‘The X-Files’: 1 of the Most Iconic Characters From the Series Was Originally Cast as an Extra With No Lines

The X-Files is one of the most popular sci-fi TV shows in history. More and more fans continue to discover The X-Files, as the series has moved from streaming on Netflix to Hulu. However, many viewers might not know that one of the most iconic villains of The X-Files was originally cast in just one episode, with no lines.

‘The X-Files’ cast member wasn’t supposed to be a recurring character — but fans loved him

The X-Files
Dana Scully, played by Gillian Anderson with the Cigarette Smoking Man, played by William B. Davis on The X-Files | FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

“Smoke and look menacing. That’s all William B. Davis was hired to do on The X-Files,” The Palm Beach Post reported. According to the X-Files cast member, his character, known to fans as “Cigarette Smoking Man,” was only meant to appear in the pilot episode, which aired on Fox in 1993. In just a few scenes of the very first X-Files episode, Davis stands in the background, smoking, while FBI agents are talking.

However, over the course of the series, Davis’s character becomes a “sinister government figure who often keeps FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) from uncovering the truth about alien existence.”

As actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani has pointed out on his podcast devoted to the TV series, The X Files Files, Davis came back on the show, in large part thanks to the fans.

The X-Files aired near the beginning of the era in which viewers began discussing TV episodes on internet message boards. In the 90s, X-Files fans lit up the threads, discussing Davis’s character and his potential motives — even after those brief, dialogue-free scenes in the pilot. Nanjiani theorizes that Chris Carter, The X-Files creator, and his fellow writers read those message boards while the show was airing and noticed the fan discussion over Cigarette Smoking Man. Eventually, they decided to bring the actor back and give him a larger role in the over-arching narrative of The X-Files.

The X-Files
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny of The X-Files | Fox/Liaison

Why Davis’s ‘X-Files’ character is a great sci-fi villain

Davis recalled his journey as a cast member on The X-Files to The Palm Beach Post:

There was a time when I wasn’t in any episodes, then all of a sudden I had a line or two and I thought, ‘That was interesting.’ And that just gradually increased. Then, finally, I had a big scene where Mulder comes after me with a gun. That was the turning point where the producers decided this character is really interesting and I guess they felt I was OK to handle it.

It wasn’t just the increase in lines, but the expansion of his character, that Davis enjoyed about his role.

“I like bad guys like CSM because he’s not a traditional baddie who bashes people around or pulls out his gun at every opportunity,” Davis emphasized.

Part of what makes Cigarette Smoking Man such a great character is that he’s not patently evil; the X-Files villain seems to truly believe in his cause, in the same way that Mulder fervently believes in his quest for his long-lost sister.

“He’s protecting the public from information they would not be able to process successfully,” Davis told the Post of his character’s motivations. “He’s trying to keep society from becoming chaotic.”

The actor behind the Cigarette Smoking Man had trouble with all those cigarettes

Davis, who played the X-Files character most famous for — and literally named for — his cigarette smoking habit — told The SciFi World that he is a former smoker himself. The actor had kicked the habit years ago, but working on The X-Files made it difficult.

I used to smoke so I certainly knew how to do it. But when I got the part I hadn’t smoked for twenty years. I smoked real cigarettes for the first two episodes but I soon realized this was dangerous for me.

If you’ve seen the show, you’ll notice that there’s not a scene in which Davis appears and isn’t smoking.

“That was beginning to wake up some long-buried desires,” he told The Palm Beach Post.

The X-Files character, the cigarette smoking man
William B. Davis as Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files | FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

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Eventually, the actor “switched to herbal cigarettes.”

Since Davis’s legendary role on The X-Files, he’s been in The Dead Zone and Stargate SG-1, among multiple other projects. Davis currently appears in Upload, the new Amazon series from the creator of The Good Place, Greg Daniels.