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Interview with William B. Davis, Cigarette Smoking Man of "The
William B. Davis played the sinister CSM or Cancer Man
on The X-Files, but he's had a long career in theater, television and
movies. He seems very intelligent, both in his book and his interview -
a fascinating man, but also very kind.
Suzanne: I read your book last week and I enjoyed
WBD: Thank you.
Suzanne: What gave you the idea to write a book?
WBD: Oh, it was a lot of things that kind of came together to
give me the idea. Some Canadian people said, "You have a fascinating and
important, or at least unique, background in the development of Canadian
theater, and that's a story that should be told". And then the people on
the X-Files side, said, well, that's a story that should be told. From
my own point of view, personally... Uh, writing a memoir...Not everyone
writes a memoir, but it was just a fascinating experience to try to look
at one's life in the past through one's lens in the present. It was just
a totally absorbing experience.
Suzanne: How long did it take you to write it?
WBD: To be honest, I don't remember exactly when I began, but I
would think it was over about a three year period. I did it between
engagements and other things? And when I would get a stretch of time I
would work on it for a while...
Suzanne: What type of preparation did you take before you wrote
the book? Did you make notes or write an outline or...?
WBD: I did have an outline as I recall, but that was kind of
subject to change and variation. I knew the areas I wanted to stress,
and I had lots of information. I read a lot of people's memoirs both in
general, and about the theater and that period I was writing about. So I
began to formulate the kind of memoir that I wanted to write and the
kind I did not want to write. The other aspect, I guess, or the recent
twist as I was going along, was that I talked to people in my past, some
of which I had not communicated with in maybe 50 years. I had to
re-create some relationships. They wanted to do everything to help and
cooperate, so that was all part of the preparation process.
Suzanne: Did you find that when you were talking to people that
their recollections were pretty much the same as yours, or not?
WBD: It's amazing what different people remember or don't
remember. Stories that to me were totally vivid and sharing of these
people over months or years they don't remember them, at all. And they
remember other things, and I go, "What? You were in that class with me
in college? I don't remember that." "Oh yes, I was. I came to your house
the night before exam." "No...." Memory is a very strange thing. Not
very accurate at all.
Suzanne: Yes, I wish you could go back and videotape your life
because you lose so much as get older.
WBD: Yes, and you keep revising it. The brain keeps revising the
memories. When you go back and look at them, you're not looking at a
picture of what actually happened. You're looking at the memory of what
has been stored and processed in your brain after all these years.
Suzanne: Had you do done any writing before or taken any writing
WBD: I did take about two writing workshops for screenwriting,
but not for prose writing. I've written several scripts- three short
films that were actually produced, and a couple of others that weren't.
Of course, one writes essays and such in school. I had written the
forward of a book called "The Philosophy of the X-Files"... so I had
some background in writing. I had some very good colleagues and people
who helped. One of them, one of them a very successful Canadian writer,
whom I've known for years, helped me out me with the memoir. He said,
"You've taught yourself to write in the process of writing the book."
Suzanne: Did you ever have any point in the process where you
felt like giving it up, or felt like you should get more help with it
from a professional writer? Or thought "This is too much"?
WBD: No, I never thought that. One person suggested that I write
with a professional writer. To be honest I was horrified at that. I
thought, If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this myself. I'm happy
to have help, and indeed I did, and advice from people with experience,
but no, I always wanted to do it myself and always felt I could. The
reaction to the book has been very good, and everyone feels that it has
been well written.
Suzanne: Do you think you might write any other books, now that
you know what it's like?
WBD: Yes, I think I might. I'm sort of wavering between a couple
of options. One would be to plunge in and try a novel, to take some of
this material and turn it into fiction. The other would be to write a
book on acting - a concise book, distilling out how I arrived and how to
Suzanne: Is there anything in your book, now that it's published,
that you wish you could go back and change?
WBD: Lots of things. You write it at home and then you put it out
there. Maybe I wrote more about my personal life than I'm really
comfortable with. Maybe I said some things about some people that I wish
I hadn't. I really didn't want to write a memoir that was either a
defense of my life, or one that was all about how I had this lovely life
and I met all these lovely people. I wanted to actually say something
so... That exposes you to some discomfort that may promote in other
people. What surprised me was there were a couple of places where people
have taken some offense where none was intended! There are obviously
people I've criticized in the book, and they may not be happy about
being criticized. That I understand. But there were other places, where
I met no offense, I meant to say something in sort of good humor, and
people have taken some umbrage like, "You shouldn't've said that about
that person- he is a really nice person". But I didn't say anything bad!
It's delicate. It's all delicate.
Suzanne: I can imagine. The written word is very different from
when you're communicating with people.
WBD: Right, you don't respond... You're not sending a strict
photograph of me to them... It's transmitted through the words and what
it arrives in their brains is different than what I put out in my brain,
so it's an interesting process.
Suzanne: I think everyone who's ever written an e-mail can
understand that, especially one that's been taken offense at when you
didn't mean it. (both laugh here) You said you've been getting some good
feedback? Have you been getting a lot of good feedback from the outside
WBD: Oh, they said a lot, and some of it's been fantastic. People
saying, "This is an amazing book, and everybody should read it, blah,
blah, blah". Other people, maybe not so. Thing is with the memoir, there
are people who like memoirs... And there periods that I write about that
are more interesting to some people than others. But the response has
been very favorable. I'm very pleased about it.
Suzanne: Good, good. It's kind of two different books. If you're
an X-Files fan, you're going to want to read the last half. If you're
interested in acting and directing, you're going to be more interested
in the first half.
WBD: Yes, exactly.
Suzanne: According to IMDB, you have some newly new movies coming
out, "The Tall Man", and "The Singularity Principle"?
WBD: Yes, that's right.
Suzanne: Anything you can tell us about those?
WBD: "The Tall Man" is starring Jessica Biel. I think I'm waiting
to get a release date set, but I think it's ready to go. It's going to
look amazing. I saw some of the dailies. Pascal Laugier Is a brilliant
director/photographer. It's going to look wonderful. That will come out
soon–ish, I think. "The Singularity Principle" is a very different
project altogether. It's very low budget and who knows what the results
will be. It was wonderful doing it. One got to a lot of acting in a very
short time. There is an interrogation scene that runs right through the
movie, so it's kind of in and out, so for me it was great.
There's a series called "Continuum" which is shooting now, and I have a
recurring role. I can't tell you anything about that because I signed an
agreement saying, "Say nothing about it".
Suzanne: Is that Canadian?
WBD: I can't tell you! I think it's for North American
distribution, but it's been made in Canada.
Suzanne: It also said that it's rumored that you're in a new
movie called "Hotel de Grazia", is that true?
WBD: I think that's a long shot. I think we should take that off
IMDB. I don't think that movie will ever happen. The director will put
me in it if he ever does it, but... he's been trying to get it off the
ground for quite a few years now, so far without success.
Suzanne: Do you go online much? Do you have a website that you
like to go to? Do you go on Facebook or twitter?
WBD: Yes, I go on Facebook and I also have a Facebook fan page. I
have my own website at
Suzanne: Do you spend much time yourself online?
WBD: I'm not quite sure what people mean by that. I don't browse
around that much and fiddle about. I seem to be busy. But I use the
Internet a lot to do what I do. I guess I'm still a little
old-fashioned. I read books and newspapers. I like to have them beside
me while I eat.
Suzanne: Do you have a favorite website besides Facebook?
WBD: I go to TSN for sports... That's the Canadian sports
network. Were down to the wire now in terms of the hockey playoffs, so I
go there regularly to keep up with that. When I'm in France, I go to
websites more often because I don't have access to newspapers. So I go
to CBC news quite often and the Guardian site. I have a friend in New
Zealand who sends me articles from truth.org and the like, but I don't
actually go to their website.
Suzanne: Is there anything else that you'd like to tell your
fans, or fans of the X-Files?
WBD: People keep asking me if there's going to be a third movie,
but I have no news on that. I know there's a big campaign among fans to
get a third movie, but I have no idea if that will happen. I have no
direct information on that.
Suzanne: You're passionate about climate change. Is there
anything you do to promote that?
WBD: I'm wishing I could find some way to be more proactive in
that area. It's a major, major concern. I talk about it a lot, but I
don't know how to move to get action taken. I fear were not going to get
action taken before it's way, way too late. So other than talking about
it, and deciding who to vote for and campaigne for, not as much as I'd
like to do in that regard.
Suzanne: Maybe there's an organization or something you could
WBD: There are quite a few and they do demonstrations, but
they're not having a great deal of effect. I don't know what it's going
Suzanne: I think there are a lot of people in California in
particular, who get really involved in it, especially people that like
WBD: Yes, yes, there are.
Suzanne: You also mentioned GM foods in your book - you are in
favor of them?
WBD: I read something by Stewart Brand, one of the original
environmentalists, who wrote something called The Whole Earth Catalog
back in the 50s. He was a real back-to-nature, let's-save- the-world
guru... He came out with a book recently called Whole Earth Discipline,
and he flipped my mind on three different things, which his mind had
been flipped on. Looking at where we are with the population that we
have, the dangers to the climate that we have, he stressed three things
- that we do need to live in cities, we cannot go back to the land, and
people who live in cities use far less resources than people who live on
the land; the second, that I agree with, despite what happened in Japan
-that nuclear energy is the only source of power that we have at the
moment that will give us the energy we need, without a carbon footprint;
and finally, genetically modified food can have a tremendous output on
carbon output and increase our food supply.
Suzanne: Have you read anything about the other side of that,
such as, that genetically modified foods are relatively untested and
that a lot of countries ban them? I have no opinion on the subject - I'm
just playing devil's advocate.
WBD: No, no, it's a fair question. There's been a lot of good
research, but unfortunately a lot of it has been done by the companies
themselves, and there should be more independent research. I think
that's true. It's scary because if you eliminate genetically modified
foods, like Germany that has decided to scale back its program, to me
that's bizarre. Look at the risk of tsunami, or the risk of climate
change if they have to go back coal or or fossil fuels - it's huge.
Suzanne: I think a lot of people are concerned, especially those
with allergies because they don't label them, at least here in the US...
you don't even know what you're eating. The people just fear everything,
after all of the scares about poisoned food from China etc. They just
think, here's another thing they're trying to poison us with..
WBD: Yes, right.
Read my review of his book!
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