Even though William B. Davis’ Cigarette Smoking Man in The X-Files has presumably perished more than once, he keeps coming back to meddle in apocalyptic world affairs— and to impede Mulder and Scully at every turn.
Cigarette Smoking Man appears to be involved in a lot of major historical mysteries. With conspiracy theories swirling at the center of our political culture these days, have you changed your thinking about the character?
When I first started doing the show, I would ask our fans at conventions, “How many of you believe that there are aliens among us?” About half the audience would put up their hands. Then I would say, “How many of you think there is a government conspiracy?” And everybody would raise their hand. At that time I found it a little bit bizarre, because that’s around the time when President Clinton had been unable to keep 11 private meetings with an intern secret. It didn’t seem like they were very good at conspiracy! We are a lot more aware now of people working behind the scenes to accomplish their goals, which may not be goals that are good for the planet. . . . I keep thinking of CSM as Tywin Lannister [from Game of Thrones]. Tywin isn’t a classic villain, but he is a manipulator, a manager, a political observer, a person who is finding the best way to accomplish the goals in a complex situation. I think in that sense they are very similar.
Why does this character still feel so resonant?
Villains always fascinate people. There has been a whole symbolic issue that revolves around the smok- ing, and in the early days it had a metaphoric feel to it. Chris Carter would sometimes say: He is really the devil and the smoke is coming out of Hades. The menace that comes from not saying a whole lot started it off. There is something behind him that we don’t really know that is giving him an enormous power. The smoking has always seemed to me to come from a need to hollow out his inner emotional life: “I have had to shut the door on normal human feel- ings as best I can, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to survive.”
Has anyone joked about renaming him Vape Man?
No, but . . . nowadays, in the real world, it is almost impossible to smoke. There are hotels that are nonsmoking, and you can’t smoke anywhere in the hotel!
CSM may have to abuse his power to continue smoking in public.
Somehow I think he will manage to ignore those rules.
Excerpt from Entertainment Weekly’s The Ultimate Guide to The X-Files, celebrating 25 years of out-there conspiracies. On sale Jan. 5, buy it here now.