X-Men ’97’s Lenore Zann Opens Up About the Moment That Changed Rogue Forever

Exclusive: Lenore Zann, the voice behind the X-Men's Southern Belle, sits down with Den of Geek to discuss the nearly 30-year journey with Rogue.

Rogue in X-Men '97
Photo: Marvel Studios

This X-Men ’97 article contains spoilers.

Seldom have audiences been treated to a “requel” as exceptional as X-Men ‘97. Critics and fans alike have had nothing but praise for the show, and how it has taken a Saturday morning staple and elevated almost every aspect of production, storytelling, and acting. 

When other reboots attempt to cater to a mixed-generation audience, they often have to let the legacy characters (those actors from the original property) share screen time with a new generation. X-Men ‘97 was in a unique position to bring back the original voice cast as if no time had gone by whatsoever. 

Lenore Zann, returning as the sassy southerner Rogue, has had plenty of time to evolve outside of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, and that has given her a new perspective on portraying the iconic X-Woman, especially as the character herself has changed. In X-Men ’97, Rogue not only finds herself in a burgeoning love affair with Magneto but also has to endure the death of Gambit during the mutant massacre on Genosha. Driven by anger and grief, Rogue later joins Magneto in his war against humanity, choosing to side against Professor X and her family.

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Den of Geek caught up with Zann before the airing of X-Men episode 9 to talk about the tragic moment that transformed Rogue, grief, and how her perspective on her X-Men: The Animated Series character has evolved.

Den of Geek: You have certainly been busy these past couple of months—not only interview after interview, but the convention circuit as well. Have you had a chance to catch your breath yet?

Lenore Zann: Well, I’m trying to because I just got back from Chicago and Philadelphia. But I have a movie I’m shooting so I’m spending the next couple of days memorizing lines for that. It’s with Bat in the Sun productions. They do a lot of incredible fight videos between iconic characters. They have a movie called The White Dragon with Jason David Frank, who was the Green Power Ranger, and it’s the last movie that he did before he sadly passed away. They’ve written a role in it for me to kick off the movie. 

X-Men ‘97 has been very warmly received, with good reason. How did you first hear that this “reboot” was even an option after almost 30 years? 

It came out of the blue. I had basically left acting for the last 12 years to go into politics as an elected representative of the people in Nova Scotia in Canada, so I hadn’t given much thought to acting. Then I suddenly got this email from a friend who said, “Hey, Lenore, I’m friends with somebody who works with Disney, and they’re trying to find you to talk to you about a project.” And I wrote back, “If it’s real, give them my phone number.”

I thought, what are the odds of Disney trying to track me down? Then I suddenly got a call from Meredith Lane, who was the voice director for the new series saying they wanted to have me audition for something, but she didn’t say exactly what it was. All she said was “I think you might recognize it.”

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When I got the audition dialogue, I realized it was Rogue because they were lines I had actually done in the past series. So I pulled up my Rogue voice, which was still right there, and I recorded the lines and sent them off. About three weeks to a month later, I got word back from Meredith that they really liked what they heard. 

The producers set up a Zoom meeting and Beau De Mayo said, “Lenore, Oh my God, we are all here going out of our skins. We grew up with you, you are Rogue, would you please come back and play Rogue again for Marvel and Disney in this new series?” 

I was like, “You had me at hello, Sugah.” (Laughs) So that’s how it happened.

You said you found [Rogue] right away again, but did you have to ignore some of the experiences or the maturity you’ve accumulated, or adapt your voice after all this time to get back into the character?

Well, Sugah, I’m an actor, and actors act. When I do voice acting, I can play anything from a tiny baby or a little boy right through to an old woman. I play superheroes, I play a million different roles, and I have my entire life. I just put myself in the zone of what the character is, and I change my voice accordingly. 

I got discovered at the age of 19, to play the role of Marilyn Monroe in a rock opera that was based on her real life. So, [at that age], I had to play Norma Jean Baker, at 16—young, innocent, naive, all the way through to her glory years as an actress, then right to her demise at the age of 36. My entire career, I have played a range of ages, extreme emotions or different types of characters, so it’s not really that much of a stretch for me. I can play a character at any age and change my voice accordingly.

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Not to take anything away from the rest of the cast, but you and Alison Sealy-Smith (who voices Storm), have been carrying this season, especially kind of the latter half. Have you felt any pressure with this project, having not only a responsibility to how beloved the original property was, but having the lion’s share this season?

To be honest, as an actor, I live for emotional roles. I love the extremes, I love being able to plummet to those depths, and go to the heights. This was a gift for me to be able to do that with this character who I know so well, and who I love a lot. 

Of course, the death of Gambit, who has been Rogue’s flame for so long, was devastating. I was really glad to be able to have an opportunity to express my own grief because, as I’ve said in a number of interviews, I was already grieving the death of my young niece, Maia, who had passed away several months before from cancer, at the age of 17. 

I decided to put all of that on into my role, all of that grief and angst so that other people who might be also feeling sad or grieving people that they’ve lost, could hear my voice, and it would resonate emotionally with them, so that it might give them an opportunity to have a kind of cathartic experience. I’m hearing from a lot of people that that is exactly what’s been happening.

Absolutely, your performance in episode 5 “Remember It” was devastating. Alyson Court (who voiced Jubilee in the original animated series) spoke about the fact that she and Cal Dodd (who voices Wolverine) had a very similar surrogate father/daughter relationship to what you see from Wolverine and Jubilee. You didn’t necessarily get a chance to work with A.J. LoCascio (who voices Gambit in X-Men ‘97) all that much, but what was your relationship like with Chris Potter (the original Gambit) and how did that factor into your performance? 

When we did the original series, we all became like a family because we would come into the same studio, and oftentimes record together. If we had scenes with one other character, they would also often bring the two of us in, and we would play off each other. We all got along really well. 

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This time around, we’re all in different cities, and because of COVID, studios have now become used to recording people on their own. So I was mostly imagining the character of Gambit when I was doing my lines. When I finally got to meet AJ this past year, we just got on like a house on fire. We have a very good relationship. I think it’s great that Chris has passed on the mantle to A.J. and A.J. has taken the torch and is running with it. 

Let’s talk about your parents, because your mom was a teacher, your dad was a professor, and having two educators as parents has to be an interesting dynamic growing up. What did they teach?

My dad taught creative writing, and early childhood development. He believed that the early years of a child are the most important years for setting them up for success in life. 

That’s why we need to have good educators – looking after educating kids from a very early age, giving them the opportunity to learn how to love books, to love writing, to be creative, to play sports, to let out their energy in healthy ways. Dad was really good at that. 

Mom taught science, geography, and history, so she developed in me a great love for history, fashion, and for heritage. With that, I really try to put a lot of world events in perspective because, as they say, “if you forget your past, then you’re doomed to repeat it.” I sadly see a lot of things happening in the world, where countries are slipping backwards towards a very scary type of authoritarianism or fascism, which we know, from history, what happens and I don’t want to see that happening in, in the world and in North America.

During your time as a politician, you always had a hard stance on equality, and you’ve never let that go. You recently tweeted, “The fight for social justice never sleeps,” which is not only profound, but somewhat apt since you’re playing this iconic character loaded with subtext all about social justice and acceptance. Not to make light of your thoughtful quotation, but Rogue had so many great country-fried colloquialisms and philosophies—which one has been a favorite of yours?

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Well, of course, we have “You look about as nervous as a longtail cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” That’s one of my favorites. 

Then one from “The Cure” (season 1 episode 9) back in the original series, which was when Rogue goes to try and get rid of her powers, since she can’t touch anybody. She can never be intimate. But through trying to rid herself of her powers, she finds out her powers are what makes her who she is, warts and all. And she says “There ain’t no cure for who you are. I reckon I am my powers and the good they can do. And I reckon I can live with that.”

[X-Men ‘97 creator] Beau De Mayo went online recently and was discussing how his experience, not only as a gay man, but a person of color, really shaped a lot of the writing, and you pick up on that subtext right away. While your life experience was undoubtedly different, how did you relate to Rogue specifically? There’s a lot to her, especially her loneliness, so how did you find a fellow spirit in the character?

I was born in Australia, and we moved to Canada when I was eight. I had to leave behind all the kids I had grown up with, and my larger family, with all my cousins, and my two grandmothers who I was very close with, and start life again. 

So here I was in Canada, in a place where I didn’t know anyone, all the kids had Scottish and Irish and English last names. My last name was Zann, which was weird to start with. I had this Australian accent, too, and it was so strong that a lot of kids would ask me, “What language do they speak in Australia?” 

It was hard. I had to keep reimagining myself trying to fit in, and it was lonely. I often retreated to a world of imagination. I wrote poetry. I wrote short stories. My dad helped with that, because he was a writer as well, and he encouraged that. I found my world of the imagination was my friend, where I was oftentimes alone. So I can really relate to Rogue in her search to belong. 

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Perfect segue, since you were talking about your accent. Chris [Potter] was interviewed probably 30 years ago and he was talking about how he found Gambit’s voice and accent. He said he grew up with a lot of friends who are Quebecois, so he brought a little bit of that into it. You came from Australia, spent time in Saskatchewan, then Halifax, and  eventually landed in Toronto. That is a myriad of accents, and for those people who don’t know, the east coast of Canada can have some very strong accents. How did you find Rogue in the midst of all that? How did you find that great southern drawl?

It’s interesting. With Australians, the accent is very broad, and [people from the] Southern States have a tendency to position their mouths in a similar way. So the sound came very naturally. 

Also, I started doing American musicals when I was 15—first in high school, but then later on in professional theater. So the roles I was playing had to have American accents—I played Adelaide in Guys and Dolls who’s got a Bronx kind of accent. I did Ado Annie in Oklahoma, Carrie Pepperidge in Carousel, Louisa in The Fantasticks—I did a lot of these roles and they needed American accents. So at a very early age, I started training my voice that way. 

By the time Rogue came along, I had actually played a number of Southerners. In an animated series I booked just before X-Men was a show called Stunt Dogs, and I played a character called Sizzle, who was the lead female, and she was a Southerner. So I got to practice the southern accent all the way through that show, and then coincidentally, X-Men was only the second show that I booked. 

You keep teasing “get ready” in terms of Rogue going rogue more and more. What can you tease even further about the final episode or perhaps the second season? Have you even started recording the second season?

Yeah, I’ve basically recorded the second season. I’ll be coming back to do ADR, which always happens, but all I can say is that Rogue is on a mission to find justice for Remy and for all of those other mutants who were murdered. That is her number one goal, and she will continue on that until she is done. That’s all I’ll say.

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X-Men ’97 is streaming now on Disney+.