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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 14, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 37
Capitol Hill meets the Smoking Man
Arts & Entertainment
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Capitol Hill meets the Smoking Man

Bill Davis had a long career before The X-Files made him famous

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE: MUSINGS OF A CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN
WILLIAM B. DAVIS
(ECW Press, 290 pp.)


'I'm standing beside a filing cabinet. To my right is the actor Charles Cioffi, and to his right is Ken Camroux, the actor playing the Senior FBI Agent - the part I read for and didn't get. I got this weird part with no lines. All I do is smoke. On the other side of the desk is a young actress with red hair. We are doing a low budget pilot for an obscure science fiction show about alien abduction, if you can believe it. Well, a gig is a gig. I'm getting paid. Scale, I think.

'I'm feeling pretty dumb, just standing there like a statue listening to the red-haired actress talk about someone called Spooky Mulder. I look at the cabinet beside me, the top just below my shoulder. I think, 'If this were really me, would I stand here as if I were part of the scenery?' which of course I was. 'What's to lose,' I think. So I stretch my elbow across the top of the cabinet, cross my feet, and watch the action from this new position, a praying mantis with a cigarette. An icon was born. You can buy the trading card if you want.'

These are the words of William B. Davis, better known (at least here in the States) as the 'Smoking Man' or the 'Cancer Man' from the hit FOX-TV show The X-Files, reading from his newly published book, Where There's Smoke: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, at Elliot Bay Book Company on Saturday, September 8.

His book is a memoir about his life before, during, and after The X-Files. As he reads from the preface and a chapter called 'The Worst Line - Ever,' one realizes his voice hasn't changed a bit since the run of the show - it's an iconic and mysterious voice that, even when he's cracking jokes, still instills fear.

A LIFE IN THEATER
Davis is far more than just the chain-smoking enigma he played on television, however. 'I had a life before I got to The X-Files - what can I say?' Davis told attendees. His memoir is not just a personal story, but an erudite document on the history of professional and academic Canadian theater, to which the former child actor, now 74, has devoted much of his life.

In person, Davis comes off as both an expert actor/director and a well-spoken intellectual. His book has a wealth of theater history in it, simply because he helped make that that history. He began his career in 1949, acting in radio dramas and summer-stock theater, and has since acted in dozens of TV shows and movies, including The Dead Zone, Look Who's Talking, 21 Jump Street, MacGyver, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Smallville, Stargate SG-1, and Possession. He taught theater arts at several Canadian schools and colleges including Bishop's University in Quebec, served as an assistant director at the National Theatre of Great Britain under Laurence Olivier, and founded the William Davis Centre for Actors' Study in Vancouver.

In his book's preface, Davis says that life may indeed be simply a series of random events.

'I auditioned for a small role, didn't get it, and got an even smaller role with no lines. If you do that, you, too, can become a television star. Life is random. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson became stars by chance. That is not to say they weren't and aren't worthy. They are talented actors and I wish them the best. But there are hundreds of other talented actors who were not so lucky,' writes Davis.

SMOKING OR NONSMOKING?
Davis answered questions at the end of his reading. He told audience members that his favorite episode of the series was 'Talitha Cumi,' the third-season finale, because most of his scenes were influenced largely by Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.

In his memoir, Davis recalls that when he first became a celebrity, passers-by would often ask him if he had a cigarette. Some fans know that Davis was an ex-smoker who smoked herbal cigarettes on set, but they might be surprised to learn that for the first few episodes of the series, Davis smoked real cigarettes.

He told attendees that after a few shows, when he was sitting at home, he'd find himself very excited for the next episode - and not just because of the paycheck. So the actor made the switch to herbal cigarettes.

If you liked The X-Files, read this book - the truth, as they say, is in here. But if you're just a fan of theater or acting in general, there's plenty for you here as well. Having been in the business for over six decades, Davis is a true master of his craft.

In addition to picking up his book, you can catch Davis in his newest TV show, Continuum, a Canadian science fiction series that will soon be picked up by the Syfy Channel for U.S. viewers.

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