|The Evolution of William B. Davis
By Karina Halle
As I was driving to the set of the indie film Numb to interview William B. Davis, I couldn’t help but feel a bit apprehensive. I kept thinking that I was going to interview The Cigarette Smoking Man, his sly, calculating, alien-loving character from the The X-Files. The fact that Numb was being shot at an old mental asylum didn’t help either. |
But the minute I sat down with Davis, I could see he was nothing like his Cancerman character. Affable, intelligent and charming, he immediately put me at ease as he discussed the evolution of his multi-tasking in writing, directing, producing, acting and teaching as well as the evolving independent film industry.
Davis may have a cult-following for the work that he did on The X-Files but many people don’t realize how established the man is in other arenas besides acting. Davis is not only an accomplished director for the theatre but directed an episode of The X-Files, En Ami, as well as several shorts that were aired on Bravo and shown at various film festivals. Currently, Davis is producing and directing 49th and Main, a Vancouver-shot series that’s been picked up by CBC. In his spare time, Davis teaches film acting at the William B. Davis Centre.
Davis admits it’s not always easy having your hand in so many aspects of the industry. In fact, half the challenge comes with deciding what projects he wants to do.
“It seems to be what comes along,” he says. “But it’s a bit of a management issue too, because certain projects can overwhelm everything else and you don’t necessarily want to do that. So a large percent is at the mercy of the forces that are out there. With producing and directing it’s pretty intense but if I’m acting, it tends to have gaps, and during those gaps I can find time to write or develop projects.”
Of course, once he has decided what he wants to do, the project doesn’t come without difficulties. But Davis credits the willingness of the Vancouver film industry as a huge benefit for independent film producers in the city.
“When I did the two shorts, it was fortunate because I happened to do them in relatively short time periods, so there were a lot of people available and willing,” he says. “It’s a great city in that way, that everybody will pitch in and help.”
Helping Davis was Tom Braidwood, who played Frohike, one of the Lone Gunmen on The X-Files.
“People (in the indie film industry) move up one level, or they kind of want to help out or they want to work with you because they’ve established a relationship. For instance, Tom Braidwood was my first AD on both my two shows - and then, on the 49th and Main series, he directed three of those episodes.”
This “help each other out” attitude is something that is definitely apparent in the Canadian film industry but we still have a long way to go when it comes to getting recognized internationally. Davis believes that although our film industry is on the rise, we must start trying to concentrate making more Canadian films.
“I think the way to go is to make Canadian films - we tend to want to make copies of American films and we don’t have the resources to make them on the same level. There’s enough of them already, they aren’t what’s really inspiring us. We seem to be trying to make a successful movie and not trying to say what we want to say.”
“In actually making a low budget film, what people do is that they economize twice. They economize on the experience level of their crew and they economize on the time that they give that crew. You can’t do both. An experienced crew can work fast, while an inexperienced crew can work well, but not fast.”
Besides directing and producing, Davis is also involved in the writing side of things. “I co-wrote and directed 49th and Main and the shorts, so I do hope to do more writing. It was quite interesting working with Barbara Ellison, my partner, because she really is a writer in the unique sense that she can really write dialogue and characters. Most of us write films more as moviemakers than as writers, so we work together really well. But there are certainly things that are my stories that I intend to work with.”
And Davis is still acting of course, currently playing Matthew Perry’s Father in Numb.
“It’s just a great opportunity,” Davis says about Numb. “This is the fourth film I’ve done for Insight Productions. It’s interesting because this part is quite small but it’s really cute. I play Matthew Perry’s father and he’s just the nicest person. And then I did Fatal Flaw (for Insight), where I seemed to be a nice person but I was really just a terrible person.” Such variations also show up in Davis’s direction. With his short film Exchange, Davis dealt with a sexually charged power struggle between a university professor and his young student. In Packing Up, he explored the fragility of the human existence with an existentialist edge.
Davis found his own view of life following in the vein of Packing Up. When asked what his philosophy on life is he replies, “There is no essential meaning to our human existence. We were once hunters and gathers and that’s what we evolved to do, but now we don’t need to do that anymore, so actually we have nothing to do. So meaning in life, to me, is what you create for yourself, a sort of infrastructure.”
Knowing the expansive infrastructure Davis has created for himself, the meaning of his life must be pretty clear. There’s nothing he can’t do.
For more information please visit www.WilliamBDavis.com. For comments or future story ideas, please contact Karina at Karina@ifilmalliance.com.