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. You can buy the trading card if you want. At that moment my career went up in smoke. Well, perhaps it had been smouldering for some time. Once a boy wonder, I had failed in my major ambition. I was not the Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival at the age of twenty-nine, unlike my idol, Peter Hall, who headed the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK at that age. Still, always torn between directing and teaching, I was getting along, making a good living, until that fateful day when everything changed. At the time, of course, I had no idea anything had changed. I had played a non-speaking role in a pilot for a television show whose chances of being picked up were about as good as the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series. It would be another year or two before the show and then this character became household names. At age fifty-three, I would become a full-time actor, a star even, dealing with fan mail to this day. One of my pet peeves are workshops conducted by successful people in the film business. Do what I did and you too can be a success. What did I do to become a successful actor and minor celebrity? I auditioned for a small role, didn’t get it, and got an even smaller one with no lines. If you do that, you too can become a television star. Life is random. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson became stars by chance. That is not to say they weren’t and aren’t worthy. They are talented actors and I wish them the best. But there are hundreds of other talented actors who were not so lucky. I’m waiting for the workshop where a lottery winner tells her story and inspires us to follow in her footsteps. It’s all a question of where and when you buy the ticket, the 7-Eleven on Main Street on the second Monday of the month. It may be that life is really a series of random events. But being biologically human, I am going to make a story out of them. The story will be a lie, of course. But then so are the best stories. Richard III was actually a good king and Macbeth ruled for years. I don’t promise a story of Shakespearean scope, but hopefully it will be entertaining and occasionally enlightening. I may even open a window into my soul — well, not my soul actually, I don’t have one of those, but I will let you inside, as far as I dare. Should the story be lineal? Should I start at the beginning and finally arrive at now? I am a product of the print generation and for us, according to Marshall McLuhan, lineality is natural. But many readers will be younger and will have grown up in the electronic age. When did you last see a movie where the story started at the beginning? In fact, when did you last see a movie where you could follow the story? Well, perhaps that’s another issue. Suspense in a movie used to be about how the movie was going to end. Now it seems to be about how the story is going to come together. I could weave a tapestry of events and you could be on the edge of your proverbial seat wondering how it will all come together. And then, the joke would be on you. It doesn’t come together. It may feel like one life, but is it really? They say that every seven years each cell in our body has changed. Am I the same person that I was seven years ago, or in my case, seventy years ago? Bill Davis has had many lives, many loves. These stories may weave together into a coherent whole or they may not. There will be stories of life in wartime Ontario, of early Canadian theatre and radio, of university life in the late fifties, of Britain and British theatre in the sixties, of the National Theatre School of Canada and Festival Lennoxville, and finally, The X-Files. But is Bill Davis an actor, a teacher, a director, a skier, a water skier, a lover? Wasn’t he once a birdwatcher and a bridge player? Who is he, really? It’s all very well for Polonius to say, "To thine own self be true," but who the hell is thine own self? I will leave it to you to decide about meaning; all I can tell you for certain is that it’s been quite a ride and it’s not done yet.
ECW Press; October 2011
- ISBN: 9781770900479
- Edition: 1
- Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure ePub format
- Title: Where There’s Smoke ...
- Author: William Davis
Imprint: ECW Press