X-Files Interview Archive: William B. Davis

X-Files – Cigarette Smoking Man

by Nick De Semlyen |
Updated on

This article was originally published in 2013.

Played: Cigarette-Smoking Man, aka Cancer Man, aka C.G.B. Spender

Number of episodes: 37

When did you last see an episode?

About three years ago, when I was writing my memoir (Memoirs Of A Cigarette Smoking Man). I went back and watched every episode that I was in, in sequence. It was fascinating to see the evolution of the show. The first episode seemed frankly a little slow – it lacked the visual sophistication that came later with more money and more time and more experience. The shows got more polished.

Do you have a favourite monster?


Do you remember any of your lines?

The ones that pop into my head straight away are "Burn it!" and "I've watched Presidents die." Those were both chewy lines to fire off at somebody.

Did you come up with a backstory?

In my first scene, I didn't have a single line. I had zero information about who this character was. So I did create my backstory. But as the seasons developed, my backstory kept changing as I got more information about who this person was. I always gave myself a lot of power. And it was a great shock to me when the Fat Man and the Well-Manicured Man appeared and seemed to have power over me, because I thought I was the top guy! At a certain point I began to think more and more about the Vichy government in France and Marshal Pétain. Because that was a similar situation - he had sold his soul to the devil. Although there were some theories that Cigarette Smoking Man was the devil.

X-Files – Cigarette Smoking Man

Are you a Shipper or a No-Romo?*

I thought Mulder and Scully should be kept apart. The tension was great, but it was like L'il Abner and Daisy Mae, the famous comic strip of the '40s and '50s. When finally L'il Abner married Daisy Mae, that was the end of the comic strip.

What's the strangest encounter you've had with a fan?

I remember being on an elevator once, and this lady turned around, saw me and screamed. But it was a friendly scream – she went to get all her friends and asked for autographs. Another day I was at a gas station and this guy just kept staring at me as if I was a chimpanzee in a zoo. He looked as if he was going to throw peanuts any minute. But the strangest encounter with a fan? Well, I'm married to one! She's from the south of France and was really into my character. We started to correspond three years ago and two years ago we got married. It's amazing.

What's the best thing you kept from the set?

I have publicity stuff: posters and DVDs and pictures. But no things that were actually used on the show. I don't even have a packet of Morley cigarettes. I wish I did... I could sell them on eBay for quite a bit! When I started the show I was a reformed smoker. I had quit 17 years earlier. So I was quite familiar with the whole process of smoking. It was like riding a bicycle – it came right back to me when I was confronted with it. When we shot the first episode I actually smoked a real cigarette, thinking, "Why not, I'm an actor?" But then I found himself thinking, "Gosh, I wish they would call me for that X-Files show again." At that point I switched to herbal cigarettes!

When I started the show I was a reformed smoker. I had quit 17 years earlier.

Mulder's obsession is aliens. What's yours?

Skiing and waterskiing. I can't get enough of doing either. Chris Carter actually referenced it with a line in the show: when I'm at Mrs. Mulder's place, I say, "Your father and I used to waterski. I was a better water-skier than he was. I was better at a lot of things." Chris actually toyed with the idea of showing me on the water, but he said the other writers talked him out of it. He's a surfer and I'm a waterskiier – we share a love of doing strange things on water.

When did you last cross paths with someone from the show?

Nick Lea and I were both on an episode of Continuum two or three months ago. He played a 50-year-younger version of me, but I'm not entirely sure what was going on plot-wise!

Sum up the conspiracy storyline in 30 seconds or less.

I tried to do it in my memoir, but I took more than 30 seconds to do it! So... okay. The aliens approached and threatened to invade the planet. They did not have all the resources ready to do it yet but they were going to do that. And some of us, my character and Mulder's father and some others, we made a deal with the aliens. And it was two-pronged. Because as part of the deal we said, "We will co-operate with you. We will create the drones and do what else needs to be done." That way some of the human race would survive and the aliens wouldn't destroy us all.

That was one prong. But the second prong, which we did not tell the aliens, was that we would use that time to try to develop a virus that would protect us from the aliens. So we were duly developing that virus, which would be spread by bees. Then all of a sudden they invaded us anyway. We weren't ready, we hadn't completed the virus, but we went to meet them. Fortunately I was late, but others made the appointment and to their surprise discovered that these weren't our aliens at all. These were other aliens who had conquered our aliens and captured people to take them into away into space. That took longer than 30 seconds, didn't it?

* Shippers want Mulder and Scully to hook up. No-Romos don't.

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