emotions the last day on set, Davis pauses for a moment before answering.

“My answer to this is going to be different from anyone else’s. The hard one for me was two years ago when I didn’t know for sure whether I was dead or not, but thought I probably was. Well, we didn’t really know what was going on with the series either. I kind of did a lot of mental good-byes then. I patted the set, patted the lot and said good-bye to everybody in my head two years ago, then the goddamned series went on without me! I wouldn’t have minded if it had ended, but oh no, it went on. They didn’t use me, so for a couple of years I felt a little, well, a little out of joint and disappointed. So for me it was just a real treat to be back on the show and be there for the end. It was just one great big treat, just a pleasure. It wasn’t sad in that sense, it was just a satisfying completion.”

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