Authority, Discipline and… Cigarettes

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Annabeth Gish (Agent Reyes) and William B. Davis (C.G.B. Spender, Cigarette Smoking Man) joined ML Bennett-Conover in the Sheraton Grand Ballroom on Friday to reflect upon their work on The X-Files. Over the course of eleven seasons and two feature films, Special Agents Mulder and Scully searched for the truth. Thwarting them time again was their great antagonist, Cigarette Smoking Man. Davis summed up the entire series from his character’s perspective when he pointed out that really everyone had it backwards. Mulder was an agent of chaos while CSM was heroic; trying to preserve order and a select group of humans. As Davis declared: “To preserve order you need authority, discipline, and cigarettes!”

Both actors commented upon the complexity of series creator Chris Carter’s imagination. One of the professional challenges Gish faced was dealing with this complexity. Unlike her role in The Bridge, in which she knew her character was driven by personal ambition and a powerful survival instinct, she never got the sense that she fully understood Reyes. For his part, Davis couldn’t really explain how it was that his character could recover from a tracheotomy, third degree burns, and being blown up by a rocket. These were all “troublesome things.” How they all got cured was never explained. Despite the many mysteries, Gish explained, “Chris Carter can make up really cool sh!t!”

Gish knew early that she loved to play and pretend to be other people. She fell in love with acting at a young age and never looked back. Through acting she is able to inhabit another character and go on a journey (ultimately) of self-discovery. She is quite proud of the characters she’s had the opportunity to play. She has seen women’s roles expand, allowing for greater complication and sophistication. These women are not idealized, and Gish loves playing them. For her, we’re all captivated with, and see a bit of ourselves, in characters who choose the “dark side.” We recognize their flaws in ourselves. Gish finds this element of the human equation and the fact that she gets to examine it professionally, both rewarding and fun!

Davis, who has enjoyed a distinguished career on the stage, and in the classroom as a drama teacher, was asked about his most famous episode, “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.” When he got the script, he wondered about the authors, because it was a different story. There were inconsistencies in the character, and how he had developed over the course of the series. Because of those inconsistencies Davis didn’t know how to make it “whole.” He resolved the issued by choosing not to try. Davis saw in the script a tension between modernism and post-modernism, so he “opened it up” through a post-modernist analysis. Once he did that, he found the script simply “marvelous.”

Beyond the stage, camera, and classroom, Davis is also a competitive skier. His passion for the sport even made it into the X-Files episode “Talitha Cumi” (Season 3, Episode 24). At one point during his confrontation with Mulder’s mother, Teena, CSM refers to skiing on the lake and being better at it than her former husband. Carter hoped to film a scene with Davis skiing but it never came to fruition.

As the hour wound down, the questions turned to their characters love interests. When asked how it was that women were attracted to CSM, Davis could offer no explanation other than the fact the people are attracted to power. As for Gish, when asked about her character’s relationship with John Doggett, long-time friend and partner, she argued that their fanfic backstory would be “hot” with both deep love and lust. It was an interesting end to an interesting hour with two consummate professionals whose work on The X-Files helped it secure its position as nothing less than genre-defining.

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