Long before the premiere of The X-Files season 11, fans have known that the shadowy figure known only as the Cigarette Smoking Man, played by William B. Davis, has been playing the longest of games, working his own own agenda. Now that certain deeper details (including a name, of all things) have come to light as CSM takes center stage in “My Struggle III,” William B. Davis speaks to us about his character’s journey.
Forefront on longtime viewers’ minds is how the old man survived a direct hit from a missile as he sat in a cave in an ancient Anasazi settlement in what was then the series finale of The X-Files in 2002. “Well, the simple answer is, with difficulty,” explains Davis. “Whether I had help from alien sources, perhaps, or whether I have some DNA that is not normal in humans, we don’t know. There are these possibilities, but I think the short answer is it was better for the story if I survived.”
One relationship that gets further exploration because of CSM’s survival is that of a father and son at odds as Mulder works against what he sees as an evil, self-serving plan. “There are a lot of other facets to the series, but there is that ongoing conflict between those two characters,” Davis admits. “And yet it’s complicated by the fact that they are, it would seem, blood related. But there’s no reason why blood relations cannot be in conflict as we know.”
As the opening episode of The X-Files season 11 shows, fatherhood becomes an even more contentious topic as Mulder seeks to protect his aptly-named son, William, from his father. “The relationship is complicated, stormy and ever-changing,” Davis says cryptically, “so it’s really hard to pin down, whether it’s a love/hate or just on two sides of a very deep mythological struggle. I would like him to be on my side but he wants to be on his side and then he’s an impetuous sort of man, and we’re constantly in conflict.”
As the villain everyone loves to hate, Cigarette Smoking Man’s presence in The X-Files season 11 has been a welcome return for a character who wasn’t initially supposed to be so central. “[Cinematographer John S. Bartley] was quite particular about how I was positioned so that he could light me in the most threatening or menacing way,” Davis says. “I think he has a lot to do with why the character became so interesting to the fans, which subsequently led to the development of the character further.”
Revelations in the season 11 premiere about what really happened between CSM and Dana Scully in the season 7 episode, “En Ami,” were a huge part of the twist at the end of The X-Files season 11 premiere, and Davis is proud to have writer’s credit for that storyline. “Here we were, we’d done seven seasons, and I had still never done a scene with Gillian… so I thought it would be fascinating to confront these two characters in some form or other,” Davis says. “I love that I’m credited for writing it and I love that I get the royalties for writing it, but I have to say it was a team effort.”
Despite Cigarette Smoking Man’s claim of parentage, however, Davis warns against jumping to conclusions too soon. “I have to say the reveal in the new episode played no part in my back story for ‘En Ami,'” he insists. “I know the premise of the show is, ‘I want to believe’, but really the show needs to be approached with continued skepticism… Don’t believe everything you see and hear on The X-Files.” So is what CSM says to Skinner even true?
As the season progresses towards its finale, it’s true in part what CSM says to Reyes in The X-Files season 11 premiere: “I’ve endured more hatred than you will ever know. My enemies are legion.” Davis embodies one of the most iconic villains television has ever known, and although the character may be hated, it’s the fans of The X-Files and of Davis’ part in the show’s success that are legion.