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The Morton Report: Q & A with William B. Davis, The X-Files Cigarette Smoking Man

The Morton Report
Q & A with William B. Davis, The X-Files Cigarette Smoking Man
Mindy Peterman

[Original article here]

In Where’s There’s Smoke: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, Davis offers readers an honest look at the acting life.

As the Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files, actor William Davis was a master at instilling fear into the hearts of viewers while giving them much to ponder about this complex, enigmatic character. Like the character, there are layers to the actor and much about Davis’ life we never knew. It is ironic that a good part of his 60 year career was spent acting in and directing theatrical productions with the likes of Donald Sutherland and Sir Lawrence Olivier. Who could have thought this would lead to an iconic role on a massively popular television show dealing with the paranormal?

In his memoir Where There’s Smoke: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, Davis writes about his years on The X-Files, while offering an honest, lively rendering of his life prior to his worldwide stardom and since. I recently spoke with Davis about his book, his thoughts on his craft and, of course, The X-Files.

What inspired you to write your memoirs?

It was a number of things. It was first suggested to me by a professor of Canadian theater because I had such a unique background in theater in Canada. That’s a story that we wanted to tell to a newer generation as to what actually went on and how it actually developed. This was, of course, only part of it. Clearly I had a story to tell about The X-Files to fans of The X-Files.

The experience of writing a memoir turned out to be very…I’m not sure exactly what the word is, but certainly very intriguing, very absorbing because it forces you to come to terms with your life. I wanted to write a memoir that was not just simply a defense of what I had done. I also didn’t want to write, “Oh, I had a lovely time in my life and I met all these lovely people, and wasn’t that lovely!” So one had to dig in and, as you say, try to be honest but perhaps not going into every nook and cranny of one’s life but those that [I felt] I could look at and share with others. So it was quite exciting and it was quite exciting to go back in time and revisit earlier times in my life, specifically people that I hadn’t seen for fifty years and I’ve reconnected with in this process.

I’m noticing now you have a Canadian/British accent, which wasn’t apparent on The X-Files.

Actually that’s interesting because there are just a few words that really give us away as a Canadian. One of my little secrets on The X-Files was try to avoid using those words.

Did you make a concerted effort to sound American?

I often thought I should have but I really didn’t make a big effort. As an actor I find that very distracting to focus on the sounds that I’m making instead of the thoughts that are going on. I know some actors are wonderful at that. Meryl Streep is a particular example. But I’ve never been a good mimic. So while I had to pay some attention to the obvious Canadian-isms, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to sound American.

In Where There’s Smoke you state that certain aspects of the quality of theater, television, etc. have dissipated. Why do you think that is?

I think [these days] certainly there’s a sense of believing that you can jump to instant celebrity. That you can do a couple of audition classes and if you have some native talent you can become a star. Whereas in my time being a celebrity and being a star were less present as goals and people worked pretty hard at developing their craft. But it’s not fair to say that people don’t do that now, so if I suggested that I didn’t mean to.

phpeYfynwAM.jpgYou started out on the stage, learning not only the crafts of acting and directing but how to build a set and run a theater. Do you think actors these days would benefit by learning the nuts and bolts first?

No, not necessarily. I did those things because I was actually running a theater company when I was 20, and I was a theater director. So as a director/producer/artistic director it was important to have done all those things and know what they are. As an actor it’s not so critical. All that an actor really needs to know is what it feels like on the other side so they have a sense of what the other people are doing and how it all works together. But they don’t actually have to be able to do all those things. So no I wouldn’t say that an actor needs to know how to build a set. It doesn’t hurt. It certainly broadens the experience and actors who have worked in the production side are usually really welcomed by the production team. They understand each other and everyone knows what they’re going through. So it’s helpful.

You’ve seen the business from many different sides. Do you have a preference between theater and TV?

I enjoy them both and it’s really difficult to compare. Sometimes I prefer the theater simply because you’re working all the time. Usually. Depending on the size of the role you’re playing or if you’re directing. Whereas in film and television you do an awful lot of waiting. I just did a piece on a new series and we spent an awful lot of time just waiting for them to get ready, getting set up or whatever to do our few lines. So sometimes that is enervating. But having said that, the week before I was doing a low-budget feature with an interrogation scene and we were just acting all the time on this particular film, and that was terrific. I love the work. I don’t always like the waiting. Michael Caine said, “It’s the waiting we get paid for. The acting is for fun.”

You offer a great wealth of information about your time in Canadian theater. Would you ever want to write a book about it?

That’s an interesting question because I’ve been thinking, “What do I want to write next?” That wasn’t quite what I’d thought of. There are quite a few books on Canadian theater and I’m not completely up to speed on what has been written [about it]. Probably I’m more likely to write a book about acting.

Are you still hands on in The William Davis Center, your acting school?

The school I don’t own anymore but I’m still hands on to the extent that I sometimes teach there.

Cigarette Smoking Man was certainly an iconic character. How do you see him in hindsight?

Like all villains he, of course, didn’t believe he was a villain. He believed he was doing what he needed to do, while making the compromises that had to be made in the circumstances that he found himself. In some ways, while he was a strong, powerful presence, he was actually a compromiser. I think he’s idealistic. It’s interesting. I think I say in the book where we actually did an episode or part of an episode that we weren’t able to screen because it just didn’t look right. It was where we were all younger and we were idealistic and had a vision of what we were doing.

I think what is interesting about the character is the degree to which he was forced to compromise. And this is very common with many people. I think he gradually hollowed out inside. He just had to shut down this feeling and that feeling just in order to survive. And the smoking was all part of deadening the emotional nerve centers so he could cope.

What do you think of X-Files-inspired shows such as Fringe?

I don’t know Fringe well enough to really comment, but what was unique about The X-Files at the time was that it was always on the cusp of ‘is this real or isn’t this real?’, ‘are there aliens or aren’t there aliens?’ ‘are there paranormal things or aren’t there paranormal things?’, ‘what’s true and what isn’t?’ That was to some extent unique and fascinating at the time because it was when the Internet was just developing and we were going through the digital revolution, and we really didn’t know how we were accessing information and what information was reliable.

Even though we did get it on a computer screen it would disappear; we didn’t know where it went. So in that sense I think it was unique. But there have been many shows that have dealt with various paranormal activities and they make good stories, as long as people know that they’re stories.

Do you find that sometimes fans can’t or won’t separate the actor from the role?

I don’t find that very often. Not in my case. I’m really a very different person, fortunately [laughs]. When people meet me, after first going through the “Omigod, here’s that terrifying man again,” they see my crinkly smile and realize I’m not the same man at all. So that hasn’t been a big problem in that sense that I get confused with the character. I think that happens more with daily soap operas. There’s a certain quality that people identify with with the actor who plays the character. I think people identify Gillian’s iron strength, for instance, that she had with Scully. But that’s part of Gillian as a person and fans responded very favorably to that.

You talk in the book about animosity and arrogance between Gillian and David on the X-Files set. Did this affect your time with them on screen?

No, not at all and it didn’t affect my time with them off screen either. I was more reporting what I had heard. I think I say in the book that I hadn’t actually been present but that the tension was reported to me. But one was aware they were both kind of aloof. It was partly me. I’m not a gregarious type so if they’re not gregarious then it made it hard to find a contact point. No, I wouldn’t say [it affected us] onscreen at all. David was a little up and down and sometimes he had more energy and more life than other times. Gillian was always very present on screen. So, no, I don’t think it affected the working situation.

You wrote the season 7 episode “En Ami”, which you say in the book went through some major rewrites by Chris Carter. The basis of the story, however, was yours. Smoking Man was always linked to Mulder for obvious reasons but since he was with Scully for the entire episode, what are your thoughts on his relationship and interactions with her?

This is what prompted the whole idea for the story. Here we’d done seven years and I still hadn’t done a scene with Gillian. It seemed like an interesting relationship to explore and that’s what prompted the story. The character goes through a certain degree of conversion in that episode. It’s one of those things you never know: was that a good idea or not? It was kind of like once the villain starts to soften inside, have you lost something of the arc of the story? Certainly as an actor and for the development of the character it was interesting to explore how that exposure to Scully actually changed him and how he allowed some humanity to develop.

What’s next on your agenda?

I just did this low-budget science fiction feature and a pilot for TV and I’ve got another feature coming up in a couple of weeks. Then I’ll go to France and be with my wife for a month because I just got married not too long ago.


Yeah! Thank you. She works in the south of France so I spend quite a bit of time there now. That’s when I’m going to be germinating what I’m going to write next. After that I’m going to be directing the end of year project for the William Davis Center in the spring, so that’s kind of what’s on the plate.

The A.V. Club: William B. Davis

The A.V. Club Toronto
William B. Davis
John Semley

[Original article here]

The actor: There are few villains—in television or in fiction, writ large—as compelling as the Cigarette Smoking Man (a.k.a. Cancer Man, a.k.a. CGB Spender), the primary antagonist for the first six seasons of The X-Files. Played by Toronto-born character actor William B. Davis, Cigarette Smoking Man pulled the strings on a vast conspiracy that motivated the show’s gripping, if at times unfocussed, “mythology” arc. Though primarily associated with “Smokey,” Davis has had a broad career across film, television, and theatre. And it’s all detailed in his new autobiography, Where There’s Smoke…: Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man, which Davis launched last night at the Gladstone. We spoke with him before the launch about his career, his signature role, and his emergence as a spokesperson for skepticism.

The Dead Zone (1983)—Ambulance Driver
William B. Davis: Have you seen that film?

The A.V. Club: Yes, but I can’t recall seeing you in it, not that I can remember offhand anyways.

WD: Not that you can remember! That’s right. You’ll see my name in the credits. But you will not see me in the picture. I still have fans who will read my IMDB and send me fan mail saying, “Loved your role in Dead Zone.” Well, my role ended up on the cutting room floor. Yes, I worked on that film, but I did not appear in it. … I’d been a theatre director for 20 years. But I actually had not acted in about 20 years since my first year of university, until about the late ’70s and early ’80s. And that’s when I did Dead Zone.

SCTV (1984)—Man On Phone
WD: Was I on that? Okay…

AVC: Well it’s listed on IMDB that you appeared on an episode of SCTV.

WD: By God, you’re right! I had totally forgotten about that. I have the dimmest memory now that you mention it. As I remember, it was quite a good time!

AVC: You should revisit your own IMDB profile more often, to shake loose more of these memories.

WD: I should really look at it. If only to make sure it’s accurate. I remember last time I looked at it, there was something that I didn’t do, and I corrected it. One needs to keep on top of these things. I remember I was reading—who was it? I think it was Maggie Smith’s entry, or Albert Finney’s. I can’t remember. But this was on Wikipedia. And they had stage credits and left out completely this production of Miss Julie at the National Theatre of Great Britain, on which I was the assistant director. And it wasn’t mentioned at all, so I put it in. And of course, while I was putting it in, I mentioned that William B. Davis was the assistant director.

Beyond the Stars (1989)—Hal Simon
WD: I used to equate the work we did in those earlier years as being like “studio actors.” Kind of like studio musicians who are called in to put together music for a piece, and they lay it down, and they go home. We come in, we do our piece, we do the best we can, and we go home, until we get called for a different one. It’s a workmanlike part of the job. At the time, as I say, I was a theatre director and running my own acting school, so [acting] was just another string to my bow, rather than my whole career.

AVC: What spurred your move from theatre to acting, where acting became not just a string to your bow, but a larger part of the bow? If not the bow itself…

WD: Well, it was not planned. It’s just what happened. I started doing more and more work. But really it was The X-Files that did it. And it took two or three years for The X-Files to do it. But once that part blossomed, I started getting more and more roles. Finally, at age 57, or whatever it was, I could put down my profession as just “actor.” And I didn’t sell my theatre school, but I handed it over to people I trusted.

The X-Files  (1993-2002)—Cigarette Smoking Man/Cancer Man/CGB Spender
AVC: Is it true that even this role was meant to be just a cameo in the first episode, where you’re just sitting in the background smoking?

WD: I don’t think it would be fair to say about The X-Files that anything was “supposed” to be anything. I don’t think they had any plans or any idea what they were going to do. But in spirit, yes, you’re right. Apparently someone in Los Angeles hard turned it down, apparently because there were no lines, but I don’t know if that’s a true story or not. But yes, I was just a figure in the background. And it got a little more prominent and a little more prominent.

Finally one of the writers said, “Let’s do something with that!” The fans were interested in that character, so they started to give him more episodes. I think the producers were a little bit unnerved about that, because they didn’t know if I could act. I love Bob Goodwin’s comment on the back of my book. He was one of the executive producers who was assigned to direct the first major episode [the character] did. And he said that within the first five minutes he was thrilled. It reminded him of working with Donald Sutherland, and he just thought I was great.

AVC: Is the title of your book borrowed from the episode of the show, “Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man”?

WD: Well, the subtitle at least. The main title is Where There’s Smoke…, which is about the fact that the character smoked a lot, but also a metaphor for the fire that burned within me, going all the way back to my early life. But yes, the subtitle is a play on that episode, except these are my musings on my life.

AVC: For this role, you were required to constantly smoke cigarettes…

WD: Yes, but I had given them up years before.

AVC: So how did you work around that?

WD: I think it had been like 17 years since I’d last smoked, so I wasn’t really worried about becoming addicted. They offered me these herbal cigarettes, as well as real tobacco cigarettes. I said, “Oh no, I’m an actor. I’ll take the real cigarettes.” And we used those for the first two episodes. Then I found myself thinking, “Hmm. Well I sure would love to do some more of those X-Files episodes, just so I can smoke.” So, after that, we switched to the herbal cigarettes and used them throughout the run of the show.

AVC: You mentioned that this was the role that allowed you to work just as an actor. But was there ever a worry about the character being too iconic that you’d be too closely associated with him?

WD: It’s a double-edged sword. The visibility is great, and the attention is great. But there are terrific shows that did not use me, specifically because of that association. A great show shot out in Vancouver, Da Vinci’s Inquest, which ran for years, did not want to have me on the show. It was a very truth-oriented show, and they did not want the referential thing of, “Oh, there’s the Cigarette Smoking Man.” So I never so much as auditioned for that show.

AVC: Even based on the title of your book, though, it seems as if you’ve always embraced the role. Or at least come to embrace it.

WD: Oh absolutely. And I still go to fan conventions and deal with fan mail, and all this stuff that’s still associated with [The X-Files].

AVC: Do you get a lot of fans stopping you on the street and offering you cigarettes?
[Laughs.] Not as much as I used to! It used to be that I could hardly walk down my street without someone leaning out their window and saying, “Hey you got a smoke?” It still happens, but not nearly as often. Now more often it’s, “Gosh, you look familiar? Are you from Kitchener-Waterloo?”

Robson Arms (2005)—Dr. Carlisle Wainwright
WD: They contacted me and wanted me attached. They thought it would give it some help with the funding and so on. And it sounded like a terrific concept. When the scripts came, there were some minor issues—there seemed to be a bit of ageism in there—but we worked through these. I had Lois Lane, Margot Kidder, as my wife. But eventually she ran off with some young man, and there wasn’t much left to do with my character. But it was fun.

AVC: What was it like returning to Canadian television after working on a major series in the United States?

WD: Well, I had never left Canada. I was always based here, and would just go down to Los Angeles to shoot. And the first five seasons of The X-Files was shot in Vancouver, so even most of what I did on that was based in Canada. I’ve done such a range of things, from the big X-Files feature film to smaller shorts for my friends in Vancouver. And Robson Arms sort of falls in the middle somewhere. It was a little friendlier, more low-key. In the end, it’s not that different, one shoot from the other. Some are more money, and some move faster, but the process is always similar.

Amazon Falls (2010)—Calvin
WD: That was really fun. Again, I was in on it from the beginning. I wanted to be part of it, so I was involved through casting. That was filmed in 12 days, so that’s a different rhythm.

AVC: After the film premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival, it screened in a few places in one-week runs, but never really got a proper release. Is this frustrating, especially after working on a film like X-Files: Fight The Future, which opened nationwide on hundreds of screens?

WD: Yeah, and that’s frustrating not just on a personal level, but for Canadian film in general. There’s a hurdle that seems impossible to get over. I’ve seen many fascinating low-budget films that don’t get seen. I mean, when you compare it to the marketing of Fight The Future, never mind the cost of making the picture, it’s hard to imagine how these smaller films can get seen. But Amazon Falls has had a light. It’s won a number of awards, and people seem to really, really like it.

Critical Eye (2002)—Host/Narrator
AVC: Here’s another show, although nonfiction, which deals with the paranormal and the unexplained. Working on The X-Files, did you develop an interest in these topics?

WD: I did, in a kind of curious way. I was never a believer in aliens or UFOs, or whatever. And people who don’t really understand how the film business works assumed I had chosen to be in this series because I believed in these things. And they’d come up to me with glee, excited to tell me about a new sighting or something like this, and I’d tell them that I don’t actually believe in these things. They’d say, “You don’t?! Why not?” Well, the onus is on them to prove that these things exist, not on me to prove that they don’t. I don’t have to prove why Santa Claus doesn’t exist or why fairies don’t exist or why UFOs don’t exist. And they’d say, “Well, we have!”

AVC: So you’re a skeptic?

WD: Well, yes. One time I was listening to an interview on the radio with Barry Beyerstein, who’s a professor at Simon Fraser University and a member of something [formerly] called CSICOP—the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal [now known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry —ed.]. This is a very reputable organization, with many scientists on the masthead. So I contacted him and became very interested in how they had examined so many of these issues, and tested them with scientific rigour to see if there was anything to them or not. I ended up becoming a kind of spokesman for the skeptic community. Because of The X-Files, I had the notability, and now I had some knowledge. So I did some talks on the subject at various places, and then Discovery Channel grabbed me to host a couple different shows, where I’d look at paranormal events and see what the science behind them is.

AVC: It’s interesting that you’re a skeptic. Because in one sense, you’re so associated with a seminal television series about the supernatural that it’d seem like something would rub off. But at the same time, The X-Files was obviously just a fictional TV show, and all these paranormal events were scripted, which would naturally make you more wary of them.

WD: I mean, there’s no relationship between me being an actor working on a show. Nobody thinks that if I play Macbeth that I’m going to go around killing kings. These are fictional stories.

The Tall Man (forthcoming)—Sherriff Chestnut
WD: That’s still in post-production. I just did the [additional dialogue recording] for it just last week. I think they’re trying to get it ready for Sundance, so maybe it will première there.

AVC: And you play a sheriff in this film? What’s the role exactly?

WD: It’s an interesting plot. There are children disappearing in this small town. And everybody assumes that they’ve been murdered. Without giving a spoiler—well, I am giving a spoiler—but it turns out that they’re actually being kidnapped from poor families and sent to rich families, where they can get a better childhood. It’s someone’s perverse idea of how to make a better a world.

AVC: That’s interesting. Pascal Laugier’s previous film, Martyrs, has a similar plot. But Martyrs seems much grislier than this.

WD: Does it? I haven’t seen that. Maybe I will. The Tall Man is beautifully shot, though. It looks great.

AVC: And you star opposite another great Canadian actor, Stephen McHattie.

WD: Yes! And he did a great job in that.

AVC: Had you two worked together before? It seems that, in this industry, you’re bound to cross paths eventually.

WD: You know I’m trying to think … I feel like we might have rubbed shoulders in something, but I can’t remember from what. When we got on a set we had the feeling that we knew each other before.

London Film & Comic Con 2010: William B. Davis Interview

London Film & Comic Con 2010
William B. Davis Interview
Russell Nelson (Leicester Square TV)


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.”

Mania: X-FILES: The Cigarette Smoking Man Speaks!

X-FILES: The Cigarette Smoking Man Speaks!
Jason Henderson

[Original article here]

Actor William B. Davis insists he’s the real hero of the show–and he can prove it (sort of).

William B. Davis is making an argument, laying out his analysis. He’s comparing his own character on Fox’ The X-Files, the minimally-named Cigarette Smoking Man (or ‘CSM,’) to David Duchovny’s hero, Fox Mulder. ‘Let’s start with outcomes,’ he says, hands thrust in suit pockets, smiling wryly. His hair is lighter than we are accustomed to seeing it, light gray as his character appeared before tumbling down a flight of stairs. ‘Let’s suppose Mulder gets what he wants. Let’s suppose he finds the truth. What do you think he’ll do with it? Does Mulder strike you as a thoughtful, responsible man who will disseminate this information delicately? No. I think he’ll go on Larry King live. And then what? We’ll have panic. All those things in Independence Day with everyone rushing from the city, widespread chaos.

‘Now, CSM wants to cover the truth up. Let’s suppose he does cover it up: what will happen?’ Davis shrugs to make his point. ‘Nothing! You won’t know. Things will go on just as they are.’

Davis, speaking and answering questions at the Hollywood Expo and Toy Fair in Dallas, Texas, is making as convincing an argument as he can muster that Cigarette Smoking Man, and not Mulder, is in fact the true hero of The X-Files. His argument continues down through a host of virtues: ‘Personal sacrifice?’ Mulder ‘already has the job he wants,’ while ‘CSM makes great sacrifices,’ in that he is forced to kill almost everyone he’s close to. ‘Aptitude for love?’ It’s CSM who saved both Dana Scully and Mrs. Mulder. Finally Davis gets personal. ‘I hesitate to mention this, but it must be faced. I think Mulder is a virgin.’ The audience howls. Whereas CSM could be anyone’s father.

Davis is kidding, of coursesort of. The rant Davis delivers is all a way of ‘getting behind the character, to understand what he believes.’ And it’s a gentle rant, because Davis comes across as a gentleman, sharing his observations with a casual glee. He started the Argument as his own method of researching the part of Cigarette Smoking Man, who has been a recurring character on X-Files since the very first episode, appearing to die in at least two season’s end cliff-hangers.

‘My own experience has been poor in researching for parts… I find myself as an actor copying the manners of that person, and the result is kind of stiff. I prefer to imagine that it’s me in these imaginative circumstances. That’s why I wrote the piece.’

Early on in the series, ‘getting behind’ the character extended to the props that gave the Cigarette Smoking Man his name: his cigarettes. These days on the show, Davis explains, ‘I smoke herbal cigarettes. They are awful, but they’re not addictive.’ But that took a decision. ‘I used to be a smoker. I used to smoke a lot. And when they offered me the part they offered me the real cigarettes and the herbal cigarettes. And I said ‘Ha! I’m an actor; gimme the real cigarettes.’ So for the first episode, I actually smoked real cigarettes. And the next episode, I smoked real cigarettes. And then I found myself sitting at home thinking, ‘Boy, I sure wish they’d call me for another episode.’ That’s when I figured I’d better go with those herbal cigarettes.’

Davis, 62, is free with his thoughts about his character and the show, coming across as a pleasant, easy-going journeyman actor who’s landed in a plum role that’s turned into much more than it appeared to be in the beginning. ‘Nobody ever said anything to me, in the early years, about whether the part would last.’ When the first casting notices came in for the pilot, Davis says, ‘It was a show going on in Vancouver, a pilot on the paranormal’he smiles’and a show on the paranormal is obviously not gonna get picked up. I auditioned for the senior FBI agent, who had three lines. I didn’t get it; I got the part with no lines.’ If you watch the X-FILES pilot, there he is, smoking those real cigarettes in the background. ‘My friend Ken Cameron got the part with three lines. We’ve laughed about that a lot since. I’ve laughed more than Ken.’

The character is mysterious enough that even his reported past might be a complete fabrication. At least, that’s Davis’ understanding of ‘Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man,’ in which we watch CSM grow through his role as an agent in charge of apparently every dastardly American deed in the latter half of the 20th century. According to that episodea sort-of-flashback tale told by Lone Gunman Frohike (Tom Braidwood)CSM even killed JFK. ‘I didn’t have to ask whether it was real, because I wasn’t playing Frohike. I didn’t find that idea odd because these guys have their noses in everything. But I don’t think the writers fully intended that the way we would ultimately take it. That was Frohike’s conception of the story of CSM. That was a very strange story. In retrospect, I like it better than I did. It was whimsical, fanciful, and yet kept asking real questions. ‘Oh, you shot Kennedy!’ No, no, no. Frohike says I did.’ This interpretation is buttressed by the title change instigated by series creator Chris Carter; Glen Morgan and James Wong, the men behind the episode, had wanted to call it ‘Memoirs of a Cigarette-Smoking Man,’ which would have implied more strongly that the events were real.

In applying his own personality to the role, Davis has tried to stretch the boundaries of the X-FILES’ gloomy feel, with mixed success. For instance, Davis is a competitive water skier, a sport the mind boggles to imagine CSM enjoying. ‘When Chris found out I was a competitive water skier, he said, ‘This would be terrific! We gotta get this into an episode.’ I’d been thinking about this for quite a while. And then the talk sort of petered out. I asked Chris, ‘What’s happened with the water skiing?’ and the other writers wouldn’t let him do it!’

So he tried again, when working on the one episode so far to bear Davis’ name as a writer, ‘En Ami,’ in which CSM tries to seduce Scully to his side in order to get information from her. ‘In one version of my scriptand I really did think it would workwe start one act driving in the car. Scully is laughing to find out I can water ski, and she says, ‘You’re kidding! What do you do with your cigarette?’ She says she never could ski, and I say, ‘Maybe you need a good coach.’ We’re driving in the desert. I say, ‘Would you like to learn?’ She says, ‘I don’t see any water anywhere.’ Next scene, we’re still in the desert, actually driving into a water ski park in the desert; we get her into water ski clothes, and I teach her.’

Davis shakes his head. ‘They didn’t let me do that.’

Writing the episode ‘En Ami’ presented new challenges in which Davis got to see the inner workings of the X-FILES story process. ‘The original idea,’ Davis reports, was from Shakespeare’s Richard III. There’s a scene early in the play where Richard comes across Lady Anne, who is mourning her father. And she’s also still in mourning for her husband, and both of these two men were killed by Richard. And Richard comes to her and finds her on the street. He needs her to move up to get closer to the throne. At first she’s furious to see him; she hates him, and within fifteen or twenty minutes he’s charmed the pants off her and has her virtually agreeing to marry him. So that was kind of my idea, bearing in mind that Scully would be a considerably tougher nut to crack.

‘So the original idea I pitched would have Mulder in a terrible accident, and he seems to have been killed. CSM comes to Scully in a funeral parlor and says, ‘Yes, I killed him. But I did it for love of you.’ And it goes from there. And he tries to win her over to his side. It turned out that it was all a setup, a test to see about Scully’s loyalty to Mulder. It got a little crazy. It turned out all in the end to be Scully’s bad dream. But they didn’t want to do it that way because we’d done too many dreams, and we’d done too many false deaths. So we set out to do it more realCSM really trying to win over her affection for his own purposes.’

Originally ‘En Ami’ would have fit into the early part of the past season, when Agent Fox Mulder ‘was still in his brain-fried state, which would have worked rather well,’ he says. ‘Then they decided to put it later. And the process is: there’s the idea with some guts to it, and then there’s the script conference, which I thought went on interminably, for three days, with the scenes on a board on cards. But the staff writers said, after we’d done it and finished it in three days, ‘You’re done already? That must be record time!’ So obviously it often lasts longer, thrashing out what actually is going to happen from scene to scene in the show. Then you go from the boards to the script. In my case we already had one script I wrote,’ which may have moved the process along.

Season 7 of THE X-FILES ended less than fortuitously for Davis’ character, who already looked like death warmed over before being tossed down a flight of stairs. Fans were a little shocked by the rapid decline in health of the once-robust smoker. But Davis says it wasn’t as immediate as it appeared to some.

‘In truth,’ Davis explains, ‘CSM was been getting worse through the season. I don’t know that this is clear to everybody, but in Episode Two [of Season 7], ‘Amor Fati,’ what was going on was I was getting a transfer of brain DNA from Mulder to me, because Mulder has the immunity from the alien holocaust. And if I make this transfer, I’ll get it also. So in the interest of being able to survive I do the transplant.’ Davis has a surprising theory about why it didn’t work. ‘Now, although they haven’t said this, my assumption is that the mistake I made was thinking he was my sonbecause if he was, the DNA would match, and I would absorb the immunity. If he wasn’t, the DNA would not match and my body would degenerate. That’s only my theory. They may still think I’m his father.’ He grows conspiratorial. ‘But it’s funny: they haven’t mentioned it since. So I started to get sick.

‘First episode you see me in after that, I show up in Scully’s apartment and she says, ‘You look ill.’ And I say ‘I am.’ And in ‘En Ami’ I look more sick, and I say I’m dying. But I would have said that anywayin the original version, I tell her I’m dying and it’s a lie, just to get her. After that, in just a few weeks, it was a very sudden decline,’ Davis says, referring to his final appearance as a wheelchair bound, tracheotomized, dying CSM. ‘But the reason they did that I think was, they didn’t know if that was the last episode.’ Meaning the last episode everlast-minute negotiations between the show’s producers and David Duchovny kept the X-FILES in virtual limbo before Duchovny finally signed a unique, light-load deal. ‘But it did seem to me a rather serious decline. I hope that Brian Thompson, the actor who plays the alien bounty hunter comes alonghe’s my only hope, I think.’

Davis ponders the roller coaster that has been the X-FILES. ‘It’s settled down now. It’s certainly not the phenomenon it was. I mean, X-FILES certainly struck a nerve that I don’t think anyone knew it would, including Chris. It hit a particular nerve of the ’90s, as people turned to new kinds of information, the Internet, pixels on screen rather than in print. And it became a very unique phenomenon. I think creating a show that captures the imagination is challengingI think the mistake they made in Harsh Realm [Chris Carter’s third, abortive, attempt at a series] was that there wasn’t anybody we really liked. We like Mulder and Scully; we get involved in their quest.’

Will it go on? X-FILES will be back, but right now, Davis isn’t sure whether CSM will go on. ‘This series is having a hard time finishing! It was going to be ended at Season 5, and now it’s going to be 8, and I heard something about 9 and 10!’ He registers disbelief. His character’s ‘death’ was shot just so there remained the slightest possibility he could survive. ‘But I don’t know if I’m in the next season. They know the character’s popular, but if there’s a new story arcwell, I’m tied to Mulder’s story. I keep trying to show them ways they could use the character, not necessarily as part of that arc but just as a story.’

Davis continues, ‘The other reason I don’t know is we didn’t know there was even going to be a new season until the very end of this one, and when the end came we all went off on holiday. Now they’re just getting back and figuring it all out.’

But it was always thus. ‘They tend to be very last-minute [at the X-FILES.] They’ll call me and say, ‘Hey! We need you next week!” Davis ponders the future, but he says he ‘has always sort of taken what came along next. When I was in college and then a young director, I told myself, ‘You need to make a decision about your future.” He shakes his head again. ‘I still haven’t made that decision.’

Bardsmaid's Cave: Encounter with CSM

The Cave’s X-Files Commentary Archives:  Encounters with the show
Title: Encounter with CSM
Author: Zuffy

[Original article here]

William B. Davis was speaking the merest ten minutes from Zuff’s own abode this evening (5-5-99), so off she went with family in tow. He was very entertaining and very relaxed. Here’s the report (apologies if you’ve heard or read some of these things elsewhere).

First, William B. Davis looked just like CSM. No cigarette though. Nice to see that he is the same face without the makeup. Very smiley though. That was a little discomfiting. You know he’s up to no good when he smiles.

CSM attempted to convince us that he was the hero of TXF and not Mulder. He suggested a comparison on several grounds. 1) What would happen if they each got what they wanted? If Mulder finds out the truth, he intends to broadcast it. That would horrify everyone and create panic on “Independence Day” scale. If CSM gets his way, there will be a massive cover-up. No one will feel bad because we’ll never know. 2) Who sacrifices more? Mulder is basically doing what he wants to do, has a cushy job with the FBI, and works with a beautiful woman. Maybe he’s given up his personal life, but then we haven’t seen any sign that he is capable of a personal life, so maybe it’s not a true sacrifice. CSM, he said, has sacrificed his health, personal life, wife, son, maybe other unacknowledged children. 3) Acts of love: Sure Mulder goes chasing off after Scully when she gets abducted, but what happened when Skinner put his career on the line for Scully’s cure? Did Mulder offer to take the burden? CSM thinks not. CSM risked his standing in the Syndicate and with the project to get the Bounty Hunter to cure Mrs. Mulder. 4) Thoughtfulness: Mulder is impetuous. Always acting without considering the consequences. Waves his gun around a lot. CSM is always thinking, trying to come up with the best strategy. Doesn’t even carry a gun as far as he recalls. 5) Eyesight: Every time it’s a little dark, Mulder has to get out a flashlight. CSM, though, he *lives* in the dark. 6) Potency: Frankly, he thinks Mulder is a virgin. Well, in the shower scene, he finally took a look at Scully, but then he seemed to grimace. What was that? CSM, well, it’s still possible that he is Mulder’s father, it’s been intimated that he is Samantha’s father, he is Spender’s father.

So, pretty much across the board, he thinks CSM comes out ahead. So why do people prefer Mulder? Lighting. If they bathed CSM in pink light and played ominous music when Mulder appeared, it would be a different show.

Davis also had some things to say about the choices made to cooperate with the aliens. He compared it to Vichy France where compromises were made to forestall invasion and attempt to save the population from a worse fate than occupation. It may not have been the right choice in retrospect, but it was a situation of people trying to make the best decisions they can. He sees X-Files as a show without true heroes, only people trying to take actions as best they can in light of some terrible options.

Davis gets very much into his character. He plays him as human whose actions make sense, not as evil incarnate. In fact the way he plays CSM, he sees Mulder as the bad guy. [Zuff’s note: I think that’s one thing that makes the character so effective.]

He talked for a while about people who believe in aliens and the power of hypnotic regression to create false memories, etc. He’s not a believer himself, that was clear. He also said that from what he could see TXF didn’t create much belief in the paranormal. But it does feed into the present moment when people have stopped being certain about what they know. A post-literate time in many ways. There is more information, but also more skepticism growing out of the fact that people have come to distrust information that they sense is associated with some sort of power structure. He polled the audience (several hundred people, mostly college students) about belief in aliens and in alien abduction. Almost no one raised his/her hand. Then he asked whether the government was engaged in conspiracies and almost everyone did. He said some things suggesting that he did distrust some of the info we get from authorities (he was talking about Kosovo and the rationales for bombing), but he also said that in general large bureaucracies are too incompetent to pull off real conspiracies for any length of time.

Someone asked about “Musings.” He said he was really surprised when he read the script and found out this was what he character had been up to. It seemed inconsistent. Writing a novel? That really surprised him. Anyway he interpreted the ep as Frohike’s version as told to M&S, not necessarily the truth. In the original script CSM was supposed to shoot and kill Frohike, but CC nixed it.

He thinks Scully is too good for Mulder. Actually, with her rational, scientific approach she would be a much better match for CSM. CC has said no Mulder-Scully relationship, no Skinner-Scully relationship, no Mulder-Skinner relationship, but he hasn’t said anything about CSM-Scully. [Stay away, fanfic writers. Do not go there.]

Davis has finally decided to write a script himself and hopes that something might be produced next year. It was really hard work to come up with an idea and he has great admiration for the writers who do it over and over.

Unlike some series that start out with a plan for where the plot will go, XF had nothing. The stories have developed as they’ve moved along. It’s been amazing.

When he auditioned for the show it was for the senior FBI post. That character had three lines! He felt that CSM had developed as a really long audition. They thought he did pretty well at standing around smoking, so they gave him a line. He handled that pretty well, so they gave him some more.

What does he smoke on the show? He’s a spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society, so he smokes herbal cigarettes instead of tobacco. They taste pretty bad, but the smoke smells like marijuana, so kids if you want to surprise your parents…

Why did he burn the X-Files office? He really didn’t remember. He was angry about something—maybe about being shot–really angry, so something had to burn. That’s all he recalls.

Why does he hang around with Diana Fowley. Well, like all men, he has no judgment when it comes to women. [Sorry, Hobrock. Those are his words.]

Someone asked how he could play some of the scenes knowing that what happens is going to be contradicted. What about the scene in Redux with Samantha, for example? Well, he certainly thought she was the real Samantha and that’s how he played it. Then a year later, he heard someone say, “No that wasn’t her,” and his reaction was “huh?”

What would he like to be remembered for? Mostly being Canadian national water-ski champion!

There were a variety of miscellaneous comments and questions, but these were the ones that stuck in my mind.