William B. Davis visits a toontown con

by Chris Morin

William B DavisSaskatchewan Entertainment Expo
Sept. 14 -15
Prairieland Park, Saskatoon

It’s been almost exactly 20 years since a strange series called The X-Files first infiltrated the airwaves and almost immediately became a cultural phenomenon. With 202 episodes and a pair of feature films featuring paranoiac stories of government conspiracy, flesh-eating monsters and aliens, the show’s cultural impact was huge.

The show made stars out of David Duchovny (Agent Fox Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (Agent Dana Scully), and also served as a proving ground for writers such as Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan and Homeland’s Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon.

And with a third movie sounding more and more likely to happen, The X-Files looks certain to remain relevant for years to come.

“It was a particular show at a particular time, where it spoke to the zeitgeist of the ’90s in a way that no other show did,” says X-Files actor William B. Davis, who’ll be appearing at the first annual Saskatchewan Entertainment Expo in Saskatoon on Sept. 14-15.

Davis, who played the über-mysterious villain Cigarette Smoking Man, says The X-Files was important as it gave people who didn’t fully accept government and mainstream explanations of the world a reflection of their own musings.

“It looked at what was real and what wasn’t real — how do we know what’s real? It examined who we believed and conspiracies and things that were very real and compelling at that time.”

The series has been more or less in a state of stasis for the past five years (the second movie dropped in 2008) but The X-Files is still a refreshing watch. Dana Scully gave the show sex appeal and skepticism about the paranormal, while Fox Mulder was the true believer who also brought the cool.

But it was the villains that gave The X-Files its iconic creepiness — and few were more fiendish than the Smoking Man.

Davis’ Cigarette Smoking Man, named for the ever-present cigarettes he puffed on, served as the chief adversary to Mulder and Scully. But it wasn’t just his smoky spookiness that kept fans glued to the screen. There were plenty of soap-opera-style twists that kept the show salty, including the jaw-dropping moment when the Smoking Man was revealed to be Mulder’s biological father.

Davis says it was pure serendipity that he was added to the show.

“The life of an actor is largely accidental. It was an accident that I ended up on X-Files in the way I did — I auditioned for a small role, which ended up becoming a large role. And as more and more roles came my way, the more I identified with that genre.”

After The X-Files ended, Davis continued working in sci-fi, making appearances in shows such as Smallville, Stargate and his current project, Continuum.

“I find it all pretty interesting, with the range of scientific hypothesis, if you will. I love Continuum because it has a very simple hypothesis: what would happen if you could send people back to change the future? It’s a very simple premise, but one from which a whole range of stories and political comments have developed.”

Davis began his career in the 1960s, when he trained as a theatre actor and director — and even though he became famous as a sci-fi icon, he remains connected to the stage.

“I’m currently directing a play that’s taking up a lot of my time,” he says, “and then I don’t have much else on the go until November when Continuum starts up again.”

Interestingly, Davis is no stranger to Saskatoon: he fondly recalls the time he spent working in the province in 2002, when he appeared on a short-lived series called Body & Soul, which was filmed in the city.

“We shot the series there about seven or eight years ago,” he says. “It had to do with alternative medicine. We shot several episodes there, but unfortunately it never got renewed.”

For tickets, schedules or other information, visit www.saskexpo.com.