On Acting... and life. A new look at an old craft
Dozens of books on acting exist, but none of them are quite like this. Part memoir and part master class, modelled after Stephen King’s bestseller, On Writing, the book is divided into two parts.
Part one takes readers on a seventy-year journey that begins with William B. Davis, at age twelve, riding his bicycle through the streets of Toronto to his first acting classes, and eventually leads to him starring in the long-running television series, The X-Files. From a summer theatre in Ontario to the National Theatre of Great Britain to the National Theatre School of Canada to the William Davis Centre for Actors’ Study in Vancouver, few have travelled such a colourful journey. Along the way, Davis met all sorts of familiar faces, including Donald Sutherland, Brian Cox, Albert Finney, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, David Duchovny, and Gillian Anderson, among others.
Although there is a lot about acting in part one, the heart of the book for an aspiring or working actor is in part two. What has Davis learned in seventy years of working both in the theatre and in film and television? A lot, as you will see. Davis grasp of the art of acting is vast and practical. And in some ways, original.
In his final chapter, Davis explores the underlying philosophy of acting and actor training and argues for bringing the work in to the twenty-first century.
Praise for On Acting … and life.
This book celebrates a lifetime’s passion and commitment to the mysterious realm of acting. It's not a tale of fame, fortune and gossip, but instead it documents the twists and turns of an artist’s determined engagement with making and sustaining a career in Canada for over sixty years. It’s a history lesson and an inspiration, reminding the discouraged actor that you never know what’s coming round the corner so be prepared and keep the faith. The discussion of what makes for good acting is a wealth of practical, clear advice, mined and honed in decades of devoted exploration as an actor, director, and teacher. Gold!
- Rosemary Dunsmore (Award winning Actor, Director and Acting teacher)
Before he was my cigarette smoking nemesis for over 25 years, before he incarnated one of tv/s great villains, William Davis was an acting teacher. It’s not true that those who can’t do, teach, because Bill can do both. And he can write. Like all good teachers, the wisdom and stories that Bill elaborates upon in his book are really lessons about life. It’s possible you will become a better actor after reading Bill; it’s also possible you will become a better person. For fans of the X-Files or just people who enjoy listening to a no nonsense craftsman and lifer talk about his craft with none of the usual humble-brag or sensational Hollywood bullshit.
- David Duchovny ( Novelist and Star of The X-Files)
Bill Davis’s ‘On acting’ is a fascinating tapestry of a life dedicated not only to the Art, but also to a deeper philosophical grasp of our work. Bill chronicles a highly personal journey that is founded in the search for a truth that truly illuminates the mystery of our craft!
- Brian Cox (Bafta Award Winner and Star of Succession)
Bill’s vast experience, on stage, screen and as a teacher is more than impressive, it’s a rarity in our culture of instant fame. I cast him as a villain 30 years ago, but little did I know he’d always played to win.
- Chris Carter (Creator of The X-Files)
Where There's Smoke... Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man
One of the most iconic villains in the history of television, the enigmatic Cigarette Smoking Man fascinated legions of fans of the 1990s’ hit TV series, The X-Files. The man behind the villain, William B. Davis, is a Canadian actor and director, whose revelations in this memoir will entertain and intrigue the millions of X-Files aficionados worldwide. Best known as “Cancerman,” he was voted Television’s Favourite Villain by the readers of TV Guide.
But there is more to Davis’s story than just The X-Files. Chronicling his own life and times, William B. Davis discusses his loves, losses, hopes, fears, and accomplishments in this unique and engaging autobiography. An all-access look into the life of a versatile actor, this life story includes anecdotes and recollections of such greats as Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Martin Sheen, Brian Dennehy, and Donald Sutherland. From the University of Toronto and theatre school in Britain to Hollywood and appearances on Smallville and Stargate SG-1, this memoir recalls one actor's journey from the main stage to the mainstream.
Davis' award winning memoir Where There's Smoke .... Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man was published by ECW Press and launched in October 2011.
"When the Cigarette Smoking man actually first spoke on The X-Files, we found out what a truly talented actor Bill Davis is. Now, in this absorbing , fascinating book about his rich and exciting life, we discover he's equally talented as a director, teacher, lover, skier, and much more."
R.W. Goodwin: The X-Files Executive Producer, Writer and Director
"For anyone who is a student or lover of theatre, or anyone involved with the profession for that matter and in whatever capacity, the book is a treasure trove of history.”
Tom Braidwood: Actor, Producer and Director (The X-Files, Millennium, Da Vinci’s Inquest)
Davis has been the writer of several successful screen projects which were widely screened at major festivals.
William wrote the script of X-FILES' Season 7, episode 15 "En Ami"
Signed copies of William's short movies are available from the online shop.
EXCERPTS OF "WHERE THERE'S SMOKE..."
BY WILLIAM B. DAVIS
I’m standing beside a filing cabinet. To my right is the actor Charles Cioffi, and to his right is Ken Camroux, the actor playing the Senior FBI Agent, the part I read for and didn’t get. I got this weird part with no lines. All I do is smoke. On the other side of the desk is a young unknown actress with red hair. We are doing a low budget pilot for an obscure science fiction show about alien abduction, if you can believe it. Well, a gig is a gig. I’m getting paid. Scale, I think.
I’m feeling pretty dumb, just standing there like a statue listening to the red-haired actress talk about someone called “Spooky Mulder.” I look at the cabinet beside me, the top just below my shoulder. I think, ‘If this were really me, would I stand here as if I were part of the scenery?’ which of course I was. ‘What’s to lose,’ I think. So I stretch my elbow across the top of the cabinet, cross my feet, and watch the action from this new position, a praying mantis with a cigarette. An icon was born
How things were when we are growing up is how they ought to be, now and forever. Southern Ontario in the forties is how life should be. It is an anomaly that the Muskoka Lakes are now full of boats. What’s right is that there should be no more than five boats go by in a whole day, pleasure boats all being up on blocks as a result of rationing. Or that dogs should run loose in the neighbourhood. That milk and bread were delivered by horse. That horse manure on Eglinton Avenue was normal. That movies in the brand new Nortown Theatre with pushback seats cost fourteen cents. That we listened to plays on the radio. That most middle-class families had household help. That there was no television, and certainly no computers, cell phones, internet, terrorists, security. The big ski area in Ontario, now called Blue Mountain, then called Jozo’s, boasted nine rope tows. And the giant ski area in Quebec, Mont Tremblant, had two chairlifts, one of which was broken. The speed limit was forty-two miles per hour and everyone had ration books. And kids walked to school. By themselves.
THE WORST LINE - EVER
An actor’s job is to bring little black marks to life. Unless it is a secret X-Files script, in which case the little marks are in red so they can’t be photocopied. But whatever the colour, the marks represent words written by a dramatist. When the words are beautifully written by a great playwright the words seem to fly unbidden from the actor. It is as if the scene is playing itself and the actor is merely a conduit. But what if the words are bad? What if they lack motivation, relevance, and truth? What does an actor do then?
BOOKPLEASURES.COM “Aficionados of The X-Files will get their monies worth. Those interested in the Canadian stage will get even more. Beyond these two audiences, anyone interested in the acting profession can pick up insights and wisdom from a director who’s worked with some of the best in some of the most challenging circumstances. It’s a fast-paced story told with wit and humor, enjoyable for any reader with an eye for the footlights.” (Podcast interview and more)
POP CULTURE GUY, "There is no doubt that William B. Davis has led a fascinating life. He candidly shares his vast experiences, both good and bad. Where There's Smoke ... is a sincere, interesting and intellectual effort that features enough variety of material to appeal to a diverse demographic." (more)
SLICE OF SCIFI "If you’ve ever wondered about the life and career of Davis before he found mainstream recognition as one of the best villains in television history, you will definitely want to pick up Davis’ autobiography." In Broadcast #447. Brian Brown and Michael R. Mennenga also interview Davis (10:36-20:48).
CBC MORNING EDITION (Vancouver, BC) interviewed William B. Davis on October 19th at 8am. The interview was in-studio and broadcast live on CBC Radio One’s Morning Edition.
THE INTERNET REVIEW OF BOOKS "Saving the best for last, he tells the amazing story of how, when he was at his lowest point both personally and professionally, he returned to acting and became television's greatest villain. X-Files fans will love his recollections of the series and his detailed commentary on the classic episodes he appeared in. Readers in general will enjoy William B. Davis' unforgettable memoir, written with wit, verve, humor, and poignancy, a page turner every bit as intriguing as the man himself. The truth is in here."
GEORGE STROUMBOULOPOULOS TONIGHT (CBC Television) Davis taped in-studio segment as part of the show’s nightly comedic sketch called “The Cold Open”.
SHADOWLAND "Ironically, Davis played one of the nastiest, deplorable characters on television, yet he has penned one of the most likable, downright fun, and certainly well-written memoirs I have ever had the pleasure of reading."
GLOBE AND MAIL “In this warm and entertaining memoir, [William B Davis] discusses his life and career, including anecdotes, recollections and gossip from time on-stage and before the cameras with such stars as Brian Dennehy, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Martin Sheen and Donald Sutherland.”
THE PROVINCE "Davis has a pleasant conversational style when he writes – if you’ve heard his voice before you’ll hear it again as you read him."
JERRY WASSERMAN, Vancouver Actor, Critic and UBC Theatre & Film Dept. Head “Bill Davis’s remarkable career in the performing arts makes for a vivid memoir and a valuable cultural history. While telling of his pioneering work in the Canadian theatre, his participation in the golden age of modern British theatre, and his almost accidental stardom inThe X-Files, Davis also candidly skewers many of the stuffed shirts he met along the way. An entertaining and addictive read.”
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY “Davis provides a nice backstage look at the episodes in which he starred. His most notable observation is that series creator Chris Carter and his producers and writers – as suspected by hardcore fans - ‘flew by the seat of their pants’ in developing a conspiracy mythology...” (more)
DAVID HELWIG, Poet, Novelist and Essayist “Bill Davis’s memoir is a lively personal story and a document in the history of theatre. He tells a revealing tale of how determination and chance led him to be a stage director in England, a producer, director and teacher in Canada and, to his own astonishment, a film actor who achieved celebrity for his television performances in The X-Files. His account of his life is thoughtful, amusing, even mildly scandalous. He’s very sharp about how things work or fail to work. His narrative takes the fascinated reader into many back rooms, and opens locked doors. This is not how it should have been, but how it was.”