(written from a Production point of view)
David Gautreaux (born 28 June 1951; age 70) is a stage actor who was slated to be featured as Lieutenant Xon in Star Trek: Phase II. However, the series was canceled, and it was decided to produce Star Trek: The Motion Picture instead. Gautreaux was then recast in a minor role as Commander Branch of Epsilon IX station.
The character of Xon was conceived after Spock performer Leonard Nimoy declined to reprise his role for the Phase II project. What was already known for quite some time in production circles, was made public on 22 October 1977 by Gene Roddenberry in a lengthy expose to hundreds of Star Trek fanclubs, finally confirming the rumors that had abounded for months. Negotiations with Nimoy had actually already been conducted since the 1975 The God Thing project, but by July 1977 it became clear that Nimoy had declined the rigors of a weekly television show. It was for this reason that the Xon and Commander Will Decker characters, dividing between them the characteristics of the role Spock played on Star Trek: The Original Series, were conceived for the new series in the first place. (The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, p. 39)
By the time of the public announcement the search of the Xon performer was actually already completed. After his screen tests, Gautreaux was cast in the role on 26 September 1977. However, his casting became somewhat unsettled for awhile as Majel Barrett, recast as Christine Chapel, raised some objections. Barrett, unaware that both the series concept (Phase II was now a television movie) and the character of Spock were already dropped and fearing that the Original Series "unrequited love of Chapel for Spock" plotline will not play well against an actor as young as Gautreux, requested an older actor against whom to play. A new screen test was called with both Gautreaux and an older British actor in mid-October, but the older actor's performance was "absolutely abominable" and Gautreux was definitively reaffirmed by the third week of October. (Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series, pp. 53-54)
Purely by chance, Gautreaux became the very first performer who learned of the upgrade decision of Phase II to a full-blown theatrical feature film, nearly a month before the decision became formal, when he walked in on 21 October 1977 on an informal celebration, to sign his contract. At that moment, only three studio executives, four producers and a NASA consultant were privy to the decision made that day. "It was a Friday evening: I'll never forget it. I don't think I ever saw the gates open when I came to the lot. I went to Gene Roddenberry's office; there were men from NASA [note: Jesco von Puttkamer]; there was a young Jeffrey Katzenberg; there were people all toasting each other, celebrating, and I was so incredibly overwhelmed to be a part of it. But what they were celebrating was that they were going to make Star Trek into a major motion picture. And then we were going to do the series. And I thought, "Wow, this is incredible!"", Geautreaux recalled. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, p. 27; Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 77-78) The "we were going to do the series" remark was not actually true and only made for Geautreaux' benefit as he was reassured that he was to play a major role in the movie, since he "was now a part of the family". And indeed, at first this had no consequences for the Xon character, but after the movie's new Director Robert Wise had pushed for it, Spock definitively returned when Leonard Nimoy was signed on 27 March 1978. (Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History, p. 101) As soon as he was confirmed, a frantic series of yet another round of rewrites was started to get the Spock character into the movie.
This however, had now ramifications for Xon, as he was ultimately dropped as a principal character. Despite the reassurances for Gautreaux, nothing came of it and by summer's start, Xon was definitively struck as a principal character, replaced by the Commander Sonak character in a very minor – albeit a dramatic one as he was killed off in a transporter accident – role. Having emotionally invested in the role for months, but also because he did not want to be locked down as a stand-by performer as he had by then resumed his theater career, Gautreaux declined to appear as Xon in this capacity and instead accepted the somewhat larger consolation role of Commander Branch. Gautreaux shot his Epsilon IX scenes as second-unit photography in the summer of 1979, long after principal photography had wrapped in January, and he has never interacted on-set with any of the principal cast. The studio, which had committed to a "pay-or-play" contract, compensated Gautreaux with $35,000 in September for him missing out on a signed lead role. (Starlog, issue 139, p. 13; Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series, p. 77; Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 111-112)
Gautreaux has never expressed any ill-will toward Star Trek for missing out on becoming a recurring part of one of the largest franchises in the industry, quite the contrary actually, as was evidenced when he received an unexpected invitation from Leonard Nimoy, who apparently harbored some residual remorse over the fate that befell Gautreaux,
"Leonard and I had a meeting once when he called and asked me to down to Paramount. I thought it was because of Star Trek III. He had many roles to cast, and he wanted to meet with me. We had a nice long conversation, which is on videotape, because he recorded all of his conversations; it helps him remember actors. We chit-chatted for a good period of time, and then he came in with what I call the slider, which was, "How did you feel... how did it affect you... essentially, what did it do to your life when I came back and played Mr. Spock, thus removing your character?" I looked at him, wondering if he was trying to purge himself of something he had felt all this time. I asked him what he meant by that, and he said, "Well, you were a young man and this was a very big moment in your life. Did I remove that moment?" I looked at him, with a thousand thoughts running through my mind. My response was, "Look, I was young, but I wasn't brand new. I had been in this business, primarily in theater, for a good long time. For me Xon and Star Trek were like a play that opened and closed on opening night, which happens all the time in theater. I had, and continue to have, another life outside whatever Xon was or was not to be." He said, "That's very good. I was hoping you would say something like that." I had no idea that he put that much investment and thought into the belief that he had upset my life."
Elaborating on the fact that his mental preparation for the Xon character had actually made him a better stage actor, Gautreaux has added, "I have never felt badly, upset or any of those things for not playing Xon. I've always felt that it was too bad the public didn't get a chance to see this character, given the preparation I had given to it. But insofar as how it enhanced my own life, they paid me back a hundredfold. Xon took me from a state of physical to a state of metaphysical, which is something that I've never lost." (Starlog, issue 139, p. 14)
In 1994, Gautreux was interviewed in-depth by William Shatner for his memoir Star Trek Movie Memories about his involvement with the Star Trek franchise and these recollections, as transcribed, were the most elaborate ones Gautreux has ever given on his involvement to date. Subsequently, in 2001, he was interviewed for a special feature on the Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition) DVD.
In 2005, he guest-starred in two episodes of Brannon Braga's short-lived series Threshold, which starred Brent Spiner. In 2008, he guest-starred in an episode of Boston Legal, which starred William Shatner and John Larroquette.
Star Trek interviews
- "Casualty of The Lost Generation", Edward Gross, Starlog, issue 139, February 1989, pp. 12-14
- Star Trek Movie Memories, November 1994
- "Deja Vu All Over Again", Chapter 3
- "Star Trek: The Emotional Picture", Chapter 4
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition) DVD-special feature, "Phase II: The Lost Enterprise" (2001)
- "Behind the Scenes: Spock and Xon", Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, December 2001, pp. 27-28
- The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, March 1980
- Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series, March 1997